Last year, I ran the Summer Breeze Half Marathon as a PR attempt – which, I’m happy to say, was successful. The course is super close to where I live and I often run there. So, when my pacing group was looking for volunteers, I was eager to sign up. Unfortunately, my usual 2:20 spot got taken right away, so I settled for the 2:30 pacer. At first, I wondered if I could comfortably run 11:27/mile, which is a good 20-30 seconds slower than my easiest runs. However, I’m not in the best endurance shape — anything longer than 10 miles feels like eternity these days, so I thought 2:30 would be fine. And, as it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise. *foreshadowing*
I got there super early to park, grab my bib, meet the rest of the TriValley Running Club pace team, and use the restroom.
As we lined up in the starting corral, I had a fleeting thought that I should go use the bathroom again, but I decided that I would be OK. (foreshadowing #2) I met a couple of fellow TVRC runners and before we knew it, the race had started.
My plan was to start slow and run even pace. The course is out-and-back along the shoreline, alternating between paved bike trail and gravel. I knew that it was likely that there would be a stiff headwind on the way back, but luckily it was quite overcast and cool. There’s absolutely no cover along the course, so when the sun is out or if it’s super windy, running in this area is brutal.
I met various people along the way, chatting and making small talk. I was clicking off my splits pretty evenly. One thing I like about this race is that the out-and-back section allows you to cheer for other runners. I did a lot of “pace sign high-fiving” with the other pacers.
Before I knew it, we were at the turn around. However, I noticed that it seemed further down than last year – when the course came up a bit short on my GPS. I looked down and saw the distance at 6.7x miles. Uh-oh. We were about 0.2 miles over the distance?! This put me in a pacer quandry. Should I stick with the pace or should I aim for the time? I decided to hold off until the next mile markers to make a decision. Maybe my GPS was wrong. I got to the mile 7 marker as my Garmin read 7.2 miles. Crap. Same thing happened at the mile 8 marker – I was still 0.2 miles ahead and more than 2 minutes behind target pace.
With 5 miles left to go, I made the executive decision to go for the 2:30 finish time, regardless of pace. It was also at this point that I realized I needed to make an emergency pit stop. So, I ran ahead to the next set of porta potties and tried to go as fast as possible. This was another first in my pacing history – never have I been so far behind the target time *and* had to make a pit stop. By this time, I was near the mile 9 marker. I had 4 miles to make up the time, so I started running 45-60 seconds faster than 11:27/mile pace.
I felt bad that I was losing my 2:30 runners, but at the same time, I ran into others who decided to stick with me. I tried to explain to those who I was passing that I wasn’t running 11:27 pace, but just going for 2:30 because the course was long. Only one person seemed pissed off at me, everyone else was like, “OK!” I played leap frog with one runner who was doing run walk intervals. She told me if she finished ahead of me, this would be a PR for her. Another runner I ran with told me she was disappointed at her lack of fitness; she had recently started a new job with a long commute, which meant she couldn’t train like she used to. Normally a 2:10 runner, she was discouraged to be running “this slow.” I told her she was doing great and encouraged her to finish strong.
With less than a mile left, I had made up the 2:00 and was back on goal finish time. I slowed down and encourage the woman I was running with to go ahead.
Eventually, I caught up to a college-aged guy whom I noticed was struggling and taking walk breaks. I told him we had half a mile left and to run with me. He gamely agreed. It turned out that he had been peer pressured into signing up for this race, and the longest he had ever run was 5K during a sprint triathlon! I congratulated him for making it this far and told him how impressed I was. He eventually took off ahead of me with a tenth of a mile to go.
I crossed the finish line right on time. My official race time was 2:29:58, but my Garmin read 2:30:00 for 13.3 miles. It was not my best outing as a pacer, but I think I made the best of tough situation and still managed to encourage other runners at the end. Better yet, the woman who was run-walking PR’d by over a minute — and now we’re friends on Strava. So overall, I’d count it as a success. Many thanks to Brazen and TVRC for the opportunity to pace!
(For race logistics, see my post from last year.)