Monday, March 30, 2015

Running of the Elk Half Marathon 2015 - A Racing/Pacing Report

You guys, I survived my first gig as a pace group leader!!  That might not have been in much doubt for you, but I gotta tell ya, I was nervous.  And apparently, I was nervous about all the wrong things, which is pretty much the story of my life right there.

It's a selfie within a selfie!  Trying on my pacer's shirt.  Here is the only true complaint I have about this race:  the pacer's shirt was straight up awful!  Thick, oversized, and cotton?  Are you kidding me?  This was a size small and it was big enough to be a sleep shirt.  With temperatures climbing into the 70s by the time I was finished, I was so hot and uncomfortable in this thing.  Other female pacers cut the sleeves off and shortened the hemline.  I was super tempted to do that, but wasn't sure of the etiquette.  Next time I know!  Adding insult to injury, of course, was the color.  Obviously a man ordered these, because I don't know a single female runner who would willingly clash a red shirt with her (statistically likely) pink or purple shoes.  Thankfully, I had an older pair of black, white, and neon yellow shoes that didn't look cute, but didn't ruin the outfit either.  And yes, that matters.
When I volunteered to be the 2:45 pacer, I have to admit, my thoughts ran along the lines of, "Oh, this is going to be easy."  In terms of running pace.  I've run a few half marathons with sub-2 hour finishes, and my others have been sub-2:10 (with the two notable exceptions of the time I sprained my ankle at Mile 4 of the Davis Stampede and last year's allergy-fest at the MoMary).  And so I made the rookie mistake of thinking that a slower pace would somehow translate to an easy day.  Oh, dear me, no!  Maybe it was the stress of trying to hit an exact pace, or the heat, or the fact that I foolishly let my eating and drinking plan fall into a lower priority, but I'm pretty sure I worked harder for this finish than pretty much any other half I've run!

Selfie at the start!  You can see that I tried to make my shirt a little more tank-toppy with some velcro loops.  It didn't help a lot, but I can't even imagine how hot I would have been without them!

This was the fifth Running of the Elk, and even though I have spectated every year, this was my first time actually running it.  I LOVED it!!  They made some pretty significant changes to the race course, and even though I didn't run the other one, I know this course was better.  We ran through neighborhoods and on my beloved creek trails and over the pedestrian overcrossing where I do my "hill" repeats.  Every step of this race course felt like home and it was awesome!  We quite literally ran past my house three times (I made my sleepy teenagers come out and cheer for me, since I knew exactly what time I would be running past).  Also, it was a very well-marked and well-volunteered race - I never once wondered if I was heading in the correct direction and the police and volunteers at every street crossing were super friendly and cheered for all the runners.

Standing at the starting line, I had several people come over and chat with me and ask me about my strategy and what pace I would be running.  Probably my biggest concern with trying to finish at a specific time was that I am generally a terrible tangent runner.  So, I had made up a pace chart for myself with split times that had me finishing at 13.3 miles, just in case.  I figured that I would rather go out a tiny bit hard and slow down on the back half if necessary, than try to speed up at Mile 10.  I also planned on walking through all of the water stations.  A few people liked my plan and a few people seemed displeased that I wasn't doing a run/walk program, which I ordinarily would have, and will likely count on doing next year when I volunteer for this gig again.

So, the horn sounded and we were off!  I tried to set off at a conservative pace, but I was sort of all over the map.  Between carrying my handheld and the pace sign and trying to check my Garmin every ten seconds, I felt like I was some sort of joggler.

After the first half mile or so, I settled into a nice comfortable rhythm and chatted with my new best running friend, Sophy.  She had told me at the starting line that she'd been dealing with plantar fasciitis for the past few months and was therefore totally undertrained for this half, but she was hoping to hang on to the 2:45 pace group for as long as she could before she dropped back.  Well, spoiler alert:  she ran with me the entire time and totally beat her goal!

Sophy was fabulous company for the whole race.  She was positive and upbeat and just the right amount of talkative.  Honestly, I felt for a lot of the race that she was a great pace leader and maybe I was just along for the ride!  We had several other people come and go from the pace group, but she was the only one who stuck it out the whole way.

And that right there was definitely the hardest part of being a pace leader.  It was my job to run a certain pace and finish on time, but what I really wanted to do was stick with the people who were struggling!  Over the 13 miles, I had so many people tell me that it was their goal to just stay ahead of me.  It absolutely broke my heart to pass them up when they started falling off their paces!!  As fiercely competitive as I can be when I'm running for myself, when I'm charged with coaching and encouraging others, I'm a total mama.  I want everyone to win!

I hung out at the finish line for a while after I was done, cheering in the other runners we had seen and chatted with out on the course.  You know, as exhilarating as it is to run fast and hit speedy PRs, there's really something to be said for running closer to the back of the pack.  It was so much fun to cheer for all the fast runners coming back at us on the out-and-back portions of the course.  And even the speediest runners had something encouraging to say in return, which pretty much cements for me the fact that runners are the nicest people in the world.

Me and my girl Sophy, celebrating an awesome finish by hanging out in the shade!
I suspect this course was measured the way it was likely to be run by most people, rather than hitting strict tangents, because I have never hit the finish line with an exact distance like this!  I was so grateful to hear my Garmin beep as we passed the mile markers, because then I didn't have to do any running math.  I knew I was on pace!
I enjoyed everything about being a pace group leader and will definitely be on board with doing this again!  It was stressful, but in a good way.  And now that I've gotten that first time out of the way, I'll be aware of how to make it an even better experience next time.  Here's what I learned:

  • There's no such thing as "easy" when you're covering 13.1 miles!  This pace wasn't heart-pounding for me, but my body still had to cover the distance, and that was a lot of work.  Respect the distance!
  • Part of respecting the distance means not getting distracted from your normal fueling schedule.  I was four or five miles in before I realized that I was waaaaaaay behind on drinking enough.  My stomach is still a little off today after being so dehydrated from a long run on a hot day.  No bueno.
  • Tape your splits chart onto the pace leader stick so you can see it at all times.  I had mine in my handheld (it has a see-through window), and the angle was just awkward.
  • Set your Garmin for Current Lap Average Pace.  I had mine set on Overall Average Pace, which was helpful and got me there on time, but some of my mile splits were crazy.  Next time I would really like to run more consistently.
  • There is no feeling in the world like helping somebody else meet their goal.  100% worth it!

Have you ever paced a group at a race before??  Or used a pace leader to help you finish on time?  What was your favorite part?


Taking the Long Way Home said...

Great job Pahla! I don't think I could be a pace leader. But what a rewarding thing to do!

Coach Dion said...

Nice pacing...

I have never been an official pacer, but I have paced a number of friends to sub 3 marathons.

PS when you run 20+ km every weekend 9often on the Saturday and the Sunday a half marathon is easy if you aren't gunning it!

Lizzy said...

Nice work! I think it's so cool that you got to be a pacer. I've run a few races with the help of pacers and I am forever grateful for their help.

Marcia said...

Good on you for doing this! I've never even considered being a pacer. Lord knows what I'd do. Sounds like you totally rocked it. Seriously a huge cotton shirt?? Speechless.

HoHo Runs said...

I get emails from Half Fanatics to pace races. (I'm sure a lot of us do.) But, I don't think I am consistent enough. I'm pretty sure I could get everyone in at the allotted time...but I would be all over the place. It sounds like this was a fun race! But warm. I'm so not ready for the heat.

Laura said...

Cotton WHAAAT??? That's crazy!! I'm still totally jealous that you got to do this. Sounds like an awesome time. :)