This was not a decision I made lightly, because a marathon is a BIG deal- and a FIRST marathon is a very big deal. If I hadn't been training for a 50k (or another marathon after this), I probably would have said no, and offered any other help I could have to her. But, the timing was good, and I wanted her to experience all the joy and reward of completing the distance with confidence.
We had a great time together. She finished in what I believe to be a fantastic first marathon pace, with a smile on her face. It was HARD, but worth it. And for me, it was refreshing to use my experience and confidence of running marathons before to help a friend have a successful race. In many ways this was more rewarding than chasing down a PR.
If you think you'd like to pace a friend, here are some tips that might be useful:
Discuss goals ahead of time.
Get an idea of your friend's racing goal. Will she be happy just to reach the end? Is this person VERY time goal focused?
Find out the person's training paces and most recent race times- if possible. Ideally, their racing times for a half marathon would slightly slower than you run your easier log runs. You don't want to be an anchor! You also don't want to be the one needing aid along the course.
Train for the distance. Seriously.
Do you want to jump from a 10 mile long run to 26.2 and see what happens? It's not going to be pretty.
I put in a 20 miler 12 days before this race, and a 17 miler 3 weeks before that. Mileage between those runs was scant. I knew the long runs were critical, and that was the bare minimum I'd try to get away with.
Create a pacing strategy with the other runner.
Heather had been doing her research and planned to go out slower and speed up if she felt good. She did not want to walk, so we went out easy to try to keep that from happening at the end. Negative splits were the goal, but we ended up with pretty even splits. The only times we walked were to stop for water and one porta-potty visit. She did fantastic!
Bring extra stuff!
Plan to be a pack mule. Your friend will appreciate having you nearby if you can supply water, extra gels, headphones ☺, in addition to encouragement.
I wore 48 ounces of fluids, carried 4 gels and had extra headphones, but forgot I had them until mile 20. Her cordless headphones died early on and she could have used mine if I had remembered! We were both drinking from aid stations and off of my bottles towards the end.
Use your Garmin and have a backup.
My Garmin has been dying slowly. It gave up at mile 8. Luckily I had started an app on my phone as backup, and knew about what time the race started, but the mile splits were all off. The pace band was good to have!
Encourage good / frequent fueling and hydration.
Ask her if she needs a drink, or fuel. At mile 8.. Have you fueled yet? No?! We probably should!
Stay positive and look for distractions.
Point out the funny signs, or costumes. Make sure she takes in all the surroundings. You should be feeling good because this is your easy pace. Keep an eye and ear out for things that will motivate or lighten the run with humor.
One of the best things that happened at mile 22 was running into a facebook friend, Shannon Price. He is actually a professional pacer for the Cliff Bar company and was out for a long jog! He shared how GREAT Heather was doing, and related a story about how badly his first marathon went. It certainly brightened our run up at that moment!
Sometimes things just don't go as planned. Your friend might have a bad day, or YOU might. Discuss what to do if either of you is having a really bad, or REALLY GOOD race.
We talked about it before the race, and I was sure to let Heather know that if she was having a super race and I could not keep up, I wanted her to leave me behind! I also knew that no matter how bad it went for her, I would stay with her. (I didn't say this, but I hope she knew!)
Call in the reserves!
If possible, you can surprise your friend by having family or friends at a few spots to cheer. It is possible that the racer didn't ask anyone to do that! What a nice surprise it is when you recognize a face in the toughest sections.
I asked my dad to wait at mile 21 with watermelon slices for us. I grabbed them as we went by and handed one to Heather. At first she wasn't sure (not in the plan!) but then she tasted it.. It was a tasty mile!
Plan to do the talking, but don't be annoying. Also.. check your running math.
Whatever you do. Don't announce that there is only 5k left to go at mile 22. That will get you noticed and not in a good way!
Be an encourager! As you get close to the finish, remind your friend how close it is. If things get hard, have a few kind words to offer. Know ahead of time what to draw on for inspiration.
Heather was running to raise funds for a friend with cancer. If it got tough, we would consider how much tougher things could be.
Cool your jets, Turbo. This is not the time to decide you want to beat your friend. Do not make wild attempts to pass everyone near you at the finish line. This is not your moment, it is hers!
SMILE for the cameras! And remind her too!! There will be a few.
I LOVE the shots of Heather as she crossed the finish line. All the pain is gone from her face and it is sheer JOY at being a MARATHONER.
My first official marathon in 2 years , Heather's first EVER!
(Shoes: Altra One²)
*****For many reasons, I will treasure my 4:09 marathon finish more than the others. If you are thinking of pacing a friend, or get the chance by accident, I highly encourage you to take the opportunity to party at your friend's pace. You won't regret it!
I ran this race, and will be running the rest in 2014 to raise funds for CDH awareness. Generous readers may donate to the cause -> HERE
Have you ever paced a friend before in a race?
What else would you suggest in addition to these tips?
Congratulations!! One of my readers is a VERY lucky winner today :)