Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pacing Tips: How to have a FUN marathon with a Friend

On Sunday, I had the privilege of running a marathon alongside a friend of mine from college. It was her first shot at 26.2, and she asked me months ago if I would run Eugene Marathon with her. We hadn't seen each other in maybe 20 years!

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!

Be flexible
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: AltrOne²)

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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 :) 

25 comments:

  1. Excellent advise!! And the finishing pace is very impressive. Tell you friend that she has a good friend in you if she doesn't already know :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Hubert! I think she knows... but has the bug now. So we will see how she does next time :D

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  2. Great points, Raina! It was fun to see you out there. I'm sure your friend really appreciated your pacing and motivation for all 26.2. What a fun way to do a marathon!

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    1. Thanks for volunteering!! It was great to see your face as well :) Looking forward to seeing you on the trail soon, I hope.

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  3. This is such a good list! I can think of one thing to add... When you're pacing and your friend is tired, ask questions with simple yes/no answers. It's the little things!

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    1. And congrats to both of you on the finish! What a great marathon finish time!

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    2. Great tip!! Yes.. it can be so hard to talk when you are in PAIN. hahaha :) We worked it out ~ somehow.

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  4. <3 <3 That is so fabulous that you paced your friend!

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    1. Thanks, Ilana!! Best FUN ever!

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  5. Not only are those excellent tips, but oh my what a formidable first marathon finish time! The icing on the cake is the fact she shared this experience with you! And Congrats to you on your first Marathon in over two years. By the way, I'm smiling like the Cheshire Cat :-B

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    1. Have to agree about that time! We had a great chat and holding of the phone as it blasted tunes for everyone..
      You ought to be smiling!! Be checking the mail :D

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  6. Ooh Raina, you sound like the perfect marathon pacer! It sounds like a very rewarding thing to do. Congratulations to Heather on a fantastic time too!

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  7. I've done the pacing thing many, many times. At some point in the 1990's my club actually forced me to stop pacing people and rather run for myself for a change :)

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  8. Awww, so cool! Congrats to both of you! I know she appreciated what you did for her (and for your training). I was an official pacer last November for a local marathon, and I really loved it. You are correct that there is something special about giving back to others in a way that helps them meet their goal(s).

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  9. Nice story of friendship and very good tips Raina. Congratulations to your friend and you!

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  10. this was such a lovely post, i am training for my first half now. i started running last year, and my boyfriend who has been a runner for a lot longer does this for me. Looking forward to running my first half!

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  11. Excellent tips! I think it is so fun to be a part of helping someone else achieve a race goal.

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  12. Good on you Raina. Looks to me like perfect pacing and Heather ran a great race. I've run 'with someone' in a marathon - we ran 4:09 too, which is quite a coincidence. I've paced someone on the track (because I was asked), but I'm not a fan of this. I don't like to see pacing on the track. It's a race, after all, and pacing gives that person an unfair advantage. I also don't like the 'pacing groups' that have become all the rage in halves and marathons. The're a distraction and most of the pacers I've come across are hopless at running even effort.

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  13. I've paced friends in a race before and it's so fun and rewarding and I agree with all of these tips. I think my best experience was running my sisters first post-baby half marathon with her last fall. Such a great sister bonding experience. In a few weeks I will be running the last 6 miles of my best friends Marathon with her in attempt to help her BQ and I cannot wait. Its a fun rewarding experience!

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  14. Fascinating read Raina and sounds very much like go we got through the ultra run last year :)

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  15. That is so awesome that you paced your friend! And 4:09 is a great first marathon time, so congrats to her!!

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  16. What a cool experience!! sometimes helping others with their goals is more rewarding than achieving our own. Or is that most of the time:)?

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  17. That is a fantastic list of tips :) It's so sweet you did that and it's a really great moment to share. You finished with a great time, especially for her first one! I hope by the time I am 50 I can run a marathon, I will see how this winter goes, I thought i needed more than a year running experience before I tried to tackle that massive distance.

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  18. Great tips. This is a very good story of friendship. In the past I was very selfish to pace other runners in important races but I did it many times for my son in shorter races.

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