Race Report: My First Marathon as a Pacer

After running several marathons, I thought it was time to try a new challenge and return a little to the running community that has given me so much. So, I volunteered to pace the Morgan Hill Marathon on October 23, 2011. When I first volunteered, I took my fastest pace, added 15 minutes, and figured that would be a good pace to be a “Pacer”. Only later did I learn three horrible things.

1. You should add 40 minutes to your best time,
2. They don’t call it “Morgan HILL” for nothing, and
3. Running an unexpected 34.5 mile ultramarathon two weeks prior doesn’t give me enough time to recover.

A pace of 4 hours, 40 minutes would probably have been realistic if the course was both flat and cool. Unfortunately it was neither, so it proved to be a greater challenge than I expected. In fact, thanks to the help from Janet, my co-pacer, I managed to finish in 4 hours, 39 minutes, 15 seconds – but I might not have finished in that time without her pushing me the last miles to the finish.

I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle my pacing duties. I’ve certainly joined plenty of “busses” or “pace bunnies” or “pace groups”, and each was different. So, with my loud-mouth personality, I decided I would do what they did for me during the Comrades Marathon earlier this year. With such a steep incline and in particular, the decline at mile 15.3, I figured I’d give the same advice I was given. It would have been easy to destroy your knees on the cliff at that point (See Below).

I chanted “Shu-ffle” (for the uphills) and “EA-ZE” for the downhills. I made sure folks didn’t take too big of steps in front of their center of gravity. Also, as the day got hotter, I reminded everyone to hydrate, and get sodium.

Janet, my co-pacer, followed Galloway’s plan of running eight minutes, and walking one minute. She’s a hill person, so hill or no, she kept to that schedule.

I chose a different strategy, by varying the pace based on whether we were climbing or descending. I also told the story of Comrades and some of my other races.

I also managed to mention the study that says if you think about porn while running, you tend to run faster.

I’m not sure if I did more harm or help to folks, and by the end, Janet and I were alone at the finish. But I had a good group and mixture of runners, who managed to hang in for a fairly long time.

I hope my stories distracted them long enough to forget what they were doing.

Below is my Garmin track from the race. Since I didn’t run the exact course, I actually ended up with 26.38 miles. Most likely, this wasn’t an error in the watch, but was the extra miles or distance I ran by not cutting exactly the tangent line on curving roads. I’d been warned of that, which is why I set the Virtual Pacer on my @Garmin 310XT for 10:35, even though the pace needed for for 26.2 miles is actually 10:40+.

With Boston changing qualifying rules, Pacers were to make sure to be at or under their finishing times. No more “59 seconds” of slop that Boston used to give.

You can see from Garmin below when the temperature really began to peak – my heart rate increased drastically as my body tried to keep itself cool. Fortunately, I was carrying water, because I went through 2 10-oz water bottle just between aid stations.

Despite the intense heat on the black roads, overall there were plenty of volunteers, aid stations, and support.

Finally, to all the finishers: Fantastic Finish!