With the fall marathon season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about race strategy. So many marathoners now offer pacers, who promise to run the marathon at times that usually vary from 3:10 to 4:30 or more. They can be spotted by their clearly-marked shirts and the banner or balloon-on-a-stick that they carry. Usually they draw a pack around themselves.
Is it a good idea for yo to run with a pace group in your next race?
I think so. I’m a big believer in using pace teams, but there are a lot of ways to make them work for you. The bottom line is that they are there to help you, and you should only use them to the extent you find them helpful.
The biggest benefit is that the pacers tend to be very experienced, and are good at holding a steady pace throughout the race, which helps runners avoid getting swept up in the excitement and starting out too fast, only to crash later on. Also, there’s a great group energy to running in a pack, even if the group isn’t always very vocal.
But you don’t have to run in the pack to benefit from a pace group — you can look at pacers as moving landmarks, so if you can plant yourself just in front or behind a pace group, or between two pace groups, you would have a good idea of how you’re doing as long as you can hold your position in the field. The benefit of this is that it’s less crowded being just a bit away from a pace group, and you can have a bit of a more private experience in the race, which a lot of people like (especially if you feel like you might experience pressure from being in the pace group, even if it’s self-generated).
One interesting thing to keep in mind is that most people seem to get too ambitious in choosing a pace group, so my own experience, as well as that of a lot of other pacers, is that most runners fall off the pace by the last stages of a race. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for pacers to end up finishing all alone (in that case, we try to hold our pace anyway, since you never know who might be keying off you just ahead or behind you).
So yet a third way of using pacers is to start with a group much slower than your expected race pace, to force you to begin conservatively, and then making a game of seeing how many pace groups you can catch before the end of the race.
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