Should You Race With A Pace Group?

     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.


About horowitzrun

Jeff is a certified running, cycling, and triathlon coach, and is the author of "My First 100 Marathons" (Skyhorse Press 2008) and "Smart Marathon Training" (Velo Press 2011). An obviously addicted runner, Jeff has run at least one marathon in every state and on 6 continents, including marathons in South Africa, China, Bangkok, and Antarctica. Jeff is available for group, one-on-one, and virtual coaching. Options include: 1. Basic Training Plan. This includes a customized training schedule geared towards a goal race, with a detailed running schedule that would include all distances and target times for each workout, including speedwork, tempo, and endurance sessions. 2. Complete Fitness and Race Plan. This includes the plan listed above, plus the non-running workouts and drills that runners need for better overall fitness and performance. You would get strength & core workouts, as well as run-specific training drills and stretches. 3. Virtual Coaching. This includes all of the above, implemented on a week-by-week basis. We review each week's progress at week's end so that adjustments can be made. The program is tailored to suit you right up to race day. It involves more contact, on a weekly or even daily basis. 4. Full Coaching for athletes in the Washington DC area. All of the above, plus a weekly workout together including speedwork, drills, and strength training. 5. Individual track sessions. One-on-one track-based workouts. Contact Jeff for pricing.
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