I’ve been a pacer at many marathons, so I might be biased, but I’m a big believer in running with pace groups. Most major marathons these days offer pace groups, and they can be very helpful in helping you achieve your goals, if you know how to use them. Here are some guidelines:
The biggest benefit of running with a pacer is that the pacers tend to be very experienced, and are good at holding a steady pace throughout the race. This 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 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 another way to use a pacer 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 cna catch before the end of the race.
Whichever way you decide to go, remember that the race is ultimately yours, and you have the final responsibility — the glory and the blame — for what happens on the course. Use a pacer, but make sure that you’re still following your own race plan.
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