When I was asked to be a pace leader for the 2:10 half marathon leg of the San Francisco Marathon I was flattered but very nervous. Those nerves amplified significantly as I was waiting for the race to begin, holding my 2:10 Pace Sign and waiting for people to join me. It was foggy and a bit cold in Golden Gate Park and I was shivering from the chill as much as my nerves.
Thankfully my nerves went away and I got into my role. It was fun to be an “ambassador” of the event. People asked me questions about the course (which truthfully I knew little about) and where they could find the 2:20 pacer. I was adept at pointing people in the proper direction of the bathrooms, sweats drop of and wave starting gate.
My pace group started gathering at around 5 til 8. I tried to be lively and funny and chatted a lot to make everyone feel comfortable. Some people would glance at my sign and move on in search of speedier pastures. I berated them jokingly, assuring them that they wouldn’t have as much fun as they would with 2:10.
As the race started I had a little cocoon surrounding me. Like I was a precious package that they were charged with delivering safely to the finish line. People glanced around to make sure I was still there and I’d chat with whoever was next to me and joke with people in front. Every now and then I’d shout out “How we doing 2:10?” and I’d get some kind of response.
Our first 2 miles we were on a 10 minute per mile pace. I told the group that we were at a 10 minute pace but not to worry, we would make our time so just relax and run. Miles 3 and 4 were hilly which is where the problems began. (You knew it wouldn’t be smooth sailing, didn’t you?)
Now for a lot of people, running hills equals a root canal. They dread them, hate them and are afraid of them. I, on the other hand do not mind hills and in fact, covet them. It doesn’t mean I don’t get out of breath and have to work to get to the top, but I’m able to get up and recover quickly.
I gave a few tips to anyone who cared to listen to me natter on. Use your arms hard, shorten your stride and pitter patter up the hill.
So at the hillier part of the run when I SHOULD slow down for my group, I pick up the pace. At the end of mile 3 I was 1:30 seconds ahead of my time and at the end of mile 4 we were almost 2 minutes ahead. Uh-oh. I probably lost about half of my group at that point.
I did have the group in front of me so I announced that I was deliberately slowing down as I needed to drop the pace a bit. I was able to do that and for the next few miles we were anywhere from 1 to 1:30 ahead of pace. I kept checking in with the group to let them know that we were still a bit fast but they were ok with it.
At one point, maybe mile 8 or so we had a course split where they diverted part of the group one way and my group the other. I lost another part of my group at that point. Another mile or so in, there was another course split and I lost more of my group.
I was down to just a few people I recognized and figured I was SO not being invited back next year to pace! I kept my sign high in the air and waved it so people behind could see me and hopefully be on track. And by the way, yes, I carried my sign the whole way.
At mile 11 I checked my watch and figured at the rate I was going, I was going to come in around 2:06. Uh-oh again. Too fast. So I hit the brakes and really made an effort to slow down.
We came around the industrial area and towards Pac Bell Park. I chatted with a few runners and one gal came up behind me and thanked me for holding the sign. She’d been watching the sign for the last 30 minutes and her goal was to keep me in her sight.
One downside to my slowdown was that I slowed down too much! I realized I had to kick in gear or else I might be over my 2:10 pace! So I hustled a bit and crossed at 2:09:39.
At the beginning of the race I told the group that if you stayed in my area you’d hit your goal. Even though I was really inconsistent in my pacing that still held true. And even if the group didn’t hit their goal, I hope they enjoyed their time spent in 2:10. However silly and dorky their pace leader was!
Now go run.