Sunday, December 12, 2010

(Nearly) Hitting the Target in my Rocket City Trilogy

Photo by We Run Huntsville
Pacing at mile 24, happy and chatting away

The Run
So I began the morning of my first event as a pacer around 4 a.m. when Rick's alarm went off. I laid in bed after he left afraid to go asleep since I might miss my alarm (like in the classic Seinfield episode!). I really take for granted that Rick runs my marathons with me. He gets me up, drives me there, and holds the keys while we run. All of this is harder alone! But once I had laid there until 5:45 or so, I got up and showered (does anyone else like to do this before a marathon?) and got dressed. I was just beginning to wonder if the sitter forgot when I saw her pull up. After going over the instructions and hitting my bathroom one last time, I headed for the race! I parked at the library and headed over to the hotel for one more potty break. With the frantic pace of my morning, I was a little warm and decided to throw off my gloves and long-sleeve shirt back at the car (weather was mid-30s at start but near 50 at finish). I made it a quick jog since I was supposed to be at the start by 7:45 a.m.

At the start, people instantly came up when they saw the sign. I met two of the runners who had corresponded to me via email before the race. And I saw my friends Jane and Madelyn and met Jane's mother, Erin. I am usually not talkative during the race, but I found it easy to have lots of little conversations with the runners in the group, which started out very large in the beginning. I met so many nice people--a guy who ran Rocket City 24 years ago, a woman who ran the last 6 miles of her last marathon with a stress fracture obtained in the race, a guy who ran on a John Bingham cruise to Alaska, a guy who is planning to run his 10th Mountain Mist this year, 2 Pauls (one who offered to carry my sign for me), among many others.

I found it hard to regulate my pace because once I started talking to someone, I would have to let them keep going while I slowed down (though several people slowed just like I did). I also noticed that I picked up my pace each time I passed a crowd or music. Looking back, I was about 5-10 seconds too fast in the crucial first 20 miles. Though I now think, "Why did I do this?" I think at the time that I was worried about the last 6 so much that I wanted to build that cushion. Running very even splits is new to me (and my body), but seriously slowing down at the end is not! So I was overly cautious. Throughout the race, I took the 2 Gu's offered on the course, water or Powerade at every aid station, and some Cliffshots and Sportsbeans stashed in my pocket. I never hit a wall or really even felt like I could not continue running the pace (as I always do when I am running my pace in a race). It was nice to be an encouragement to those around me even in the end (I told them to picture the finish line and brought up other bits of encouragement).

The highlights for me in pacing included obviously meeting many great people committing to that pace, seeing my mom and dad at Whitesburg School, seeing Rick at mile 18, and helping my friend Patrick from miles 24-26. It was so great to be able to encourage others so much while running (usually I am too tired to really do this). But it was funny having people think I was some sort of expert at pacing or even the 4:15 pace (which I had never run before!). Near the end, some people seemed discouraged to see the 4:15 pacer passing them, because with me their goal time was also passing them by. Well, I have been in that same boat, and it is no fun! When I made it to the finish, I knew I was a little ahead of pace but jogged slowly to the end. It felt funny to get a medal since it didn't feel like "my" race. It was strange to call this "volunteering" too, though.
The Gear
I felt very official in my red pacer shirt (also wore my red FF team shorts since I know they are comfortable and best-of-all, they were free!). We were told to carry small pacer signs for at least the first 5 miles, but I found that it was not heavy at all so I carried it the whole time. People could tell what pace group was approaching, thus finding their relative or friend more easily. And I could shout, "Let's hear it for the 4:15 pace group" which I thought helped get the crowd's support for the runners. And the runners in front could turn around and see us coming.
The Garmin was set up perfectly with the three-screen rotation. It not only helped me but also the others in the group for me to be able to say, "This is a 9:30 mile, but our overall pace is a 9:42" etc. The tattoo did not stick to my arm so at the last minute I had turned it into a bracelet with a little packing tape and a safety pin. I used it several times also as I ran, not every mile but at places like the halfway point. As I began running, I was instantly a little confused about whether to use chip or gun time for the 4:15 pace, but I decided that chip time made the most sense so I went with that.
The End Result
I realized pretty close to the end that I was too far ahead of my goal time. I later heard that some of the pacers turned the last corner and started walking to get closer to their pace time. I may try that in the future if I get too far ahead, though running more on-target splits throughout will be my main goal next time. I was actually the furthest from my pace time of all of us pacers. That shows you what an awesome group of pacers we had and gives me something to strive for next time. The chip time was 4:12:47, or 2 minutes and 13 seconds above pace. We were supposed to do 1-2 minutes ahead of our goal pace max. I am trying to not be too discouraged, but I know that running the earlier miles too fast might have discouraged those trying to keep the 9:44 pace. That is hard to swallow.
Eric Charette (who organized the pacing team) wrote the nicest thank you letter to us pacers. Here it is:
On behalf of the Huntsville Track Club, Rocket City Marathon and the sponsors Nike and Fleet Feet, I wanted to send our gratitude to you as pacers for your service this weekend. While many people volunteer on race day, you not only sacrificed your own marathon, but put in the training time to be able to hit your goal time. This was an incredible task for which you volunteered, to run even pace for the entire race and come under your goal time. I am proud to say that with only minor variation, were we able to meet all of our goals.

I heard so many great comments about the pacers and how they helped people realize their goal times, qualify for Boston or just pull them along with encouraging words during the race. Tut Said from Nike expressed his appreciation multiple times and Suzanne Taylor and Wayne Smith even noted it at the award ceremony.

I hope that each of you rests tonight with the pride that you helped others realize their dreams while you unselfishly gave of yourself. I know that personally this was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done with running.

We will definitely be looking to have pacers help to complement our marathon in 2011 and beyond.
Listed below are the names and times of the pacers
Josh Hite (3:10) - 3:08:10
Eric Schotz (3:15) - 3:14:35
Jon Elmore/Eric Fritz (3:20) - 3:20:59
Brett Addington (3:30) - 3:29:33
John Nevels/Dana Overton (3:35) - 3:33:23
Eric Charette (3:40) - 3:38:46
Eric Patterson (3:45) - 3:45:04
James Falcon (3:50) - 3:49:58
Linda Scavarda (4:00) - 3:59:33
David Rawlings (4:05) - 4:04:24
Katie Maehlmann (4:15) - 4:12:47
Jane Reneau (4:30) - 4:29:16
Rob/Kathy Youngren (6:00) - 5:58:46


  1. I found it! GREAT post! Reading it, I remembered so many things I forgot to include. I felt very official too, wearing that shirt and carrying the sign. And I loved when people cheered for the 4:30 group.

    I wondered, race morning, how you were wearing only short sleeves. I thought maybe you were just really tough.

    And I can't believe you shower before a marathon! Hilarious! Although, because I was a pacer and would be seen, I put on a little make-up before this one. hee hee.

  2. Hi Jane, About the sleeves! I know! It was either start warm and end up too hot or throwing off a good shirt OR start cold and warm up. I opted not to lose a good shirt or be too warm while running.
    The shower is NOT cosmetic! Rick read somewhere that it is good to wake up your muscles or something like that. He began doing the showers on marathon mornings and then I did too! It does seem silly to shower just to get all dirty again :)