Monday, December 12, 2011

Pacing Attempt #2

Let's start with the end for now. 

The end of Saturday, December 10 was a very awesome lasagna dinner for the marathon committee members (and, lucky for me, their spouses and children too!).  These volunteers do such a great job and deserved the night to unwind together.  My family enjoyed delicious food while we listened to some amazing speakers (Okay, I enjoyed the speakers while Rick chased the kids through the hotel halls.  Just being real here!). 

I really admired them all, like the guy who has run all 35 Rocket City Marathons, the 2nd place male and female finishers, and two friends of mine who were the 6:00 sweepers on the course (one who carried a broom the whole time to "sweep" the course!).  The race director apparently gives the guy with the perfect track record a souvenir of sorts each year.  One year he got the roll of toilet paper from a port-a-potty he used during the race!  This year, he got a huge marathon sign that was on the ground on the course this year.  Everyone jokingly gave him ideas of where he could display the sign at his house!  The 2nd place guy said that our race had a small-town feel and that Huntsville runners seemed like a family, and I looked around and saw nods of agreement.  I think he was pretty perceptive to notice that about us in such a short amount of time.  The 2nd place girl was a sweet 31 year old mother of two who struck me as being so down to earth.  She talked about how she did the "marathon math" at the end trying to figure out what she needed to run to finish in a certain time.  It's refreshing to hear that even the winners struggle out there sometimes.

And now, here's the Race Recap for Marathon #24, Rocket City #4, and Pacing Attempt #2:

Before the Race

I began preparing for the race on Friday.  I laid out a possible outfit (though I ended up changing out the base level for a tighter shirt race day), packed baggies of Clif Bloks and gummy bears, and pinned my number to my shirt.  I lightly tapered by not running on Thursday and then doing 4 easy miles on Friday.  I got back from a work party late on Friday, so I didn't go to bed until after 11.  No worries, since my alarm was set for "sleeping in," or 6:00 a.m.  Rick woke up before 4 a.m. to begin his job as course sentry director, and I tossed and turned after that.  Doesn't matter; it's the night before the night before the marathon that matters, and I had slept great that night.

Clothes laid out, minus the hat and gloves.  We had a chilly start!
The Race

Oh, how funny it is to me the effect the pacer sign has on people.  Suddenly, anyone carrying the sign is Rocket City Marathon expert!  Seriously, I was standing in line to go to the bathroom (while trying to hide the sign the best I could), and people were giving me these strange sidelong glances and others were asking me very bizarre questions about the marathon (one asked me what time I thought we would cross the start line.  Hmmm.).  I hurriedly went into the ballroom to find the rest of the pacers after that.  I was glad to stash my car keys in my gear bag behind the registration booth (I think I carried them last year.  I don't know what to do when Rick doesn't run with me!).  We were supposed to line up at 7:45 a.m., so we all went out then.  I was quickly greeted by several friends and others who were lining up too.  I answered the usual questions about pace and the inevitable question, "Are you going to carry that sign the whole way?" (which was repeated several more times throughout the race.  It's really not heavy, people!). 

As predicted, I started out slow due to the crowds but quickly found pace after that.  I know this is a race report, but honestly, there are not a whole lot of details that are specific to me from this race.  In marathons where I am racing, there are so many moments where I am having to dig deep, to talk myself into keeping up the pace, but today it was all fairly good in terms of effort (minus a quicker pace near the last mile).  I kept a smooth, steady pace without wavering.  A highlight was kissing my husband, Rick, at Mile 18 (he was serving as a course sentry there in between his course set-up and take-down duties).  One girl said, "So...I guess that was your husband?"  For documentation's sake, I took my Clif Bloks, some gummy bears, and two Gus offered on the course.  I never felt weak or like I couldn't continue on pace.  That is why my end result was so maddening to me. 

The Result    

Have you ever looked back at something and realized where a pivotal mistake was made?  And, if you could go back and change it, you totally would?  That is how I feel about the last 5 miles of the marathon.  You know how last year, I finished too fast and vowed NOT to do that again?  Well, I overshot in the other direction this year.  Hindsight is 20/20.  We learn from our mistakes. 
You know how I don't usually run with the Garmin?  I have run 23 marathons and only two of those were with the Garmin.  I am used to pressing lap at each mile marker of the race and using that to gauge my performance.  Well, it never occurred to me to turn off the autolap feature on the Garmin.  The Garmin beeped (indicating a mile) ahead of the actual mile markers.  It never dawned on me that I would thus be running MORE THAN 26.2 miles.  Oh yes, I was that dumb.  I was SO focused on the trees that I missed the forest.  I was SO intent on getting each mile in on pace, that I didn't think about the big picture.  I saw the 8:58, but I did not see the 3:55.
I sadly realized the inevitable path of disaster I was on with one mile left to go.  Yes, I am the pacer who did not think about overall pace until there was one mile left to go.  Then, it was easy to add 9:00 to my watch time and to see that I was nearly two minutes too SLOW.  I panicked and tried to book it to the finish, ending my until then evenly paced run with an 8:30 pace for Mile 26 and a 7:00 pace for the remaining .43.  When I saw 3:56 on the clock, I was so mad and frustrated with myself.  My only consolation is that most of my group had fallen behind me earlier than this and probably had been caught by the awesome 4:00 pacer.  Many would still finish sub 4 hours, which was the goal of everyone that I talked to with a time goal in my pace group today (many had a goal merely to finish).  My official chip time was 3:55:50 for my Garmin's distance of 26.43 miles.  Oh, how eaten up on the inside I was about my mistake!!  As soon as I finished, I grabbed some food quickly and called Rick to vent.  I missed the chance to cheer in my group.  I am just now realizing how my anger at myself cost me the joy and thrill of seeing my new friends finish the race.  I was so embarrassed at my time that I forgot to consider theirs.  I lamented to Rick about wanting a redo of the last 5 miles, so that I could gradually increase the pace and bring in the runners in 3:54:59.  I will probably be haunted with that time for quite a while.  I feel like I failed.
When I told this story to my friends today, they were like, "What's the big deal?"  Since I am pretty new to pacing, I don't really know why it's so important not to go over.  I got a 3:15:33 at Chicago, and I still say I got a 3:15 when people ask.  I do know that with Boston's new qualification standards, there is no longer an allowance of "seconds over."  So if someone needed a 3:55, used to be they could get a 3:55:59 and still qualify.  Now they need a 3:55:00 or under (no seconds allowed).  
I know I'm a perfectionist and very hard on myself, but I really think this race shows that I am not cut out for pacing.  Just like when I was a new teacher, I feel like I am learning about pacing through the expense of others (when I taught, I learned how to teach at the expense of my first students).  And I feel like a very slow learner.  I've had two years now to "hit the target," and I've missed both times.  And, frankly, this year was worse of a failure than last year's since being too slow is the worst thing a pacer can be.
After talking it over with Rick, I felt a little more encouraged about the job I did.  He said it was an honest mistake and that it could have happened to anyone.  He said that I should remember the people in the beginning who were thanking me for starting on pace.  He said I should remember the people I encouraged along the way.  And he reminded me that, in the end, it is an individual race.  I can't pull along or hold anyone back.  He said in many ways, I was more successful this year than last, and that I shouldn't dwell on the number on the clock so much (I think the way he actually put it was, "It's not as bad as you are making it seem.").  I took comfort in the fact that he was trying to comfort me.

Running with Brandy
Photo by George Titsworth
  • People came up to thank me for "holding them back" at the beginning.  As someone who always starts too fast, I can see how a pacer could really help there.  As the miles went on, many people mentioned how great it was that I was running consistent miles.
  • From the beginning, I encouraged the runners to pick up the pace at the end.  I know that was a good thing to say, now that I know my outcome.  I told them to shoot for a negative split. 
  • There were not (to my knowledge) any people from my group who were trying to BQ.  I talked to people who were running their first marathon and to people who were trying to break four hours.  I am happy that I was able to pace them to do those two things.
  • I was able to give good advice from my experience in running while I was pacing.  Examples are telling one guy named Seth about how I like to do a marathon a month.  I think I talked him into running the New Orleans marathon after this one!  My group was able to discuss many marathons with my personal accounts, along with others' accounts too.  Some I remember that were mentioned were Boston, Myrtle Beach, Chicago, Nashville, Arizona, and New Orleans.  It was fun "comparing notes" with people who had already run them and to give recommendations for those wanting a personal account. 
  • I chatted with people.  I had conversations about Madison (with a guy who lives on a street my group runs all the time), a guy's twin daughters who both run, and local races.  I was there to listen as people shared with me and distracted themselves from the running. 
  • I offered encouragement.  For fun, I "cattle-prodded" two guys from my Sunday School class with my pacer sign.  I encouraged a friend as she ran past me, one that ran with me, and one that I had to leave behind.  I think it helped them to see a familiar face.  I waved my sign and yelled, "Cheer for us!"  many times as we approached big groups of people.  (As a side note, if you are a spectator, please cheer for all the runners, not just "your" runner.  It means a lot to hear the crowds, especially at the end.  Even if the runners don't react with a big smile or wave, they still like your cheers.  Trust me!)
  •  I wished that I could either a) run backwards or b) have eyes in the back of my head.  It was so hard to know who, if anyone, was still trailing me!  I did get some indication at the aid stations, where workers would shout, "Whoa, that's a big group!" and scramble to get more waters!  But when someone was talking with me and then fell back, I never knew if they were still with the group or not.
  • My inexperience with the Garmin did come back to bite me.  I did not think about the fact that I would probably run MORE than 26.2 miles as I went along (yes, even though I have run 23 marathons, I wasn't thinking about this until the very end).  I am NOT a math whiz or good at calculating pace in my head.  That is simply not one of my strengths as a runner.  I never really even thought about "running the tangents" as I was running; in fact, I usually ran on the outside of the turns so my runners could have the shorter route.  I am a very literal person, and when it says to run an 8:58 pace, then I am going to run an 8:58 pace.  It did not occur to me to adjust for the longer route until the very end.  By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late.   
  • My overall time was 50 seconds too slow.  I am majorly disappointed that I did not adjust my running earlier since I easily could have done this.  My group had been warned of a negative split, so I easily could have run the second half two minutes faster to bring us in on time.
  • My group had thinned considerably around mile 20.  I remember feeling bad that I was just cruising up a hill and leaving many of them behind, yet I had to stay on pace (little did I know I was actually behind pace).  In a way, it helps me feel better than if they were being held back by their pacer at the end. 
  • People asked me many specific questions about the Rocket City Marathon (such as where were the aid stations), and I was not able to answer those.   I need to become more familiar with the route, the location of the aid stations, etc.

 The medal

Ending Thoughts

Curious to see if I had ever run a 3:55:50, I found my closest time, a 3:56:02 from the Madison Marathon in Madison, WI in May of 2008.  Twelve seconds separate these times, but the experiences are miles apart.  In Madison, I was victorious, finishing my first marathon post-kids in my goal of sub 9:00 minute miles with Rick by my side.  This year, I feel like a failure and that I let people down, and it's there for all to see.  Yet both of these marathons (and most of my other marathons) fall in the 3 hour something range.  So much depends on the numbers after that 3 and the experiences that surround them.  I've had triumphant moments and crushing defeats all within this range.  We runners live and die by the little numbers.  To all of those who met with success (and whose numbers were in your favor out there), congratulations.  You deserve to celebrate.  To myself I say, there's always going to be another run.  Another chance to make those numbers say a time I can be proud to claim.


  1. Oh Katie...let's pretend you're me and I'm you. I just wrote this exact post. What would you say to me? More importantly, what would you be thinking?? I don't know about you but I've gotten to where I'm pretty much only critical of myself.'s wrong.

    I wasn't pacing, but I made the same mistake...and I wear a Garmin ALL THE TIME, for EVERY SINGLE RACE. I watched it beep early EVERY SINGLE MILE and it wasn't until mile 26 I realized that would mean I was going to have to run an extra distance.

    You provided MUCH MORE than a set finish time for the people who were running with you. AND, Rick is right, it's an individual race. Pace groups are nice, but people still have to be responsible for their own finish.

    Yesterday, as I was lamenting about how I didn't feel like my 4:23 finish was really "good enough", my friend told me not to let satan steal away the joy God has given me in running...the joy of the accomplishment of the marathon goal...nor the opportunity to grow in Him by learning from mistakes. For me, it's pride that beats me up or berates any measure of success that falls short of PERFECTION.

    You really did a great job. I'm glad to see you pointed out the positives...and that they outweigh the negatives. (But I think that last one is stretching a were a pacer, not a course representative!! And, the fact your group had thinned out but you were still -pretty much- on pace is not negative, nor is the fact you can't see who's behind you---those are just part of the nature of the pacing beast.)

    Oh how I hope I can speed up enough to be in your pace group next year!! :D

  2. Friend, you should not feel like a failure at ALL! Like you said, you did not have any runners trying to BQ and that means you can add seconds! And I know you helped so many runners out there and they were so glad to have you for a pacer! I think you should be happy with what you accomplished out there. I think you ARE a good pacer and this was just another lesson you learned to make you even better!

    I look forward to HOPEFULLY another Rocket City when we can be pacers together again!

  3. Sounds like you did great to me! Personally, I think the main goal of most people who pace with a 3:55 group is to break the big 4 hour mark. Running a sub 4 hour marathon is a big accomplishment and you successfully led your group to this goal.

    I enjoyed reading this recap so much because I have never thought about things from the pacer's view point. I recently ran in a half marathon and decided to pace with the 3:10 marathoners. They started out much faster than the estimated pace but it worked for me. We did lose several by mile 6. (Pacer ran mile 5 sub 6:40 instead of 7:13!) I ended up leaving the group to catch the 3:05 group but never did. Anyway, it was my first experience with a pace group. I will probably try it again. I cannot imagine being a pacer myself. I'm sure it is a huge responsibility. Thanks for sharing this experience- the positives and negatives. We learn from every race experience and I wouldn't let this prevent you from being a pace leader again in the future.

  4. Katie, you did an excellent job! I hated that i couldn't keep up with your pace group but I figured I would fall behind at some point. It still doesn't seem like I ran a marathon except I could hardly move for 2 days!

    My one friend that was following your pace got her wish of 3:57 and I know she was super happy with that & I never heard anyone complain. Being a pacer has got to be a hard job with lots of responsibility on your shoulders and I know you did your best!

    Now I have a in the world have you ran 20 something marathons??? ha! That 1 about killed me! :) Of course I did just start running this year so I know it takes time/practice but man, that was rough! :) Oh and please tell Rick "thank you" for cheering me on when I was about dead!

  5. I really enjoyed hearing this from a pacer's point of view. I hope to run Rocket City next year as my first marathon and my goal will definitely be just to finish.

    I think you did a great job and if anyone was trying to BQ they would have let you know and I'm sure they would have been checking their Garmin like crazy to make sure they made it. I hope your group was proud of their time and hit their goals!

  6. Katie, I am no expert by any means on marathoning or being a pacer for one, but I think to give of your time to be a pacer is very unselfish of you. I really admire you for that. I am with everyone else, you did a great job! Don't beat yourself up about it! I like how your listed the positive! Focus on that :)

    I'm giving consideration to Rocket City 2012?!?!

  7. Dana, Thank you for your encouragement. I know--I AM my own worst critic too. And thank you for admitting that you also made the same mistake. I don't feel like the only one now!
    Jane, thank you for your support as always! I hope we can pace again together sometime too! You did AWESOME last year. I hope to be that pacer who hears people saying, "She's right on pace!" at the finish like you did in 2010.
    Tia and Suz, I am glad you got insight into a pacer's mind form my recap! It is REALLY hard to pace a marathon!
    Brandy, I hope you are over your soreness now. I was SO sore after my first marathon. It gets easier! I hope you will decide to run more!
    Tracey, Thank you for reminding me to focus on the positive! And I think you would do great at Rocket City 2012!