You enjoy running and you’re looking to give back to the sport you love. Have you ever thought about being a race pacer for a marathon or half marathon?

This is a very rewarding volunteer role, where you’re helping throngs of people reach their particular time goal. But while your intentions maybe noble, there are a few things you need to make sure of before you cast your name into the running pacer ring.

Can You Comfortably Run the Time You Are Pacing?

There is nothing worse to a person who is using a race pacer to hit his/her personal time goal only to learn that the pacer himself is fading at mile 21 of the marathon and will not be able to maintain the pace the rest of the way.

Understand you want to make sure you can comfortably maintain the pace of the race you are running. People who have a PR of 3-hours in the marathon should not be the pace-setter for the 3-hour group; they should pace groups trying to run anywhere between 3:15-3:30. Why? Because those times are 30-seconds to over 1 minute per mile slower than the pace they run for their best marathon and thus, even if they are having a bit of a bad day, most likely there is enough buffer built in there that they’ll get their group to the finish line on pace.

Have You Put in the Proper Miles for The Race You’re Going to Pace?

I once had a person ask me to pace the 3:05 group of a marathon and I declined. While my marathon PR is 2:27:17, I was in nowhere near that shape and was training for 800 meter to 1500 meter track events. I was maybe putting in 30+ miles per week. And while I could handle running 7:04 minute miles for a good clip (3:05 marathon pace), I hadn’t been training my body to put in longer miles. What ended up happening is that I ran the first half of the marathon for the 3:05-pace-group and another guy took over the duties from there. It worked out perfectly.

Can You Run Steady?

When I pace I want to be steady for my group. I don’t want to deviate from the pace by more than a few seconds either way. A pacer’s job, in my opinion, is to be consistent all throughout. I’m not going to factor in upgrades, declines, pavement, dirt, wind, rain, etc. If I am the 3:05 pacer, then I’m going to try to hit every mile at 7:04 as close as possible. I let my group know this. I shouldn’t have a race plan, the people racing can have a race plan – my job is to be the measuring stick for them, so they know if they are on pace or not.

Do You have a Backup GPS or Chronograph?

Call me anal, but I take pacing people very seriously. I need to make sure the timing equipment I have will work. And so I usually will have both a GPS device and an ordinary chronograph with multiple lap functions (30 lap minimum). I do this because we’ve all had situations, even when we have charged our GPS device that it for one reason or another goes a bit haywire and doesn’t show the correct mileage or pace. The chronograph then becomes my fallback device. I simply go “old school” and hit the lap button at every mile marker to see what I’ve run that mile in to make sure we are keeping a consistent pace.

Can You be a Cheerleader for Your Group?

This is by no way mandatory for being a good pacer, but I think can be a very positive experience for the runners who are relying on you to get them through the line in their goal time. In the beginning of the race I may be “Chatty Cathy” and let everyone know what the plan is and that I will get them there if they stick with me. As the race goes on and people are getting tired (and quieter) I may look around and see if anyone is falling back and try to give them simple positive affirmations like:

“you can do this”
“you’re still on pace” 
“just stay with me for this mile” 
“we’re almost there”
“you got this”
“you’re looking great”
“relax your (choose the body part that’s tensing up)”
“You’re crushing this!”

Hold the Pace Sign up High

Remember people are looking for pacers and the times on their sticks – so keep your sign held high. You become a beacon to runners behind you who are looking for the next pace group to catch up to. If you are holding your sign up high it now becomes a focal point to some runners and they can hopefully catch up to you throughout the race.

For those of you who have been pacers before, I’d love to hear your views on what being a good pace-setter means to you for endurance events. I think if you follow my previous suggestion you’ll be at least on your way to having a good experience as a pace-setter and helping many people reach their running goal.

Good luck and happy pacing!


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