My transition from newbie runner to
old hag experienced runner continues, most recently when I was picked as a pacer for the women’s only Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in Grand Rapids on April 23.
The plan was to run at an 11-minute pace with my friends Brandess and Shannon (the same Brandess and Shannon who have encouraged every single running-related crazy idea I’ve eventually signed up for — my first half, trail-half, full and ultra marathons come to mind).
I was excited to get the email announcing this wonderful development, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was stretching things a bit too far to run at that pace for my first pacing gig. There’s a reason we call ourselves the Mullet Crew (we’re the party in the back!).
I’ve certainly been doing speed work and increasing my mileage since I found out I was chosen as a pacer back in October. Once again, I’m following the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Intermediate training plan, which has me running five times a week. It’s very do-able and I always enjoy Higdon’s plans because of their clarity.
But the idea of leading a pack of women through a half marathon at that pace made me nervous. Could I do it? Yup. Would it be fun? Well…
Thankfully, the race organizers at Gazelle Sports hosted all of us pacers at their beautiful store tonight. My friend, Janet, and I drove over to Grand Rapids, an hour away.
It was fun to be surrounded by a bunch of runners who obviously want to support other women in their journey.
It was also an opportunity to chat with the woman organizing our pace groups and, thanks to very flexible fellow pacers, being able to switch with my friend Toni to the 12-minute pace group. I even got to meet my new pacing buddies, Amy and Mary, and they seem like the type of women I want to spend two hours and 37 minutes with on race day.
As a bonus, the experienced pacers in the room shared these tips with us newbies:
- Wear a fuel belt (not a hydration pack) so your group can see the back of your shirt (which will read “pacer”). We were also encouraged to write our names on the back.
- Bring throw-away gloves to make carrying the pacer sign more comfortable.
- Wear the pacer shirt on a couple of training runs to make sure there are no fit problems (translation: chaffing).
- Train with a watch to keep on-pace and print out a pace band for race-day to make sure you’re hitting your targets.
- Grab some extra fuel at the pacer tent before the race so that you can share with your runners who may be crashing or who may have dropped their own.
- Know the location of the aid stations. For this race, there will be five stations. They’ll have a variation of water, Nuun hydration tabs, Gu gels and chews, and Gluten Free Bar samples.
- Be aware of runners ahead, behind and all around you.
- Make an effort to check in with all runners. Share positive stories. Use their names (thank you, personalized bibs!) and encourage everyone you see, even if they’re not with your pace group.
- Set a game plan with fellow pacers ahead of time. For example, take turns carrying the pace sign and fueling/drinking.
“We really try hard to make every woman feel welcome,” race director Holly Visser told our group. “Every woman.”
Overall, my main takeaway was to have fun and to be supportive of others. That, I can do!
Added bonus: I got to see my fellow Skirt Sports ambassador captain, Linda. We just had to pose for photos.
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