Name of the race: Bucks County Half Marathon
Where: Tyler State Park Center for the Arts, Richboro, PA
Date: April 12, 2015
Time: 8:00 am
Distance: 13.1 miles
Terrain: Rolling hills
Entry fee: (I received a free entry for pacing.)
Early Bird Pricing (First 50 Runners Only)……………..$55 (Ends after 50 spots filled!)
Fall Pricing (General Admission)…………………………$62 (Starts after Early Bird, End 10/1)
Winter Pricing (General Admission)…………………….$67 (10/2 – 2/1)
Spring Pricing (General Admission)……………………..$72 (2/2 – 4/10)
Swag: Finishers medal and shirt
Post-race Food: Pretzel, banana, apple, Gatorade, and water
Performance: Overall 296/391; Gender: 140/206; Age (30-39) 28/101
Weather: 45 degrees, 66% humidity
Pace, pace, baby! I’ve never been prouder of a “slow” time. A couple weeks ago I was the 2:30 pacer for the Bucks County Half Marathon with Beast Pacing. I’ve always wanted to pace a half marathon, so when this opportunity came, I jumped on it. I was really excited and worried about pacing. Many grateful thanks to Blessed with Thunder Thighs for her awesome tips on pacing. The night before I made a pace bracelet and marked what the terrain would be like for those particular miles.
I drove out to the suburbs of Philadelphia by myself because there weren’t any dog-friendly hotels nearby. So Ben and Bandit were on their own at home. The race packet pick up was at a large gym. I arrived, went inside, picked up my packet, and left. There was nothing else going on. I had an early dinner and then spent a few quiet hours working before sleeping. I barely could sleep the night before because I was so nervous and anxious to do a good job. This is unusual for me because I have no problems sleeping the night before a race.
The Bucks County Half started at 8 am, but the pacers were instructed to show up an hour early. I met my fellow pace team members and we stood around shivering in the cold. About 20 mins before the start of the race, I had to use the facilities. The line for the port-o-potties was really long and I knew if I stood in line, I wasn’t going to make the start. I felt like a bit of an @sshole in asking to cut because I was a pacer, but I didn’t think I had a choice. I took my place in the “corrals” and met the runners who were going to run with me. There were about 8 people. I studied the course and the elevation very carefully the night before. Figuring out the pacing for the course was challenging. I couldn’t do simple even splits or a negative split because there were several small rolling hills and two big inclines (a hill that we go over twice). The course started with a big decline, so I decided we would do a fast first mile, slow down to race pace for the subsequent miles, and then slow down at Mile 6 when we got to the hill the first time around (using up the time we banked on the first mile), speed up again down the hill, slow down to race pace again, and burn up the banked time when we go up the hill the second time around. I warned everyone that we were going to have a fast first mile, but they shouldn’t worry because it was straight downhill.
The race was very nicely organized. They didn’t release all the runners at once. Instead, they released batches of runners every 2 mins or so, so the course never felt crowded. When we were finally released, I automatically leaped into “race” mode and frantically had to reel myself back in. Despite telling them that we were going to do a fast first mile, I didn’t want to go too fast. I was aiming for about a 10:30 pace (about a min faster).
We covered the first mile in 10:25. Nailed it. Then we settled down a 11:24’ish pace for a few miles. I chatted with the runners. At every mile marker, I announced our splits. I had a lot of fun during this portion. I pointed out interesting things to see on the course. Every once in a while I reminded the runners to breathe deeply and relax. The entire time we were running, I repeatedly glanced at my Garmin to prevent the pace from creeping up. I knew I had to try to keep an even of a pace as possible during the flatish miles.
Then we came to Mile 6, where we came to our first hill. I slowed down as we marched up the incline. And this is where I lost just about everyone. Only a single runner, who was running her first half marathon to celebrate her 61st birthday, stayed with me. Now I acted a personal private pacer for her. I could hear her breathing hard, so I assured her that she was doing great because I wanted her to relax. We kept running. I lost her for a little bit at one point when we went up a small hill, but she came running down on the decline to catch up to me.
I was having fun pacing her, when at Mile 11 we hit the big hill again. Up I went and that’s when I lost her for good. At that point she was just done and didn’t have anything left to keep it up on an incline. So for the next couple of miles I was completely by myself and this was the part that kinda sucked about pacing. I was alone. I couldn’t speed up because I’m pacing and I knew that there might be other runners behind me hoping to catch up or runners who fell behind a faster pace and might use me to salvage their race. So I continued along, but it was really lonely.
I messed up the pacing of the last mile. Bucks County Half Marathon is a tough race to pace because of all the rolling hills. I accidentally ran a portion of the last mile too fast and then I slowed down to compensate, but I slowed down too much and I didn’t properly take into account the additional distance from not running tangents. I planned on finishing between 2:29:30 and 2:30, but I ran 24 seconds over. Oops. I would have felt really badly about it, but I finished alone so there wasn’t anyone whose PR depended on me.
I was a bit disappointed in not finishing under 2:30, but I learned a lot about pacing. Pacing is hard work. I found pacing a lot harder than simply running my race. A part of this might be because the pace for a 2:30 is much much slower than what I would run for a comfortable slow pace. It’s actually harder to run so much slower because I kept wanting to go faster. I discovered there a pace window that I find comfortable to run in and anything faster or slower than that window is work. Also when you’re pacing, there’s a small window of time that you’re targeting to hit. When you’re racing for a PR, there’s simply a number that you’re trying to beat. In pacing, you don’t want to be too fast and you don’t want to be too slow. Like Goldilocks, you need to be just right. Next time I pace, I’d like to do the 2:15 pace group. I’d also aim to finish a minute faster because as a pacer I let the runners take the tangents, so the additional distance will add time.
In the end I was pretty proud of pacing for my first role as a pacer. I really had a lot of fun, especially when I had runners with me. Ben was proud of me and he got me my favorite flowers, stargazer lilies.
I also got some nice compliments at the end. A few runners found me after they were done and thanked me for helping them in the beginning. Another runner emailed the race director to compliment me. Yay! So all in all, a pretty good day and I had a great time.
Until I came home and caught Ben in bed with another b!tch.
I LOVE pacing – especially half marathons! I just paced one on Sunday and I am in the process of writing a post about it. It’s so rewarding. And, like you said, I’m never prouder of my time than I am on those days. I was 21 seconds over on the last half I paced but had no one with me so it was okay. My friend was running the race and I was a little ahead, and I saw her coming in the distance. I stopped and waited for her to run it in together. Cost me 21 seconds but it was worth it!!! Great job pacing!
I can’t wait to read your post. I always feel good volunteering, but pacing is a nice direct way of helping runners.
Nice insight into the point of view of a first time pacer. I’ll be doing it for the first time, a slow 10k, and will check out the link to those tips.
Thanks. The comment with pacing tips from Blessed with Thunder Thighs can be found here on this post: https://afastpacedlife.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/im-a-beast/
Hey, it was your first time, so now you know! I agree, pacing is definitely harder than people think, especially when it’s significantly slower than you ever run. I paced a group once at about 3.5 minutes slower per mile than my usual half marathon race pace and it was really physically uncomfortable, so I agree — for most people there is probably a lower limit for pacing in terms of running at paces slower than normal.
I had a hard time finding my “groove” because I kept on wanting to run a bit faster. I definitely learned a lot and I want to pace again so I can put what I learned to practice.
It was really fun and a great way to give back to the community.
Pacing is hard! Good job! I would struggle to pace as I’m all over the place with my pace.
Thanks. I had to constantly monitor to make sure I didn’t bounce the pace around too much. Next time I’d like to do a slightly faster group because I think I’ll have an easier time maintaining a more even pace.
A good pacer can make all the difference to a runner. I love all of the thought you put into your pacing strategy! Good job and thanks for sharing your experience.
Thanks! I really loved pacing and hope to do more of it.
Great job! Sounds like a tough course to pace.
As you get more chances to pace, you will perfect your skills more and more! So glad you got the experience, and it’s really awesome how nervous you were (it means you took it seriously and really wanted to do well). 😀
Aw, thanks! I wanted my runners to depend on me.
I’ve never read about someone who paced so this was such an interesting perspective! it doea sound incredibly difficult so I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself the first time. Your time started wirh the the numbera 2, 3 and 0 so I’d call that a success!
Thanks! I had a lot of fun. I want to pace again. Since I’ll be doing marathon training over the summer, I think I’ll look for other halves to pace as a part of all the long runs that I’ll need to do.