The Pacer Game – Practically Quantum Physics

I used to HATE running with people. Any people. I ran alone 100% of the time. I hated feeling like I was slowing someone down, or going too fast for them, or how embarrassingly out of shape I felt heaving words out between breaths in an attempt to on-the-run conversate.


Margot! Remember the first time we ran together? I’m surprised you came back.

But slowly, mostly out of desperation to make friends when we moved to CA, I came out of it. Somehow it became easier to talk mid-stride, and falling into a universally-approved pace became second nature. I started really enjoying running with people.

Anyway, there’s been a lot of talk lately about in-race company and pacers. Susan just ran her friend’s first marathon with her, and there was Super Pacer Mason who pushed no less than 7 different people through parts of the Eugene course.

I didn’t mean to get wrapped up in the hype, but this weekend I got a taste of the pacer game at the OC Marathon. Accidentally. And MAN, who knew it was so complicated??!

SkinnyRunner and Kristina were being marathon bosses and running the marathon “for fun” after both crushing Eugene last week, and I decided to fix my long run into the course since their “easy pace” = “a pace I can almost-sort-of-barely hang on to”

After an hour I got bored of them needed a break. I stopped to wait for Monica who was just a few minutes back when Nicole ran by and said my name. We’d met at Eugene, where she’d been gunning for a BQ but ended up having to pull out early (her story HERE).

from Nicole’s recap – fitnessfatale

We were around mile 18 and although she looked good that’s always a scary place in the race.

“Want some company?”


Aint nobody got time for extra words at mile 18. I’ll let her tell the runner’s side (HERE), but I’ve got some thoughts from the impromptu “pacer” point of view.

Thoughts From a Pacer’s First Date

1) It is a very helpless feeling not knowing how to help. I wanted to ask a million questions – ‘is this pace ok? do you want me to run in front or beside? do you want me to tell you a story? do you need anything?’ – but that is a) annoying and b) bad for energy management.

Had I ever run with Nicole – hell maybe talked to her more than twice – it would’ve been a little easier to sense what she wanted or needed, but god damn those miles were the most stressful ever! Pacing is tough shit.

2) I’ve come up with four different approaches towards the pacer/run buddy. It’s hard to tell how your runner will respond if you haven’t tried them out, like a fart joke on a first date. Ideally you’ll have some experience together to get an idea, but remember no one can fully predict how their brain will react in the pain cave. So if your angry little mile 20 friend isn’t responding to your pom pom cheers, maybe try one of the others :

  • Distraction

This is the “just talk to me, tell me a story, read the phone book, recite the pledge of allegiance just for fuck’s sake take my mind off this pain” approach. Likely nothing is actually being processed so feel free to ramble nonsense or deep dark secrets – just make noise.

SR pam I

Pam and I with SR at her 50K last year – the machine doesn’t NEED help but said the company made it more fun

  • Sherpa

The take-away-all-of-the-thinking approach. Let them run like that hot football player no one knew how they got into college – all body, no brains.

me mason

Mason providing course intel and of course hydration support while my brain vacationed

  • Affirmation

Your runner is a self-conscious headcase and needs reassured they CAN hold this pace, they CAN finish, they ARE NOT going to die? Or they’re announcing their permanent separation from running due to irreconcilable differences and needs reminded why they’re putting themselves through this ridiculous self-inflicted torture? Remind them of the training that got them here – that they are prepared, capable, and damned if they throw away all those early Saturday wake up calls to quit with 10k to go. Maybe add a little pat on the butt for good measure.

K me

K delirious at mile 25.9 

  • Tough Love

It’s “suck it up, buttercup” time. No really. Move your ass, don’t you dare let this person pass you, there’s no crying in running. They might hate you at the time, but they’ll thank you later.


mon sr

SR giving Monica a little cattle prod to a huge PR at the OC Marathon

Keep this in mind next time you agree to jump into a run or race with a new friend. And trust me, you’ll get to see a real rough side of your friend in those late miles.

Brace yourself.

Sarah OUaL


14 thoughts on “The Pacer Game – Practically Quantum Physics

  1. I can’t imagine having that responsibility! I’ve done only one marathon so far, and it sucked – 80+ degrees, humidity over 80%, 25-30 mph sustained winds and a severe lack of water stations. I was dehydrated by mile 12ish. Unexpectedly, a running friend from work appeared at mile 20. At this point I wasn’t sure if I was actually even moving anymore… She asked how I was doing and if I wanted company – in my head, I spoke in actual English. But I’m sure what came out sounded like…. well, a whole lot of nothing, except for the curse words, which I believe were VERY clearly articulated! Multiple times I told her I wanted to stop and lay down in the shady grass – I couldn’t even see straight by mile 23 – but she forced me to keep going. To this day, I have no idea what she said to me in those final miles – and mind you, at this point, I was running about a 10:30 pace! I don’t remember the last 2-3 miles of the race at all. But then as I rounded the corner, and the finish line was in sight and I had about .3 to go, I could hear her screaming at me – MOVE YOUR DAMN LEGS! RUN FASTER, FINISH STRONG!!!!! I couldn’t see her, and I had no idea where she was at that point, but I could DEFINITELY hear her! Somehow, I crossed the finish. And then drank my body weight in beer (and didn’t eat – funny, totally wanted beer, but had no interest in food…!). All in all, the whole experience sucked. Took me 4:30+ to finish. So, to your point – pacing is NOT an easy job!!! Kudos to you for stepping up to the plate! (And yes, I have every intention of redeeming myself someday – back to back injuries seem to be getting in the way!)


  2. Haha these are great. My ex (then bf) paced me in my first race. The pace was stupid-fast for me at the time (he wasn’t the greatest bf) but he ran with truly metronomic rhythm. I just fell in step with him, shut my brain off, and a half hour later it was over. I don’t exactly recommend that but it was a pacing success, kind of?


  3. Hah!!! First – You did great! I honestly have never been paced either so we both out there like pacer virgins having no idea how to help one another in their role. Unfortunately I told you I was going to run 8 – 8:10 (which I just WAS) and then you DID what I told you and I couldn’t keep up because of the damn wind and the fact that I was 20 miles in and apparently hit the wall three minutes after calling your name. You also did a great job asking if I needed anything from aid stations and keeping an eye on me. Who knows what kind of hole I could have sunk into without the motivation of trying to catch you! :) Anyway, THANK YOU! For me since I was so deep in the pain cave I was just thinking KEEP MOVING! SURVIVE! but sounds like you had a million things going through your mind. I wish I could have been more entertaining or even just communicated better. It was a learning experience for us both!


  4. I’m liking this recap but still wondering when you are moving to Cleveland so we can train together. I swear running in the snow and not being able to feel your extremities really isn’t that bad.
    Also, who is this Mason guy that shows up in everyone’s blogs and pictures? How is he everywhere at once? Are there 2 of him? Can I get one?


  5. My 30 year BFF ran my first 10k with me last year, and by the time we crossed the finish line I wanted to punch her in the face. If she hadn’t made me crazy from beginning to end I never would have finished in the time that I did. Her acting like an ass throughout most of the race also distracted me from the created-by-Satan hills and the torrential downpour.


  6. My aunt and I paced each other during the Cleveland heat wave last year. We don’t see each other much, so we caught up on family and lives. Mindless talk, but it helped the miles pass. It helped, I scored a killer PR in 80 degree weather with about 99% humidity.


  7. Loved this post! You hit the nail on the head with the different approaches you can take to pacing. My husband has paced me a few races and he’s really encouraging during the race, but usually the second I cross the finish line he goes “well, you could’ve done better”. Ouch! At least let me ride the high for a little bit… I can always do better, of course. I think I will share this post with him :)


  8. Pacing is fo sho hard. I always feel bad for the pacers that have to carry something awkward to denote their pace group. The first race I ran with a pacer they had different colored balloons which isn’t too bad aside from the string. The second race the guy had a foam placard glued onto a long thin wooden pole that bent and fluttered crazily in the wind. How awful would he feel if it broke in half and then spent the rest of the race yelling “hey I’m the 1:50 pacer guy!!”


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