Following a running pacer is a great way to stay on track with your race goals and nail that PB.
If you have ever wondered what motivates a runner to become a pacer, or have even considered it yourself, let experienced pacer Paul Addicott give you the low down on what it’s like to be the leader of the pack!
1) How long have you been running and what made you start?
I’ve been running to some degree as long as I can remember, but I never considered myself a runner until 2009.
When I was younger I was fairly good at track, but did this very half-heartedly. My best distance was the 1500m where most kids tire, this is where I could be more competitive. I did cross country a couple of times, but to be honest I wasn’t interested so didn’t pursue this. My running came from training for Rugby, and that was all.
On a whim I entered a half in 2005 and I did ok from natural fitness. I then did one again in 2006 and took 10 minutes off my time. I went to university and concentrated on weights, and drinking. It was after this in 2009 that I entered my 3rd half marathon (and race) and really struggled. I got my worse time, and could barely walk for a week. I also picked up shin splints.
It was devastating that my natural fitness was no longer there, and running was hard work. This was the point I decided to become a runner. Now everyone has different views of what makes them a runner. Mine was that I wanted to run, and I started to train, and run just for running and nothing else… This really for me is where I feel it all started.
2) What is a running pacer?
For those that don’t know much about pacing, or do many events, if you tell them you are a running pacer, they immediately picture the fast guy at the start of the race that keeps the elites at a set pace (usually course or world record pace). These pacers usually run half of the distance and then bail out.
This may be how pacers started, but this is not what we are commonly known for these days, and this is certainly not something I can do (unless of course they want me to set the pace for the first few yards then maybe).
A running pacer is there to set the pace. Sounds obviously really. We start within different groups to match the field, and aim to run at the desired pace, and do this consistently, So if Joe Blogs wants to run 1:40 in a half, he knows that if he followers the 1:40 pacer, he will finish in that time.
3) What made you decide to become a running pacer?
After starting to run in 2009, I was set on getting my fitness back and always striving to PB. For 2-3 years I PB’d event after event, I suffered from injuries, and although I got fitter and faster, I was falling out of love with running.
I reached a point that getting a PB become much more difficult, and I couldn’t perform at my best each week. I was ready for a new challenge, and not really enjoying what I was doing.
Then I was contacted by Xempo about pacing. I had never ran with or knew much about pacers at this time, but thought hey, I will give this a go.
I am so glad I did. It started as me thinking it was something I might do once or twice, and I hadn’t really considered the impact it would have on others, or me as an individual.
Now I am very clear why I am a running pacer. I do it, as often as I do, because I enjoy it. I can use it as a nice training run, I have nothing to prove with PB’s myself, but what is best is I help so many people achieve their goals.
You meet so many wonderful people, all of whom have worked so hard to achieve a set time. I get to be there when they achieve this, and share this moment with them.
4) What are the benefits of following a running pacer?
The main and obvious benefit is getting the pace right. So many people set off too fast with excitement, and can’t control their own pace.
When I used to get PB’s, it was often by sheer determination, but my pace was awful, and it could have been so much better.
Another hidden benefit is the motivation. If you have a good running pacer they will fill you with confidence and motivation, and this is an important factor in completing a goal.
Not only that, you will be drawn towards lots of other people aiming for the same goal as you. I find in bigger events especially, the pacer may be the central point, but the magic happens when there are big groups of people helping, supporting and motivating one another.
5) How does a runner decide what their goal pace should be?
Only you will know that based on training. First of all have an ambition. I want to run a sub 3 hour marathon for example.
Then question, is this realistic? Can I run at that pace, yes. Can I run half the distance at that pace, yes. So maybe that is a realistic target? You need to be comfortable at that pace for a shorter distance, and have confidence in your training that you will achieve that.
All too often I hear people say they want a sub 4 hour, so they will set off at 3:45 pace to get ahead and then they can fall back. I used to think this way, but if this does work, it’s only because of luck, and you will feel much better if you achieved your goal being consistent.
If you can run at 3:45 pace then maybe this should be your goal? If you have been training for 4 hours, what makes you think it’s a good idea to run at 3:45?
I have been here, and what has happened to me is I burn out earlier, and end up walking a very slow and painful last few miles.
- What do you want to achieve;
- Is it realistic;
- Practice that pace;
- If you are feeling strong towards the end of the race then pick up the pace.
Remember to adjust your goals. When people start training, especially at the beginning, your ability will improve, and so should your goals.
6) What are even and negative splits and which do you favour?
I am an even split kind of guy. An even split is what a running pacer should be aiming for in my opinion. This is when every mile should be the same pace.
You want to be running at the same speed for the first and last mile. The benefit of this is that you should feel better at the end, and are less likely to hit the wall. It will feel slow at the beginning, but you need this energy at the end.
Lots of people rave about negative splits. And in theory if you run with a pacer, feel good, then run off for the final mile, you will get a negative split. The theory behind this is you run comfortable so you feel strong, and finish fast at the end. This is another way of avoiding the wall. It is simply running the second half faster than the first.
As a running pacer I don’t think we should do this. Everyone around me will be pushing themselves to their limits. I may be able to speed up at the end, but it doesn’t mean everyone else can. If I were to do a negative split the chances are I would lose most people, which wouldn’t be very fun for anyone.
I also always question the negative split. Apart from the final bit at the end where you use your final bit of energy, there is a fine balance. If you can do a negative split, could you have gone a little faster from the start?
With me you will always get an even split. Feel good at the end and push on, there is your negative split… go get it.
7) Pacers have a big responsibility to help runners to achieve their goal time – how do you ensure that you cross the line at the right time?
It’s all about concentration, resilience and timekeeping. From experience there are certain paces I can just hit from the start with little effort. I’m also fairly good once I get to the pace at maintaining it. But even still I constantly check my average pace and current pace on my watch.
Sometimes it is much harder than this though. A slow field, obstructions, or even mile markers in the wrong place can slow you down. I then need to gradually make this up (again if I ran off it is no good for everyone else). The aim is to get everyone to their goal time.
I’ve seen pacers run off before because they were not at the right pace, leaving runners behind them, this is not good pacing. Every change in pace needs to be gradual and communicated.
Mile markers are the worst culprit to make this harder. It is no good completing the course according to my watch, as even if the mile markers are correct, you end up running further. So I need to adjust accordingly. I’m usually good at this, but sometimes you need to run slightly faster because the mile markers are further away.
When this is consistent it is less of an issue, but sometimes they are very obviously out. What is frustrating is I know they will probably even out at the end, but I can’t rely on this, because if they don’t we would finish too slow. So I always run according to the mile markers.
I have had a number of occasions when the last mile marker makes up the time and is very short. In these instances I usually let people know in advance, and it just means everyone around me gets a good PB. Its always better to be slightly fast, than slightly slow.
Here’s a top secret confession: I once paced a race and my watch broke at mile 2. I stayed confident, used those around me, and the mile marker clocks. I managed to complete it in the desired time, and hold a consistent pace. It’s easy to over rely on the watch, sometimes trust your body.
8) What should a runner consider before deciding to become a running pacer?
You need to like talking to people, and want to help others. It is not about you it’s about them, and if you aren’t a very social person then it’s probably not the role for you.
Yes you may be able to achieve the time, but people need much more than that, you are there for motivation.
You need to be able to run at that pace. An obvious one, but before thinking about pacing, ask yourself whether you can pace yourself?
Also, you should be pacing a very comfortable time for you. Throw away your ego. Too many people pace too close to their PB. Remember, others are looking to you for confidence, they don’t want to see you struggling.
9) Do you miss running your own race and chasing a PB?
Not at all. I still have a few targets that I haven’t put to bed yet, but I am enjoying running much more by pacing. Will people think more of me if I shave a few minutes off a time, will it make me a better runner, do I care… no!
Each and every race I do where I am pacing, is my own race. I have fun, I have a good work out, meet lots of likeminded people, and get the same medal as everyone else… I don’t miss PB hunting at all.
10) How do you become a running pacer?
Look around, if you want it there are opportunities there. Look for local pacing companies that pace multiple events, as this is usually the best way to get a start.
I started with Xempo, Racepacing. Pace a parkrun, do whatever you can to get experience. You can approach local events, or certain events you want to pace at. Often they will be looking for people, and you don’t get the opportunity unless you ask.
But remember you will need to prove you are able to achieve the pace. It becomes much easier the more you do, with my CV it is easier as people know I’m reliable, and so the best advice is to work on your CV.
If you get the opportunity take it, as this all counts as experience. The opportunity may be slower than you would like, but if you want to pace, this is worth taking.
About Paul Addicott
Since becoming a running pacer in 2011, Paul has successfully paced many races.
Paul is a regular participant in the London Marathon. He first took part in it in 2011 when, despite it being his first ever marathon, he completed it dressed as a rhino for charity.
Since then he has run the London Marathon every year as a running pacer for Runner’s World.
To find out more about Paul Addicott, check out his blog pickupthepacepaul.
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