So you want to be a Pacer?

Over the years I have paced numerous events, and during this time I have helped many people get into pacing. It has been great to see people taking time to pace others. Whether that is at a local Park run, pacing a friend, or at an official event. I am often asked for tips about how to become a pacer, and having paced many events I have been asked a lot for tips about being a Pace Setter, in fact I’ve been asked a dozen times this week alone.

Let me help

So with that in mind I thought it would help to put down my thoughts about pacing. I have written this blog to provide a few of my tips about pacing, whilst talking about some of my experiences. This obviously won’t cover everything so if you have any other questions then please ask. If you have paced before and you have any advice please also add in the comments for everyone to see. I have previously written a blog about getting your pace right, which is more generic about pacing yourself, which you can read HERE. So here are my top tips for pacing others:

Have fun

Don’t take things too seriously

So it is fair to say I take things very seriously when I pace. It is so important to me that I get it right as there are lots of people relying on you. I get nervous every time, more than running my own race. But that doesn’t stop me having fun. You are there to help those around you, and no-one wants to follow a grumpy pacer, so go and have fun. Over the last few years I have coined the phrase #funbus as this is how I approach events. I try to have fun to help those around me enjoy themselves and at the same time make the whole experience of completing the race feel easier, and it works. It is good to see that more and more pacers are starting to take this attitude, and operate their own #funbus. If you are looking to become a Pacer yourself, start up your engines and have fun.

At the Hackney Half in 2017 I actually ran the race as the 1:40 pacer in a morph suit. Lots of fun, but not something I am in a hurry to do again haha

Run at your comfort

Make it look easy

I have seen many run too close to their their own PB whilst pacing? Why, why push yourself that much. You don’t get a prize for pacing faster, in fact you are more likely to fail, so why are you doing it? I’ve seen a few pacers fail because they have taken on a time to quick for them, don’t let this happen to you.

When I started pacing I wanted to pace as fast as possible and paced 1:30 half a couple of times, but that was hard. Instead now I run at a Pace that feels like a nice training run. People look to you as a pacer for confidence, the last thing they need is to see you struggling. If you are struggling to maintain the pace, then you are pacing too fast. I could pace faster, especially at the marathon distance, but I wouldn’t be able to motivate those around me as well. So when picking a time to pace, air on the side of caution, and do what’s comfortable.

Encourage

Welcome to the #funbus

You are there to get the pace right, but you are there for much more than that. You are there to motivate and encourage from start to finish. I always like to talk to those who will be running in my group at the start. Fill them with confidence that you will be able to set the pace for them.

I always talk to my group about the course, and my pacing style, so they know what to expect. Then throughout the race I shout out encouragement to everyone around me.

Some people will start and finish with you, but others you will pick up along the course. A few words of encouragement can go a long way, and it is amazing when people pick up the pace when you pace them and encourage them to keep going. Just because you can’t see someone don’t underestimate the impact you are having on someone’s race. I have lost count of the amount of people that have contacted me after an event to say that my encouragement helped them get a PB. So don’t forget that as you are running past people, your actions can make a huge difference to their race.

Don’t go off too fast

Keep it steady at the start

It is very easy to get carried away at the start, especially at the bigger events. Everyone around you will be trying to run faster, and you need to have confidence to just keep it steady. If anything go slower than you should. People worry if you are going too slow, but often big events are congested for the first mile. I prefer to run steady and keep everyone with me, and you can easily make it up later in the miles to come. It’s also worth noting that in city events your watch may take a while to catch up and be accurate, so don’t push to hard.

Consistent pace

Splits from last 3 years London Marathon

This may be obvious, but keep it steady and consistent. I’ve heard stories of pacers barging past people going too fast, and slowing down etc… it’s not just about finishing in your desired time, keep it consistent. Anyone can run faster then slow down to hit target, but that won’t help anyone. Remember those running with you will likely be giving it everything they have to just hit the target time, so if you run at a faster pace then this could ruin someone’s race.

Running a consistent pace doesn’t always mean you will run it the same speed throughout. I have learnt to run to effort over the years, so I take hills into account whilst pacing. The reason I do this is I find that often if keeping the same pace up a hill you will lose everyone and they all come running past you down the hill. What ever you decide to do just make sure you communicate with people to reassure them. I pace a few hilly half marathons and I slow down going up the hill and let gravity do it’s job on the way down. I make sure everyone knows the plan, and this helps keep effort consistent. Remember if you are running a course that starts and finishes in the same place you are going to have the same amount of ups and downs, so you can work it out as you go along.

Leave some room for error

The idea is for everyone running with you to be able to finish just before your target time. With that in mind don’t leave it too close to your desired finish time, build up a few seconds each mile, so you have a nice 30 second comfort blanket. Just because you can sprint to the finish, doesn’t mean everyone else can. I try to ensure everyone is ahead of target and then encourage them to push on for the last mile. That way in the last few hundred metres you can gradually slow a little and those who have you in sight can catch you up and still deliver.

Run with a smile

I’ve been at races before where the finish is not where it’s expected. So it’s always best to have that wiggle room. Sometimes the finish is closer than expected, sometimes it’s a few hundred metres further way, so have that room for error so you aren’t caught out.

Encourage until the very end

That last push

You pace for a long time, but it all comes down to the last few moments. It is in these final moments that make or break peoples races. Keep them going until the very end.

Communicate

Let people know what is going on

The biggest tip I could possibly give is to communicate about what’s going on. Good, bad, indifferent… If people know what is going on they will feel more confident.

Look out for obstacles on road

Watch your step

There will be lots of hazards on the course, so point them out to those around you that may be too tired to spot them. Potholes, kerbs, bottles, posts, there are so many things that could trip you up. Last year in Berlin someone found me and stuck with me for half hour before the start. With all the congestion someone stood on her trainer in the first mile, and that was the last I saw her for the whole event.

Tell people what’s happening

It’s all about the happy feeling at the end

If you are going to slow up the hill, let people know. When you are at a marker let people know if you are on target. If your not explain why and tell them your plan. Remember if you aren’t on target people will know, so just let them know what the plan is. If there is water or toilets coming up, shout it out. Remember you are at the front of the pack, people around you might not notice everything the same as you do.

Adjust gradually

Loving the finish

If you arent on target then adjust gradually. I’ve had a few races that have become congested and I choose to stay with people, there is no point running off alone. Instead I let people know the plan to catch up. But when you do make sure ita gradual. If you drop 30 seconds then break it up across what you have left to run, make it up on a down hill. Dont leave it too late and dont run off alone.

Measure against markers

Not a bad place to go for a run

Be mindful of incorrect markings. You will be surprised that even the biggest events put markers in the wrong place. The course may be measured correctly, so likely to even out in the end, but you can’t rely on this. I find most courses have the odd marker misplaced, which can throw people off their pace.

I use my watch and markers, but run the fastest of the two. So even if you think you are on track, I still adjust if the markers say otherwise, and this is for two reasons. Firstly the course might not be accurate and I would rather finish fast than slow. Also you aren’t likely to run the blue line (where course is measured) especially during big events. You are likely to run further so you have to run slightly faster, I always tell people before we start that we will run slightly faster and slightly further.

You might also lose reception on your watch, so be confident with your pace. At the Big Half my watch skipped a mile because of the long tunnel, this really messed up the splits, so I had to run just by markers and stop watch. I’ve also ran the whole of Silverstone one year without a watch because mine shut down. Fortunately it had the time at each mile. The morale of this story is don’t become over reliant on your watch.

All the smiles

Don’t worry about criticism

Running with friends

No matter how well you are pacing there will always be critics. Some people that think they know better. Don’t let it bother you, remember the more confident you are and the more you communicate the less this will happen. Be resilient, remember why you are doing it, and try to explain why their watch may be different. The first thing is to check when they started as they may have started before or after you. Also remember the watches are just a guide. Sometimes I wear two watches and I only ever follow one as they are never the same.

Remember you are there for others not for you

Lots of smiles at the start

Get people smiling, respond to their needs and keep going for them. Remember it’s not your race it’s theirs. The hardest thing though is to remember you are there for all and not one. You will see people fall off, and there is nothing you can do. You can’t adjust your pace for them, you have to keep going and get the pace right for everyone.

Toilet

We all need to go sometimes

I’ve been asked a few times what happens if you need the toilet? Well we are all human, if you need to go you need to go. Try to limit damage by ensuring group is steady and see if anyone you can trust with flag. In theory if you have been running to comfort you can afford a quick stop. This would be more difficult on a major as it’s too busy, but I’ve stopped twice during marathons. In fact in one when I stopped for a wee 3 guys followed me (true story).

Don’t worry about finishing alone

The picture doesn’t capture the story

You will often finish alone. You get people to the finish, then encourage them ahead of you. So when you reach the finish line most will have sprinted off. It’s ok to finish alone, because around that corner will be everyone that you have helped waiting for a hug.

So how do you become a Pacer?

Join the #funbus

So that’s the easy bit. Go out and ask. Contact races and find out who organises the pacers. Look for opportunities. Remember the more you do the easier it will be, and you are likely to get a chance with a smaller race first. If you want it, you can do it.

I really hope this blog will be of help to anyone wanting to pace, or just be a good bit of insight to anyone else. If you have any more tips please add in comments… I will see you out there on my #funbus


7 thoughts on “So you want to be a Pacer?

  1. Great advice Paul
    A few thoughts I have had, most of which you have covered above already but thought I would put them down anyway.
    Pick a time that is well within your abilities, part of a pacers job is to encourage and communicate amongst your group, you can not do this if you are running at your max and can not speak!
    Know the mile/kilometre markers of the course, and know when you are due to reach each one, wear a pace band wuth your splits on them for each marker, check
    your watch as a guide but make sure you hit the kilometre/mile markers as per your pace
    Saying that however some courses could be slightly long or short, or be hilly, which could make a difference to the way you pace. You may need to get a little ahead of target to allow for these variences
    At some point you may find yourself running alone, don’t take this as a sign that you have done your job, are not needed anymore and start to run your own race. Stick to the set pace, there could be somebody behind you keeping you in sight as an indicator of how their doing, hoping to gradually catch you up. Dont ruin their race by suddenly upping your speed and racing off into the distance.

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  2. Great blog as usual Paul.
    The only thing I could add to this is that pacers can also help people with their running strategy . I often help people around me with their ‘hill management’ whereas you shorten your stride length going up a hill in order to reduce lactic buildup in the legs. Also, going down hills I advise to shake the shoulders out and lengthen the stride length slightly . When pacing for novice runners (for example 2 hours 30 for a half marathon) I also build in allowances for walking through drinks stations and also walking up very steep hills. The most common question I get asked during a race is “are we on target for pace?”And I always reply very confidently – “Absolutely- you are doing brilliantly – stick with me and I’ll get you home just under XX:XX”

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  3. Great read and lots of useful info. Im pacing for the first time next month. Very nervous but looking forward to getting people to the end at their target time.
    Loved reading this.

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