I was nervous heading into Sunday’s Missoula Marathon with my assignment of pacing the first half of the 3:10 group. I don’t doubt my ability to hit 13.1 in 1:35, but it’s not easy work and I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to pacing for other runners. I found out a little more than seven hours before the start of the race that my assignment was switched to pacing the 3:50 group for the entire race. Believe it or not, that made me even more nervous!
A 3:50 marathon is an 8:46 pace, definitely not too fast for me to do. However, I was concerned that it was actually too slow. I run my recovery runs quicker than that, so when I’m fresh, which I was, it would be very easy for me to accidentally bump the pace 30 seconds faster and not even realize it. I was concerned that I would wear out my group if I didn’t pay very close attention to my pace.
When I pace, which I had done three times prior to Missoula, I keep an eye on the tangents I’m running an try to keep my pace locked on to what I’ll need based on what how far I think my Garmin will end up reading. I can tell how I’m doing as I go along. If I though I was going to run 26.3 with the tangents, I needed to run 8:44s. For 26.4, 8:42s. 26.5, 8:40s.
I wanted to start off taking it slightly easy early and run the first half about a minute fast, because there was a decent hill early in the second half that would take back time. Negative splits are one thing, but you also need to run the course correctly.
I started off well, running a pair of 8:48s to open, but right away, I could tell the mile markers were off and I was concerned that I was running bad tangents. There was a lot more traffic than I’m normally used to. I stepped it up a tiny bit, because one thing I definitely didn’t want to do was get my group there late. I took several miles to drop the average pace from 8:46 to 8:39, which is where I thought I needed to be.
Then, all of a sudden, the mile markers were right on track and I realized I was a bit fast. I hit the half in 1:53:57 on my Garmin when 1:55:00 is exactly half of 3:50, so that actually worked out perfectly. I gave some time back up the hill and locked into a groove the rest of the way.
I thought I was maybe 30 seconds fast for the race with about 9 to go, so I tried to slow down about 3 seconds a mile to let people reel me in. I tried my best to motivate those who needed motivating and I kept on moving to the finish.
At mile marker 24, I was only four seconds fast for the race, which I was happy about. I came up on a woman who had a friend pacing her. She really wanted that sub-3:50, but she was falling apart. They kept looking back at me as I approached and I felt bad, because I was the bad guy and I couldn’t slow down. But I tried to motivate her. She said she’d been training for six months for the race, and I told her to give me just one mile and she’d have it made. I didn’t tell her what I was going to tell her at 25, but I wanted to keep her moving.
I pushed a tiny bit that mile and she stayed with me and we were seven seconds fast for the race at 25. At that point, I told her that all she had was one lousy mile to go, and that she couldn’t let 25 awesome miles go down the drain with one mile. She was really pushing herself and didn’t have a lot left. I pushed a little bit that mile, dropping the pace to about 8:30 to build her a cushion as we chipped away at that final 1.2.
She fell about a half-step behind me, but I told her to just stay on my shoulder and run me down with .3 to go — she had the luxury of kicking. I can’t do that as a pacer. And that’s exactly what she did. She pulled ahead and got it done, finishing about 20 seconds ahead of me. She was exhausted and needed assistance, but she was fine and she got her time. It was a pretty cool experience.
There was another woman who ran the race on a whim and I kept her going with the “don’t let 24 good miles go to waste” line, and she took off at 24 and finished in 3:48, a 10-minute PR.
I got a lot of thank yous from my group afterwards. That’s probably the most rewarding part. It’s fun to really push in a race, but it’s fun to help others, too. So the run was a lot of fun.
Oh, and the course … the course is absolutely beautiful. You run a point-to-point course from Frenchtown, Montana to Missoula, Montana. There’s a lot of farms, trees, a river and eventually you end up right in the heart of town. It ranks way up there for scenic courses I’ve run this year. I really liked Catalina, Charlottesville (Va.) and Portland/Suavie Island (Oreg.), and I think this one is right up there with those.
Aside from the fact that I went to the wrong airport in Spokane and missed my flight, getting me stuck away from home an extra night, it was a great day.
33 down, 27 to go!
I gave those balloons to a little kid who asked me for them. But I made his dad take a picture of me first.