For Saturday’s Utah Valley Marathon, I served as the official 3:40 pacer. That’s 40 minutes slower than the fastest marathon I’ve run, so it’s not tremendously challenging. But I put more pressure on myself when I pace than when I go all-out. The reason? If I blow my own race, that’s my problem. But if I bomb while pacing, I ruin it for other people. I don’t worry about being able to run a 3:40, but I’m human, so nothing is guaranteed.
My goal when pacing is to run as consistently as possible. If I’m pacing a 3:40, I could easily run a 1:35 first half and then a 2:05 second half and finish in 3:40. But That doesn’t do any good for the people I’m leading. The bulk of the people I’m pacing are women between the ages of 18 and 34 trying to qualify for Boston and I want to get them there.
I keep an eye on my Garmin and try to keep my average pace based on how far I think I’m going to run. A marathon is 26.2 miles, but with all the tangents you run, you typically end up with anywhere from 26.3 to 26.5 miles on the Garmin. I assume 26.4, which requires an 8:20 average pace. 26.3 would be 8:21 and 26.5 would be 8:18.
I assume I need 8:20s, I try to keep my current and average pace at that rate, and aim for miles between 8:15 and 8:25. I don’t want to go too fast and burn people out, nor do I want to go too slow and make it tougher for folks to kick it into gear. I had paced twice before Utah Valley, both times leading the 3:30 group. In 2009,, I went 3:29:54. This year, I went 3:29:39. I wasn’t thrilled about this year, but I was less than one second per mile off.
For me, perfect would be either 3:39:59 (getting there at the right time and still make it in sub-3:40) or 3:40.00 — how can you argue with that?
I normally need a mile or two to settle into the right groove because I’m running at a pace I’m not used to. But today, I locked in right off the bat and felt comfortable. Utah Valley is a beautiful downhill course. The scenery is about as good as I’ve seen anywhere. Charlottesville, Va. and Catalina are my favorites, and this one is definitely right up there with those, except it’s a faster course. I really think I would have challenged for sub-3 if I was going all-out today.
I had to be careful at times, because on some of the downhill portions, I’d accidentally speed up to a 7:45 pace. That’s a good minute or so slower than I would have been running, so it felt very easy. I was never disappointed with the miles I was running — I got my group from one mile to the next with consistency. I personally struggled at some points going up hills at elevation (the race started at 5600 feet and there were some decent climbs that left me sucking for air). My heart rate actually got up to 179 at one point, about what I’d run a 10K at.
We hit the half in 1:49:46, 14 seconds too fast. I was a little disappointed with that, but I knew there were some flatter parts of the race where we’d slow down a touch. I had a group of about 20 people who stayed with me through at least mile 20 or so. They ran just behind me for the most part, but they took turns running with me and talking with me. They all wanted to know about my running experience and how I became the pacer. The subject of Operation Jack came up, because in the course of what I’m doing, the race directors offered me a complimentary entry if I was willing to pace.
For me, it was an opportunity to take an easy week, and it’s always fun to pace, so I accepted the invitation. At least four or five of the people in my group were directly impacted by autism. One man is a caretaker for a 22-year-old who has autism. Another has a son with autism. Somebody had a nephew with autism. That’s why I’m doing this — you can’t throw a stone without hitting somebody impacted by it. I told them all to check out my site. If you ran with me, leave a comment and say hi!
Anyways, the group thinned out a tiny bit at mile 20. I held consistent, but for people running at the edge of their limits, that last 10K is pretty tough. Some people were running strong and I encouraged them to kick late. Others needed motivation and I told them not to let 24 or 25 miles of hard work go to waste with one poor mile. Some just couldn’t hold on, but there’s nothing I can do about that — I have to keep moving my 3:40 sign from the start line to the finish line.
With about two miles to go, I knew I was going to be pretty close to dead-on. It’s so tough for me not to get excited and turn it on late, but I didn’t. It’s important that I stay right on target so people trailing behind and trying to catch up don’t lose hope.
There’s not a whole lot more to say, I guess. My Garmin can tell you what I thought about my finish.
Pretty much dead-on.
I think my official time was actually 3:39:58. I get excited about fast times, but it’s also exciting to go out, chase a goal and nail it. When I run, I’m competitive and I want to do my best. While running a 3:40 is much slower than what I’m capable of, I still had to run a marathon and execute the race as perfectly as possible. It was a physical challenge and I was pretty happy with how I did. I got a lot of people from my group thanking me afterwards, which was pretty rewarding.
So, I got to enjoy a run through a very scenic course, I helped a fair amount of people qualify for Boston and I spread the word about Operation Jack and Train 4 Autism. All-in-all, I’d call that a pretty good day. Race 29 is history. Only 31 to go!
I had a 220-minute courtship with this sign. We broke up shortly after the race.
Here are the splits in case you’re curious about my consistency:
.31 2:38 (8:30 pace)