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Perspectives from a Portland Marathon Pacer

I have to admit – I love pacing at the Portland Marathon. And I know I’m not the only Lizard who thinks this is one of the best volunteer opportunities that the running club is involved in. But it’s funny how some people just don’t comprehend what pacing means. After finishing our pacing duties this year and standing around in the finish corral, one of the race volunteers was asking us about pacing. She was having a really hard time comprehending people running part of all of the race without receiving a time, finish medal, or anything other than some sweaty handshakes and thanks you’s from some very fatigued looking marathon finishers. I think the most surprising thing to her was that we all do this as volunteers. That’s right, the club and our pacers don’t receive a dime – just a cool shirt that we wear with pride during the marathon and for years to come after our pacing duties are over.

I have to admit that the sweaty high fives are exactly the reward that keeps me coming back for more pacing. I always have a hard time figuring out exactly what the interactions are that make this so rewarding, so I figured I might jot them down while they are fresh in my mind.

Obviously forgetting details hasn’t been a big deal, since this was the 6th or 7th year in a row I’ve been a pace group leader (apparently not remembering how many times I’ve done this isn’t important either). Many of the comments and impressions from people I encountered have been similar over the years. For example, after today’s race I spotted a guy I remembered running right along side me for the first half of the race. I asked him how he finished, and he told me that he fell apart shortly after I peeled off after the first half. He at least recognized that I had been on pace but he just couldn’t maintain it any longer. Although there was a little part of his statement that made me think it could have been the mental part of having his pace leader through 14 miles suddenly bail – even though Chad had been with the group for a couple miles and kept the pace as steady as I had for the first half. But that reminded me of my first pacing experience – along with all the good feedback, I distinctly remember a guy telling me how mentally crushed he was when he saw the red hat I was wearing peel off after the first half.

The interesting thing about that first year pacing experience was that it was the year before we introduced the pacing signs. We tried to wear brightly colored uniforms, but apparently that wasn’t enough. And the reason for that is because there are a lot of people in the race watching the pacer, even if they are a ways back from the group. Chad and I heard a similar comment from a girl who finished this years race – she was 30-60 seconds behind us, but said she was watching our pace sign the whole way trying to keep it in sight.

Although we might not have heard from her after the race if we hadn’t had a late race bonding experience with a group who got stopped by a train with us for a couple minutes. Yes, the 3:05 group might have fallen apart a little bit in the second half of the race, but nothing brings a group back together again like waiting for a train… I’m not sure if the marathon folks will be able to do anything about that time loss, but I estimated that Amtrak cost us almost 2 minutes. the 30 seconds we had in the bank wasn’t enough to get our group across the line in time after that unexpected stop.

In the end, no one blamed us for finishing 1:10 slower than we were supposed to. In fact, it’s the positive feedback from folks who ran with us some of the way or kept us in sight that will be my motivation for another year. The fact that several people noted “you guys were right on pace the entire time” makes me proud of the effort we put in out there today. I hope that every other pace group had similar positive experiences – and I hope that anyone out there who ran with us had a positive experience as well. Pacing is a tough job, and I have to say how proud I am of everyone who takes this volunteer position seriously for the runners out there looking to run PR’s or qualify for Boston.

Way to keep the pace, Lizards!


7 Responses to “Perspectives from a Portland Marathon Pacer”

  1. For more photos of pacers and volunteers at the Red Lizard mile 24 aid station, check out the gallery: http://redlizards.smugmug.com/Races/20111009-Portland-Marathon/19437253_4sV3wB

    Posted by Torrey | October 9, 2011, 2:49 pm
  2. I couldn’t agree more. While working the Expo this year, a woman came up that was in my group in 2010. She thanked me for helping her qualify for Boston. That made me feel great and is all the reward I need to keep coming back. Of course I’ll take the cool t-shirt, too!

    Posted by Dave Waldron | October 10, 2011, 4:30 am
  3. Kudos to all Lizard Portland Marathon Pacers and Aid Station staff.

    I’m never more proud to be a member of this club than when a Lizard pace group thunders through the TRL Aid Station to rousing cheers and Gummi Bears!

    Posted by Jeff Malmquist | October 10, 2011, 11:49 am
  4. Absolutely fantastic job! Thank you very much for this service. I also liked the pace bands that were given out.


    Posted by Robert | October 11, 2011, 10:21 am
  5. Thank you, especially the 3:55 pacers. This was my first marathon, I beat my target time by about 8 minutes, I don’t think I could have done it without the 3:55 group pushing me along.

    Unfortunately I really slowed down in the last quarter mile and fell behind the group, so I didn’t get to say thanks after the finish line. So, thank you!

    Posted by Robert Story | October 11, 2011, 10:10 pm
  6. I just wanted to thank the 4:10 pacers. I finished just ahead of the group and my goal was to stay ahead. However, I was close enough to hear the encouragement given by the pacer for the last couple miles and it really helped. At that point I was latching on to anything and it really helped to hear the description of what we had left. Sorry I didn’t get to thank you while at the marathon (my eyes were rolled back in my head so I couldn’t see you). Thanks!

    Posted by C P | October 18, 2011, 1:03 pm
  7. Thank you so much to the 3:35 pacers! I ran with them for the first 15 miles, and then sped up at the hill going up the bridge. Finished in 3:31. I could not believe what one of the pacers said when I asked if he had ibuprofen. He said, let me know if you feel like you really need it and I’ll run ahead to an aid station to find you some. WOW! I cannot believe he was willing to do that. All of the pacers are completely selfless and giving. Many many thanks!

    Posted by Brenda | October 28, 2011, 6:52 pm

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