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TRL Pacers Keep A Steady Beat At The Rock And Roll Portland Half Marathon


Honorary Red Lizard member Elvis Presley temporarily takes over pacing duties from Maryalicia.

After several successful years serving as the official pace team for the Portland Marathon, Team Red Lizard was approached by the directors of the inaugural Rock and Roll Portland Half Marathon to see if the club would be willing to take on a similar role with this brand new Rose Festival event.

After some discussion within the Red Lizard board, the decision was made to go ahead with this unique opportunity, and recruitment of pacers was begun. Portland Marathon pacing czar Tim Swietlik took his expertise from that race and applied it to the Rock and Roll Half with similarly successful results.

Early reviews of the race and the pacers has been generally positive, and the pacers themselves all seemed to enjoy the experience. Here are some of the stories and adventures from this unique tour of East Portland from the perspective of both the pacers and the paced:

Maryalicia Verdecchia (3:00 Pacer):

“I finished close to my goal, but a little fast. My final time: 2:57:58

Ironically I would have been about 30 seconds faster if I had not gotten stopped at three traffic stops (all pretty quick, I think the cops saw the pace sign and stopped traffic for me/us). So it worked out for me.

I started the race at 14:00 miles for the first two miles. Once I hit mile four and we started going uphill, I slowed to 14:30 and even walked at 15:30 on the ‘steep hills’. I must have picked up too much speed on the downhills, because by mile 7 I was averaging 13:40, but still close to my pace. But going downhill..my average of 12:30 picked up my pace quite a bit. I thought I was making up for all the 14:00 and 15:30, but I guess too much. I did not lose anyone though- all the people I started with I lost at mile 4 at the hill, when I was going slower anyways. So around mile 9, I was at a 13:30 pace so I slowed it down but still ended up with a 13:35 pace overall.


Maryalicia brings the 3:00 group home.

I liked the course, the water and drinks were abundant. I feared they would be out of GU- but nope plenty of those. The only issues were those dang traffic stops. Most annoying.

All and all I was proud of my overall pace average, and coming in two minutes early, I hope that was average for the rest of the pacers, if not I can work on it.”

One racer, Carrie, who ran with Maryalicia’s group posted on Facebook: “I was keeping pace with you (3:00) although not officially. I wanted to stay ahead of you to make sure I finished before 3 hours. Guess it worked so thanks very much!”

Amy Al-Khalisi (2:00 Pacer with Erik Stromquist):

“Erik and I had a ton of fun! We averaged 9:04 per/mi. We slowed through the hills and some of the aid stations. Made up the time on the downhills.

We talked with many people and discussed the plan. The majority of the group wanted to have a little cushion. So we said we would cross the finish line in 1:59; this way it would give the folks spread out time to get in under two hours.

We had a huge group; it was crazy. They did end up spreading out after mile 9, the last of the hills. We ended up crossing the finish line in 1:58:47.

Many folks were very happy and just ended up joining in and thanked us for volunteering and being there to pull them in. Many PRs in our group.

Very happy there were two pacers, thanks Erik!

Nice work Team Red Lizard!”

Tiffany McClean (2:15 Pacer):

“This was a lot of fun! A big thank you to Tim, our fearless leader, for coordinating this awesome opportunity.

Amy and I literally ran into Kara Goucher as she was on her way to warm up – we were both starstruck. It was fun to wish her good luck before the start!

I paced the 2:15 group. It took us a while to get up to the starting line because of the minute wait between corrals but once we started things were pretty smooth. There was the usual bottleneck in the beginning (10:38, my slowest mile) but then I was able to get into a rhythm and stayed pretty consistent. I had a number of people stay with me for almost the entire race and they seemed very grateful to have a pacer. The hill up Hawthorne took some casualties from my group but morale seemed to stay pretty high. A lot of people came up to me throughout the race to ask questions about pacing or whether I was on pace, even if they were shooting for a different time. Water and Gu were plentiful. Crowd support was awesome. It was a lot of fun to spot various Lizards out cheering.

I made a pace band for myself and used it every mile – I’m so glad I did because my GPS was not spot on of course so the band really helped me try to keep on track. I finished in 2:13:09 – probably a little too fast but better under than over in my book. It was a bit harder than I thought to run a pace I’m not used to but quite a few runners came up to me afterward to thank me/us for pacing so it didn’t seem like anyone was bothered by it. And coming in a bit faster in front probably let the rest of my entourage finish within 2:15.

I’d love to do this again next year!”

Amy adds:

“Tiff and I did run into Kara and of course my big mouth couldn’t help but yell out at her and she waved and smiled at us. Then we both giggled saying we both have girl crushes for her. Awesome!

I thought RnR did a fantastic job separating out the corrals and having folks hold the yellow ropes to walk people forward. Oh and I loved the carpet all the way across Hawthorne bridge, it felt like we were in the movies for a moment.”

Keith Shishido (1:45 Pacer with Glen Pak)

“Today’s weather at the RnR was perfect for most with it not being too cold or too hot with a slight drizzle to keep everyone cool while running. Glen and I paced the 1:45 group this morning and had a great time talking to all the participants and answering all their questions early on. The most asked question was ‘Are you going to run a even pace?’ We did our best at making sure to allow a few extra seconds on the hills and picking it up on the downs. We ended up finishing at about 1:44:34 leaving us around 7:59 mile. Like most runs we had a huge crowd with us at the beginning with some falling off around the 8-9 mile mark. By the end Glen and I were all by our lonesome finishing together without any of our runners. That’s only because they ended up digging down deep into their reserves and finishing with their own PR’s. We had one older gentlemen run the whole way with us and only left us with .5 miles to go on ahead and have a PR.”

Glen Pak (1:45 Pacer with Keith):

“I had a lot of fun pacing this race with Keith. I think we both learned from our pacing experience at Portland last year to go off of mile markers instead of our Garmins. My Garmin came in at 13.25 at the end so I was happy with our 1:44:34 time. The few people that stayed with us were troopers and had a little extra push at the end. Overall I thought the course was great probably because it was new. I loved the variation of the course with all the different ups and downs. I feel like this race is a welcome addition to our city. Now if they can only get a headliner act that people actually care about . . .”

Steve Sexton (2:30 Pacer):

“Pacing the 2:30 group was a lot of fun! I arrived about 15 minutes prior to the actual starting time to eventually cross the start line 39-40 minutes later. Of which, was plenty of time to converse and get to know those around me.

Most entertaining listening to their goals, training, or no training, and answering questions they had about the pacing the course. I was familiar with the course and explained my strategy of being conservative with pace the first 6 miles in order to save for the second half – which was most difficult. I’d mentioned the even mile pace to be 11:27 but that we will vary the pace considerably; running slower up hills and quicker down, plus, allowing time to walk aid stations.

Starting out I had a large group, talkative and energetic, running along with me, like Meg and Jim. Everyone was excited, as if it to be their first half marathon ever. Actually, I think for most, it was.

As we strolled through the city blocks with the mass of other runners and approached the first mile marker, we were a about 20 seconds slow than we should’ve been. Still the beginning, no problem, I can make up for that within a few miles. Although, when coming up to mile 2, my Garmin had already marked two miles, 50 meters prior to the actual 2-mile marker. I immediately realized I need to think differently on my pacing – glad I was not having to over extend myself to maintain a faster pace for I cannot formulate simple math, like 2+2=4 during an ultra. So I needed to make sure I was on track to the actual course mile markers, not Garmin miles, as each preceding mile marker was further away from the one before. Weird. Oh, I had also devised my own pace band for the 2:30 pace. Very helpful.

As others had mentioned, despite the many enthusiastic tag-alongs at the beginning, many started to fade after mile 7-8. However, I did have a solid group of about 20 people hang on through out the whole course with me. In a way, I was sorry to see those that were so energized and talkative, like Meg and Jim, slowly begin to struggle and then fade away, as if the current of the ocean had a tight grip on them only to pull them away from the raft of survivors.

I loved the course, though I was not trying for a PR. It is challenging, with the ups and downs, with positive visuals, nice neighborhoods, beautiful houses and yards. The best part, was with the cheering crowds and bands playing energizing music. Each time I heard an encouraging cheer from anyone from the sidelines I would always raise the Red Lizard and yell for more to support our group. It was continuous and fun!

Running the course and maintaining a somewhat even effort pace required a constant scan of my Garmin. Up hills, down hills, flats, I was pleased with the pace, I knew sometimes I might’ve been going too fast, but slowed down soon after realizing. After all was done, I came within one step prior to crossing the finish line @ 2:29:40, where I stopped and yelled encouragement to those behind me to pass through before I stepped across at 2:30:06 (my Garmin). Many turned it on. So cool to see them finish strong!

What a reward to have those come up to me stating they got a PR because of me. So cool! And there were those too that were just keeping their focus on me (Red Lizard sign) to get them across the finish line before, at, or around 2:30. And of course, I also wondered about those, like Meg and Jim, that didn’t finish with our group. Did I not pace correctly? Well, it is what it is…I tried…..there will be another time for them.

I had fun!”

Steve got some very positive comments on Facebook for his pacing efforts:

Dana wrote “Thank you 2:30 pacer! In the end I lost you by just a minute twenty three seconds but you kept me in the game for mile nine and ten when I might have otherwise given up on my goal time. Great job!”

Jillian added “It was great to have [the pacers] there! I ran with the 2:30 pacer up until about mile 6 and it was very helpful. To be honest, it was probably one of my best feeling runs. I was running by myself so it was nice to have a group to stick with and …not feel so alone. The only reason I didn’t stay with them is because I stopped to chug some Nuun and shot blocks from a friend waiting on Hawthorne and couldn’t catch back up on those steep hills.”

And Elizabeth wrote “It was great to know we were on pace for 2:30 without having to constantly look at my watch. Very helpful, thanks!”

Runners in other groups were equally as enthusiastic:

Christina wrote “I found them (the pacers) helpful and I was grateful they were there.”

And Amy (not our Amy) summed things up nicely: “I’ve done several RnR events this year and the Portland pacers were awesome! Very friendly and supportive. Great job TRL!”

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