Why You Should Run With a Pacer – And Why You Shouldn’t

“Follow the leader”

Iiiitttt’ssss Marathon Week! After a long winter of training, it’s hard to believe the big day is almost here. On Saturday, along with thousands of runners, I’ll step up to the start line at the Fargo Marathon, my eleventh consecutive year running my beloved hometown race.

PaceMark copy

I’m THIS EXCITED for Marathon Day

What’s different about other years I’ve run the full marathon is this year I’m doing it as a pacer – my first time pacing a full 26.2 endeavor. I’m leading the 4:20 finish group so hoping I have a couple first-timers run, at least part of their journey, alongside me.

As a pacer, I’d love to tell you all the reasons why running with us is a great idea. And, as a runner who never ran in a pace group myself, I feel I should give you the other side of the story, too. So here they are, the reasons why running with a pacer is a great idea – and, why it may not be for you.

To help illustrate, I’ve identified five types of runners; hopefully you can see some of yourself in one – or all – of these.

1. If You’re a First-Timer
I identify the First-Timer as, maybe not a rookie racer, but a first-timer in his or her respective race, whether a full or half marathon, a 10-miler or 10k.

Why You Want to Run With a Pacer
The most obvious of all, it’s your first race! A pacer will help calm your nerves, keep your adrenaline in check, remind you to take fluids or gel, and, most importantly, keep you positive. Not only that, you’ll get the camaraderie of the full pace group – you’re all in it together.

Why You Don’t Want to Run With a Pacer
Especially for your first race, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and push too fast to keep up with a group. Conversely, you may end up underestimating yourself and be held back by the group you thought would be the right pace for you. Remember, a pacer knows how to run the race really well. But you know YOU really well.

2. If You’re a Type A Runner
I identify the Type A runner as the runner who has a plan on race day. Not only do these runners have have a goal finish time, they likely have a target pace per-every-mile. They’ve looked ahead at the course and have strategy for navigating turns and hills. They even a plan when they’ll take their gels and water stops. Full disclosure, I am the Type A Runner.

Why You Want to Run With a Pacer
The only scenario you’re likely to even consider running with a pacer is if you aren’t totally confident in the ability to pace to your goal. While it’s hard for the control freak to put their trust in someone else, the Type A Runner may see the pacer as a way to maintain the target and, ultimately, achieve their goal.

Why You Don’t Want to Run With a Pacer
The Type A Runner needs to be in full control of every aspect of the race possible. That’s pretty much the end of this story.

3. If You’re a Lazy Runner
No, not an oxymoron, there is a type of runner who I’d identify as “lazy” on race day. They’re the ones who put in the training but, when race day comes, they back off and don’t push it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with this. I myself have taken a day or two off from being a Type A Runner to enjoy the spoils of a lazy marathon.

PacerLazyFun copy

Pacers make it fun – mascot selfies and all

Why You Want to Run With a Pacer
Another pretty obvious one – if, deep down, you want to achieve a PR or other time goal, running with a pacer will give you the push you may not otherwise do on your own. Also, you’ll likely enjoy the fun of running in a group.

Why You Don’t Want to Run With a Pacer
Often, the Lazy Runner is lazy because that’s how they enjoy running. Taking in the sights and sounds of the race, getting lost in the moment, not worrying about their watch. If this is how you enjoy running, make no apologies, and just enjoy it.

4. If You’re An Energy Feeder
Kind of the opposite of the Lazy Runner, I define the Energy Runner as one less disciplined during training but then feeds off all the energy and excitement on race day. They’re energetic early on, but may start to fade before they see a mile marker with a number in the 20s.

Why You Want to Run With a Pacer
All that energy in one bunch? A leader keeping the group motivated? Extra cheers from the crowd directed towards the entire group? You’ll love all the added motivation and camaraderie built-in throughout the course. And if you choose to line up with a group that’s running a pace realistic to what you can maintain, it might help from going out too fast, too early, and conserve your energy.

Why You Don’t Want to Run With a Pacer
The extra excitement and early energy bursts might cause the Feeder to experience an earlier-than-usual bonk. If you’re prone to this, it might be best to stay focused on you vs. others – notice your breath, how you’re feeling, your stride, and do what feels right.

5. If You’re A Repeat Offender
Repeat Offenders – many of us fall into this category, even if we’ve already identified a fit in one of the four above. I identify the Repeat Offenders as the ones who have run their particular race, from 5k to marathon, numerous times. They know how their body and mind react through the miles, and probably have a good idea of how to pace themselves on their own.

PaceDakota

Repeat Offenders: my pal, Dakota and me

Why You Want to Run With a Pacer
If you haven’t yet hit that PR or time goal you’ve been wanting, this is a great chance to do so. Because you know these miles really well, you’re likely to choose a realistic pace group and use that to hit a goal.

Why You Don’t Want to Run With a Pacer
It has been said before and will be said again – the pacer knows the course and mile splits, but no one knows you better than you. If you’re seeking a new PR, running on your own is a great opportunity to teach yourself the art of pacing and make you a stronger runner. And, as an experienced runner and one who keeps coming back for more, you certainly don’t need the energy and extra push that a pacer provides.

Just as every runner is different, every runner on race day is different. Between the weather, nerves, sleep, and about a million other variables, you never know how race day is going to shake out. Always do what feels right for you.

If you’re considering running with a pacer, the best advice I can give is to start in the group, then either get ahead or drop back depending on the feels.

Have you ever run a race with a pacer? Why or why not? If you did, was it a good experience? Comment below or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

As always, if you liked this post, please share it on Facebook or Twitter, along with any upcoming races you’re training for.

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2 Responses to Why You Should Run With a Pacer – And Why You Shouldn’t

  1. keepnupwithj says:

    Love this! Do most longer distance races have pacers or is this something I should find out ahead of time? I like the idea of at least starting off with one to keep my in check for the first few miles.

    • lindsaybabb says:

      Check out the race’s website and it should tell you. Most half and full marathons will have pacers but it varies – I paced a 10k in Minneapolis a couple weeks ago so there might even be one for your 10k too!

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