Race Pacers – A Different View of the Race


During the course of a race, half-marathon, marathon or longer…there are a number of unsung heroes.  We owe many thanks to the volunteers, the race director, our families and last but not least the race pacers.  I would like to introduce my followers to Kayla.  I first met Kayla while shopping at my favorite running store in Wake Forest, NC Run-N-Tri Out Fitters, she was very helpful and well versed in our sport.  When I found out she was a race pacer, it just made sense.

Race pacers see the race from a different perspective.

Kayla thanks for sharing some time with us, first tell us a little about your running resume.

spartanracekayla(Kayla has a big smile and she is fast)

I have been running since seventh grade, while I didn’t think it was my thing, it definitely has become a great source of joy. Throughout high school I raced the 5k in cross country, the two mile, one mile, and 4×800 in track. My 5k pb was 17:57, and my best two mile was 10:53 and my best mile was 5:14.  I ran my first half marathon in 8th grade. Since then I have ran roughly 10 half marathons, current pb is 1:23:00. I have ran 2 marathons thus far, with my first marathon being the Raleigh Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon and my second being the Boston Marathon. I have slowly been venturing into the trail race world and this past year ran the Uwharrie 20 miler.

Why or how did you get into pacing?

I first got into pacing during sophomore year of high school, my coach noticed that in practice I was very consistent with my training paces, he was hopeful that I could help stabilize a couple individuals on our team who started out too fast.

How many races have you paced in?

During my high school career, I paced roughly 15-20 5k’s (considering races and tune-ups) and two half marathons. All of my high school pacing was done on an individual basis, so I was able to adjust the speed depending on how the person I was pacing seemed to be faring. The half marathons were especially exciting to pace because the individuals often far undershot their capabilities, so by the end of the race the outcome was typically much faster than expected. Outside of high school I have paced one race with Marathon Pacing Company at Kiawah Island, and I am set up to pace that race again this December.

What is your favorite race?

My favorite race is the Raleigh Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon mainly because the course is highly challenging with many turns and hills. Additionally, the Raleigh Rock ’n’ Roll half has a very large spectator presence that can be very beneficial in the final miles of the race. My favorite race I have paced is the City of Oaks, and I personally love that race because it provides a challenge with pacing due to its wide array of fairly difficult hills.

I’ve run with a race provided pacer with both success and failure. In some cases, the pacers were spot on and got me to the end of the race with a fighting shot at my race goals. Another ran too fast and lost nearly everyone before the 20-mile mark.

Can you tell my readers your strategies while pacing?

I utilize the “pancake” approach, which is basically setting the goal pace early and merely holding on to that pace for the entire race. I developed this strategy during my high school years because I realized that often times people fail to perform to their fullest potential due to starting out too fast. From a scientific point of view, this makes sense because once the body enters into oxygen debt it is very difficult to recover and the body will begin to fatigue quickly. Through a bit of trial and error, I have found that I get the best pacing results by starting at a pace that will feel slow (its actually not, but to most people in a race their goal pace will feel quite slow during the early miles) and maintaining that pace throughout the race. From my experience, most of the individuals I am pacing will begin to think that we have actually increased our pace throughout, but that is just a side effect of the body feeling fatigued and largely why I start so “slowly”. If it doesn’t feel slow at the beginning, then in many cases it will turn into an impossible pace by the end.

How do you prepare physically and mentally for your role as a pacer?

First, I address the physical side. I determine exactly what pace I need to run for the race counting in any stops or possible crowd challenges at the start. Once I have determined the pace required, I will run pretty much all of my runs at that pace for the 2-3 months leading up to the race, though I will still include a speed-work day or two each week. By a month out I will start to run without my watch and with someone who has a watch so that I can determine if I am able to “feel” the pace in the case my watches were to break. Around this time I will also run a long run that is around 15-16 miles for a half marathon pacing event so that I can be assured I am capable of easily maintaining the desired pace for longer than the race. Finally, to complete the physical side of things I make sure that my training is performed in areas that reflect the terrain I will be encountering on race day. Moving on the mental aspect of training the largest worry with pacing for me is always making sure that I am capable of easily holding the pace required for the full length of the race so that I can focus on the people I am pacing and not on my body being pushed to the point of exhaustion. In addition to that, I also try to make sure that on race day morning I follow the same routine as I have every long run so that I do not have to worry about stomach issues during the race.

You mentioned you pace for a pacing company, can you tell us a little about the company and the services they offer?

I currently am working with Marathon Pacing, which is a company focused on providing individuals with a cheerful, dependable pacer to aid them in accomplishing their race goals. The company offers pacing for a multitude of races throughout the year all across the US.

Why should others consider being a pacer?

Anyone who enjoys running and sharing the racing experience should definitely consider being a pacer. Not only is pacing a fantastic way to travel to races you may have not considered, but more importantly it is a way to share the joys of running with others and to help others accomplish their running goals. For me, I have found that I prefer the pacing to racing myself just because I am a very social person so being able to chat with others and learn their stories is a great deal of fun for me.

I’m sure there are many gratifying moments in pacing, what is the greatest sense of accomplishment you’ve felt as a pacer?

The greatest sense of accomplishment I have felt as a pacer would definitely have to be when I helped a young man achieve a time in his half marathon that he had never dreamed of doing. I was individually pacing him at the time, and he had a goal of 1:40 for the half. Around a third of the way through the race I noticed that he definitely could push a lot harder, so at that point I suggested we pick up the pace. We ended up finishing the half in 1:29:30, and the sheer excitement on his face at achieving such a time made my week. It’s moments like that when you can see the joy on a person’s face after accomplishing a huge goal that makes pacing such a great experience.

As a pacer, I’m sure the race looks different from a different point of view. Could you share some of the biggest mistakes runners make while trying to run for a goal time?

The biggest mistake I have noticed individuals making while trying for a goal time is going out at a pace that feels uncomfortable from the start. As a general rule for me, I have always found that the best races come from starts that feel borderline “too slow”. It is definitely very easy to get caught up in the adrenaline at the beginning of the race, but unfortunately that adrenaline does not last more than a few miles and once it runs out many people find their pace slows dramatically. Another large mistake I have seen individuals make is not realizing that the race should feel harder as you go along if you are running at a pace that is pushing the limits of your running. The pace that felt so easy at the beginning should start to become more difficult, and you have to put more effort in as time goes on to ensure that you maintain your original pace.

How can the runner, help the pacer help them?

We are there to help so never feel like a question is too silly to ask. The biggest thing a runner can tell a pacer is how they are feeling and if they have any issues the pacer should watch out for (i.e. health concerns). While we are not paramedics and thus cannot provide much care, it can help us monitor how everyone is doing and determine if an individual should back off for their own safety. Additionally, I have found that in every race I have paced individuals who will begin to question the pace right around 2/3 into the race. While this is not a large issue and if I am obviously way off pace I would like to be informed, I would say that trusting your pacers is paramount for allowing them to help you. In the company I work for, there are very high standards held for being able to pace and everyone is very skilled at running their designated pace.

As I’ve mentioned I’ve run with pacers at a few races, and while in the pack, I’ve heard many inspiring stories.

IMG_20160313_074245(4 hour pacer at 2016 Tobacco Road Marathon)

What is the most inspiring story or moment you have experienced as a pacer?

The most inspiring moment I have experienced as a pacer would definitely have to be when I was granted the privilege of pacing a much older man who had been a multi-time Boston Marathon finisher. He stuck with my 1:45 pace group the entire race, and his presence was so inspiring especially after I heard about his stories of racing and dealing with all sorts of injuries. Also, it was a huge honor to be able to receive a multitude of tips from him about the Boston Marathon since he heard I was going to be racing it in April of 2017.

Thank you so much Kayla for sharing your pacer story…