All (My) Eggs in One Basket
Earlier this spring, I saw a Facebook post seeking for pacers for a road half marathon outside of Sacramento. I sent the coordinator an email, my Strava results including my 1:32 half marathon. I explained I spent most of my time on trails, where times and distances are different, but had enough training miles around town to flesh out what kind of road race I could run.
A pacer is an experienced runner who can keep a given pace per mile, plan around hills (uphill/slower – downhill/faster) and keep a group on pace for a given finish time for whatever their race is (4 hours, 4.5 hours, etc).
Although they no longer needed anyone for that race, I signed on for a full marathon in Reno at the end of April thinking it would make a fun weekend trip. Other than the half marathon in march, and a few 10ks last year, I haven’t run a lot of road races, and my last marathon was in 2014. I knew this would be a challenge, but it wasn’t 100 miles in the mountains, how hard could it be?
After our second daughter was born in early April (my fifth child!) I decided that was enough kids, as I was not trying to start a sports team. I originally scheduled my vasectomy surgery for after the MUC, but it got bumped to after Grizzly Peak. I was essentially going to have about 1-1.5 weeks of recovery, and hopefully another week and a half of decent running time…if all went well.
Unfortunately, I felt like I was chasing cutoffs in an ultra – there was swelling and discomfort till about 5 days out, but just when I was worried if I would make it to the starting line, all felt well.
To ensure everything stayed in place, and potential painful movements were restricted, I picked up a pair of Ruhn Co compression shorts I had been looking to try out. I will review those in full soon, but long story short – I love them.
The Biggest Little Event in the Biggest Little City
Bib pickup went smoothly, the folks at Dolan Auto have a good handle on the logistical aspects of race management. The sponsors were all there, and lots of free swag to be had. Highlights included technical t-shirt, hydration pack for full marathoners, and goodie bag. The real nice surprise was Tahoe Trail energy bars. I had never tried them before, but they were on hand to offer free samples. Delicious!
We finished out our Saturday exploring Reno by having a horrendous dinner at Harrah’s. We were under the impression it would be the best buffet in Reno, but were sorely lied to by the internet. Never again – it was an absolutely expensive joke.
At about 2 am, all hell broke loose. Liz started throwing up and Annika became difficult and seemingly affected by her mother’s status. Sleep came in spurts, but they finally went down for the count just shy of 4 am. I helped as best I could, and offered to drop from the race, but Liz insisted I follow through. She’s bulletproof. (She was able to get some sleep after the last of it, and felt better in the morning)
Up with my alarm, coffee from the gas station down the street and a quick Lyft to the starting line and I was ready to go. We took some shots, grabbed our signs and toed the line. The anthem played and we were off. Luckily they had me running with a veteran pacer, which really helped out. If you ever volunteer to pace, request being paired with a vet. It really helps.
The miles ticked by, we called out splits and times, and kept the mark. Due to limitations this year, the course was a 13.1 out and back, ran once for the half marathoners, and twice for the full marathon runners. The race starts under the arch, runs by the river, through suburbia and the last few miles of the loop are the most beautiful as you get to the edge of the residential area. Amazing views, and a relatively flat race course with only 900 or so feet of elevation.
The temperatures climbed fast, and the small 4:00 pace group dwindled. My co-pacer fell back for a bathroom break, and without anyone to pace, she didn’t have a need to catch back up. I soon found myself alone for the last few miles, keeping the 9:09 pace as consistent as possible. With the half mile short course, I crossed in 3:55, but Strava shows me at an average pace of 9:09 so I still call it a successful first time pacing.
The field of runners for the marathon is small, tiny by some race comparisons; but the half marathon and 10k events are huge. A lot of smiling faces of every age, size, and shape take to the streets an hour after the marathon starts. Plenty of space to get out ahead of the people, and the road blocks offer more than enough street for all the runners. Dads, moms, and kids alike are all welcome here. STROLLER FRIENDLY!
The course distance was off by a little over a half a mile, however, and two of the runners in the pace group and I (all with different watches) found ourselves at the 13 mile mark almost a full mile short. The mile marker sign posts were hit or miss too, and marker 20 was at mile 18 and 18 was at 20. While the signage is a minor hiccup in an otherwise well managed race, the final distance ended up half mile short which many would find very upsetting (by my Suunto, and most everyone else I spoke to – including those with Garmins, Polars, etc).
Water stations with Gatorade (as in the actual branded beverage) were well placed and well operated, but the offerings were only that – water and Gatorade, with a couple of the tables offering Red Bull of all things. The only food on the course came from Tahoe Trail Bars about 5 miles in to the 13 mile out and back loop. No bananas, oranges, gels or other food on the course. Word to the wise – if you want it, bring it.
Plenty of food, Gatorade, water, and snacks at the finish. Maybe a last minute logistical error this year prevented some of them from making it to the aid stations?
Bathrooms available inside Harrah’s and other casinos and of course… FREE PHOTOS!
All in all a wonderful event, I look forward to running it again next year!
Pacing is a LOT harder that it looks, but the rewards outweigh the costs. Cheering for all the runners, encouraging the pace group, keeping people motivated – I love it. The out and back layout of the course makes it a great event to cheer and be cheered. Unfortunately, as runners from the group dropped back, bits of my motivation fell back with them. I worried that I had not been motivational enough, or that I had not performed my duties well enough. Keeping a perfect pace is a hard job – to put yourself out there, with a disregard of your own pace desires to drop the hammer and cut loose, is tough. There were plenty of times I wanted to be done with the run, but I had to keep moving at my given pace, steady as can be.
By the last few miles of the race, The pace group had fallen apart and I finished the race alone, and under time due to the short course. I was holding the 4:00 sign at 3:55, I felt like a bit of a jerk. It was starting to eat me up, but as runners continued to cross under the finish line arch, a few runners collected their medals and approached me, beaming with pride. They thanked me for my efforts, and although they didn’t get 4:00 or sub 4:00, they found themselves having run faster than they thought they could have.
Suddenly, everything was right in the world. I felt great. Great about the experience, happy to have helped people, and satisfied with my abilities.
I’m glad I had the experience I did. It was less than perfect, but paid off in the end. I certainly look forward to pacing again. See you out there!
– The Winged Ling