Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All the Components of a Marathon - A Pace Group Leader's Recap

Well marathon weekend is over. And I survived! There are so many things to celebrate! Despite injury, I ran the whole race and better yet, finished in my goal time by 21 seconds.  I successfully led the 4:25 pace team to their goal.  Not without help though. 

Race day began before the sound of my alarm. I was up on my own at 5:30 am. Dressed, ready and out the door at 6:00. At the pacer meet spot at 6:30. It was a cold morning. 30 degrees in fact. I was bundled in disposable layers but the chill in the air still went right through me. 

Any racers looking to be led by a pace leader were encouraged to meet at 7:00 on the steps of the Bushnell Theater. Slowly, a crowd started to form. Some people were looking for me. Others were looking for pace groups in the Half-Marathon category. Others for the 3:30 group (yes, for the full). I chatted with a few people whom aspired to finish in 4:25. Some were vocal about joining me. Others just sorta stood there. It was at this point I realized just how big my responsibility was. I feared the possibility of failing the people that were depending on me to pace them to their own victory. OMG, What did I get myself into?! I maintained a smile though and we discussed the strategy at hand.

The plan was to maintain a 9:55/mile pace. We'd walk through 13 water stops, allowing ourselves 20 seconds at each. Good plan, right?

Well, for miles 1-3, we were dead on. Pace was right. The group was together. The mood was great. We made small talk. All was well. Miles 4-6 we got a little ahead of ourselves. We were about two minutes ahead. We needed to slow down!!  These people were depending on ME to keep their pace at 9:55. We were doing more like a 9:30. Eeeek! They're going to burn out! I'm going to fail them!

Mile 8, three minutes ahead! Ahhhh!!! I was freaking out! We needed to slow down. We approached a water stop with a port-o-potty. A light bulb went on. I told the group that we were going too fast and that though we felt good now, we had a long run ahead still.  We shall use this time to take a break, enjoy some fluids and use the potty. In three minutes, we'd pick back up.

I was one of the people that needed to use the potty. As soon as I was done, I looked for my group and found no one. Did they continue on? Were they in the potty? Did I even know what more than two of them looked like?? Where the hell did they go? I didn't know, so I began to run on. By mile 9, I realized my pace was right on target. But where was my group?

Some runners ran up from behind me and asked if I was on pace. (I was easily identified as a pacer with my "4:25" singlet on). I said yes, in fact I was dead on. "Well the 4:20 pacer is way back there. You must be ahead." Several people said this to me. My heart was sinking. I felt I could start crying. I knew I was on pace, but my lack of group had me lacking confidence. I was second guessing myself. WHERE was my group???

I had told them I was making a pit stop. I encouraged them to do it too!! But where the F*%$ were they?

Then, all of a sudden I heard, "oh there you are!" I later would find this voice to be my saving grace for the entire race. Mike was a guy I had been running with until mile 8. He was a man whom I learned was running his 49th marathon-- in Hartford-- on this day-- with me. The following day, yes the following day, he would run his 50th in Vermont.  He had lost me at the potty but found me again. I still didn't know where the rest of the group was, but as long as I had one guy, I was content.

I apologized to him. I let him know how upset I was for failing him. I don't think he thought it was such a big deal.  So, okay maybe I was overreacting?

Mile 10, 11... on target. Mile 12... Oh there's my mom!!!

For the past three years of doing the Hartford Marathon, each time I get to mile 12 (then again at 22), I welcomed the sight of my mom.  She greets me with food and fluorescent signage. This year she had no food because I planned on grabbing a peanut butter sandwich from my aunt at mile 14. Boy, do I wish I had depended on my mom.

As I reached mile 14, I looked for Aunt Gila. She wasn't there!! Correction: she probably was there but I missed her. Miles 14-16 are big cheer spots so she must have just blended with the crowd.  I missed my re-fueling opportunity!  Ut oh.

Mike offered me a GU. I turned it down at first. I needed calories, but not in semi-liquid sugar form. I wanted a sandwich!! I did cave though and ended up taking it. It was chocolate flavor. Tasted like cake frosting. It could have been worse.

Miles 15, 16, and 17 came and went. This part of the race takes us through the beautiful historic district of South Windsor. Foliage, rolling fields, old homes. Cows, farms, etc. Just gorgeous!!

17.1 or so is the turn around. It's literally a cone in the middle of the road that you turn at. At 17.5, I passed a couple of high school friends (thank you Katie!) with signs which was unexpected but awesome! I passed the same crowds from miles 14-16 at miles 18-20.  There was a guy on his front yard with a microphone greeting each of the runners as we passed. He'd say, "Hey 1504, I missed ya! Welcome back!"  There was a table of neighbors handing out Dunkin Donuts munchkins. Lots of music and signs! The crowd support was awesome. I got to see a fellow runner friend Jen in the crowd around mile 18. She'd been there since I passed her at mile 16 but we too missed each other then just as I missed Aunt Gila.

Miles 19-21... "Oh boy, I'm done with this race I think. I'm ready for it to be over." My heart just decided to not be in the race anymore. My knee began to hurt. My hip had been hurting. I told Mike I was ready to throw in the towel.  He started telling me about himself to distract me.

Mike was retired military who still worked as a civilian for the US Army. He was doubling up on marathons this weekend just as he did the week prior. He lives in Texas but originally was from Long Island.

Mile 22... "Hey, there's my mom again!!" And there she goes... Mile 23... The CANDY table!! Oh how I love this feature! Bite sized Snickers and flat Coke. YUMMMM!!!!

By the way, where the hell is the group Mike and I were originally running with?

Okay, so three simple miles left...  A 5k. That's it. I've done 5k's without my heart being devoted. It's a quick 30 or so minutes... Let's get it over with.  Mike told me to relax my shoulders. Don't think... just let my legs do the work.  I tried that. It worked. Mile 24... 25... oooh the crowd is getting loud! The finish is soon.

We were still on target! I knew that were were right in line with finishing in 4:25.  Knowing this, I was able to kick it up a notch. I actually sped up!

This is me at approximately mile 26.15

Mile 25.5...26... Cowbell, cheering, yelling, clapping.  Ohhhh, there's the Memorial Arch. And my dad! And Joe and Justin! My sister and nephew, and step sister too!! And the FINISH LINE! I crossed with Mike and started to cry. I hugged him and thanked him. I, the once "pacer" of the group had been led by this stranger, turned hero. He kept me going. He led us to our goal.

I learned later in the day, people had been following me (us) the whole time. It may not have been the vocal group I had started with (then lost), but runners sought me out and silently followed me and depended on me to pace them through the finish line.  I was successful in doing so, but not without help from Mike.

 Mike and I crossing the finish line!

Looking back at the race as a whole, I see it included all the components a marathon should. Commitment, determination, doubt, highs, lows, camaraderie, sweat, tears, empowerment and accomplishment. 

Did I hate running for a blip in time while racing? Yes.

Did I ask why I even attempt these things? Yep.

Am I sorry now that I ran the Hartford Marathon? Nope.

Do I think accomplishing such goals makes me a better person? You bet.

Am I ready for the next one? uh huh. Bring it on!

I'm not sure what makes a person desire to run. It can start with the need or want to lose weight, be healthier or as an outlet. Why I started running, I can't even say for certain.  I think I was sick of feeling unaccomplished. I wanted a "thing" that was mine that I could be proud of.  Running is in my blood some would say. My dad and sister are "Iron Men", having completed three of the iconic races between them, and dad being a Boston Marathon finisher, maybe subconsciously I felt my "thing" would be athletic in nature.

I'll never forget my first run.  I'm pretty sure I was high, after all I smoked pot every day from 1999 - 2009.  I headed out on the Greenway behind our apartment in Simsbury. Did a mile out and a mile back.  I felt so good. I bragged about my success for a long time.

Bragging has since been replaced with sharing my successes as a way to empower other people. Running is easy. It's one foot in front of the other... over and over and over and over... it's staying committed that's the hard part. That being said, not everyone enjoys running. If running isn't your thing, find your "thing". Commit to it. Accomplish it. Talk about it.

A family of runners... Dad in the back...Melissa on the left, then Isaiah, Justin (they ran the "Kids K", then me in yellow and my step-sister Missy)


  1. Inspirational! Saw your blog from hartford marathon's facebook page. This was such a good read. I ran with Jack in the 2:15 pace group for the half, and it was the best race decision ever. Love meeting other running mommas! Here's my recap:

  2. Thank you SO much for your post. I saw it through the HMF facebook posting too. Reading your story gives me hope that someday I can be doing the marathon as well. I found the Pace runners to be very helpful along the course. They kept me on track and I was super glad to see them.
    Congratulations on being motivated to continue on the race - and being there to motivate others too! That's amazing!!
    This year I did my first ever 1/2 marathon and I really did love it. I too wrote a blog posting about my experience:
    Can't wait until next year.

  3. Thank you ladies!! I just checked out both your blogs! Congrats on your victories!! Laura, very cool mention in the Courant! Marie, love your pics from race day> Us running mama's gotta stick together.

    Keep running... no matter what the odds are stacked up against us!!

  4. yayy Steph, love it.

    I hope the dc pace leaders are as cool as you and allow a 3 minute break!!!!

    1. haha Em, I'm just seeing this! I think it was hurricane Sandy you had to end up worrying about, and not the pacers!!