I was blessed to be able to lead a pace group this year, my first time to lead one. I loved it. I was tasked with getting folks in under 2:15. My finish time was 2:15:05, but everyone who finished ahead of me cleared the line under the 2:15 mark. The next faster finisher before me had an official time of 2:14:59, so I'm pretty happy with the way things fell.
I volunteered to lead the pace group because I have Bass Pro Marathon this coming Sunday. I'm hoping to finish that race in 4:30, so I saw the pacing as an opportunity to practice the pace I'll need to hold for 26.2 this week. So far, that seems to have been a good decision. I finished the 13.1 miles feeling just about as good as I did when I started. That makes me feel pretty confident I can hold the pace for this week's race. I guess we'll see for sure in a few days.
Like most people, I generally start out too fast in a race. When the gun fires at the start, the enthusiasm and the atmosphere just pull me along with the crowd. Saturday, though, I knew I HAD TO slow down and maintain a steady pace. This required me to really concentrate on my watch the whole time, but it wasn't nearly as difficult to accomplish as I feared it would be. According to my Garmin, my mile splits were as follows:
Mile Time 1 10:09 2 10:12 3 10:09 4 10:05 5 10:11 6 10:11 7 10:11 8 10:18 9 10:11 10 10:15 11 10:13 12 10:09 13 10:20 13.1 14:13
By far, that's the most consistent my splits have ever been in a race. I don't even know if I'm that consistent in a 5K. Early in the race, I had to really concentrate to maintain pace. But as the miles wore on, I settled in and allowed myself to relax a little. For the first three miles, I thought I'd spend the entire race staring at my watch. I was never nervous about being able to finish in 2:15, only nervous about maintaining a consistent pace. Like I said earlier, it wasn't nearly as tough to do that as I feared.
One thing I didn't do as well as I'd hoped for was to encourage and motivate. I had a couple of people come up to me before the race and tell me they were going to stick with me. At the start line, there were a few who said they were trying to finish in 2:15. But when the gun fired, the starting mob was hard to sort out. I decided then I'd wait a mile or so before trying to interact with "my" group, to let the crowd thin out. This turned out to probably be a mistake.
It was around the 3/4 mile mark when I asked who was running in our group. Only one person spoke up. I'm sure there were others, but they were either scattered a little, struggling to get warmed up and into the pace, or maybe just not sure if I was okay to talk to or a psycho killer or something. Looking back, I should have tried to rally them at the start line, before we crossed the mat. Lesson learned.
Coming into the aid stations I barked out which side to get to. When we entered busy roadways I warned anyone who might be running with me to beware of traffic, but still, nobody in the group interacted with me in the first two miles, other than the lone runner who was willing to admit she was running with me when I asked earlier. By now, I knew I should have engaged them earlier, but I couldn't go back and restart.
It was just past the two-mile mark when a runner asked how far we'd gone. When I told him he only had 11 miles left, he didn't seem too excited, but it did draw some input from a runner who was tagging along with me. The first tough hill in mile 4 brought a little interaction. I gave a little motivational spiel about getting up hills and up we went. Nearing the top, one guy asked if he could hold the 2:15 sign. I really don't think he was with our group, but just someone we happened on as we climbed.
At the top, we turned left and were blessed with a nice downhill stretch that carried us back past the start. In our fifth mile, passing by what would also be the turn into the finish line much later in the race, I heard my name called out several times. Several friends, including former students, were lining the course through here and it felt good to have people out there cheering for me.
We kept going. Here and there, other runners and I struck up conversations. One lady was running her first half, motivated by her husband who runs. Another was a teacher from Benton who had run several half marathons and four fulls. She was looking for a PR at 2:15 on Saturday. There were a couple of ladies from the Black Girls Run club of central Arkansas who I went back and forth with, and another man who was working to stay in front of me. Now, I was starting to feel more like the pacer I'd hoped to be, one who encourages and motivates and gets to know the runners in his group.
By mile 10, people were really starting to struggle. I'm sure I'd lost a few, but we were picking up a few others who had dropped back from their starting pace too. This gave me a few more opportunities to encourage and motivate. Some runners just looked at me like I was crazy, others tried to pick it back up and come with us. We kept chugging along.
Finally, we came to the hill at mile 12, the last hill on the course. Here was an opportunity to encourage, lots of opportunity. Up we went. As I passed runners, I reminded them of that glorious downhill that awaited them when they reached the top. We reached it and I held myself back to maintain pace as we descended. Quite a few runners passed me through here. We were less than a mile from the finish, and had a little cushion to make our finish time.
At the 13 mile mark, the entrance to the McGee Center and the finish line, I stopped to shout to runners behind me. They had two minutes to finish in 2:15. I stood there for 30 seconds, calling out how long they had every 5 seconds. Then I ran to the chute opening, 100 meters from the finish. There again, I began shouting out how long they had to cross the mat if they wanted a 2:15 finish. Several sprinted, a few just held their pace.
Finally, I turned into the chute. I crossed the mat 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 5 seconds after I crossed the starting mat. But when I looked at the results a few minutes later, every runner who finished ahead of me made it in under 2:15. The runner immediately faster than me listed on the results had a time of 2:14:59. I was pretty happy with that.
I have to say, I loved the race. I loved running it as a pacer. Never did I feel stressed. Never did I feel pain. Just 13.1 miles of enjoyable running. I'll do things a little differently next time, including working harder to get to know my group before the start, and getting them involved early in the race. But I'm pretty happy with my effort as a first time pacer.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." ~ -- Isaiah 40:31
But as always, the highlight of this race for me was after I crossed the finish line. When the young girl, one of the kids of Soaring Wings Christian Home and Ranch, handed me my medal. I'm not an emotional guy, but every time I finish this race, every time one of their kids hands me that medal, I tear up. I could barely utter the words thank you when she placed the medal in my hand and said, "Bless you."
If you're a runner looking for a great half to run, this is it. If you're not a runner, but someone looking to change your lifestyle by getting out and getting active, accept the challenge of running this race. If you're just someone who wants to be a part of something bigger than yourself, to help out a great cause, check out the Soaring Wings Half Marathon. You can walk it if you don't run. But one thing I promise you, if you do this race, you'll have no regrets. It's an awesome experience that I can't wait to experience again next year!
Thank you Marla and Andrew, for the great race you put on, and for the great work you do with the kids at Soaring Wings Christian Home and Ranch.
You can give to Soaring Wings Ranch by clicking the link below. And, if you donate through our fundraising page before 11:59 pm, October 31st, you'll be entered in a drawing to win a $200 Walmart gift card! So donate today to help the kids at Soaring Wings and have a chance to win!
Give to Soaring Wings Christian Home & Ranch now!
If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.