The rain misted early on Saturday as I turned the ignition. Weather reports called for cloudy and cold weather for the Hot Chocolate 15K in Philadelphia. That’s fine by me. I’m used to shivering uncontrollably in the starting corral, but today I also held up the 11:30 per mile pace sign for Corral R that I couldn’t stop from quivering in the wind either. I hoped the shaky sign didn’t reveal my lack of confidence in keeping a steady pace other runners were expecting.
I chatted with a few runners before the start; some of whom wanted to stay in front of me but behind the 11:00 min pacer. Good plan. Most runners I spoke to just wanted to finish the race without walking too much. Others were going to keep me in sight as they ran behind me, trying not to let me get too far ahead. One runner even signed up with her friends over wine, a decision she sort of regretted on this chilly morning but nonetheless pinned on her bib and was ready to race.
There were plenty of runners who never ran more than 8 miles until race day and many more who dreamed of running a marathon. I ran most of the race with a runner keeping up with me. She wasn’t sure if she could run a marathon in under 6 hours because her half marathon time was 2:36:00. I thought, what? My half marathon time used to be 2:34:00, and I finished my very first marathon in 5:35:00–totally possible! I walked a lot too. I’m a much faster runner than I used to be, but I remember what it’s like to finish near the back of a small race when most of the faster runners have gone home, and the SAG truck lumbers behind you. I hope she does run a marathon and proves to herself that she can do it.
Pacing a race is much different than running for a PR or even running with a friend. It was challenging to keep the pace I was assigned since I’m used to doing my own thing and running based on how I feel in a race. At times, I sprinted downhill too fast or was too slow through a water stop. I didn’t stop for water, but I trotted through the stops, slowing down if other runners were following me. After mile 2, I hit each mile based on my pace plan for total time and found my groove. I took small, fast steps, keeping my cadence right around 170 steps per minute.
I was humbled by all of the volunteer pacers–some of them have paced over 40 races, and I learned much more from the runners who ran with me. Everyone runs for different reasons, and I’m happy that today I ran for other runners. I plan to pace more races in the future as well as volunteer at water stations or as a course marshall.