Misadventures with wine, weights, and running shoes.

Zooma: Running as a Pacer

Sunday, June 22, 2014
Prior to moving to Baltimore, I had run primarily solo or with my southern Sole Sister, Hope. When I arrived last year, I knew I needed extra motivation and was lucky to have found the amazing Annapolis Striders. They quickly took me under their wing and gave me a new perspective on many things. One such thing was volunteering.  Many of the principal coaches and mentors were race directors or knew one.  This is how I found out about Girls on the Run and most recently, volunteering as a pacer.

It was during one of the Thursday morning coffee gatherings, my friend Lara asked, “hey, Zooma Annapolis is looking for pacers, do you want to be one?”  I am pretty sure I looked behind me for the person she was directing the question to, yet all there was, was an empty hall. 

Me? Really? 

She explained how you get free entry into the race, run a predetermined pace, and still receive the finishers medal like all the runners. 

Free entry with bling?  Yes Please! 

As it sank in, Lara smiled, telling me she’d put my name in and would get back to me with details. In typical fashion, she happily bounced her way out the door to start her day.  I sat there for a while in stunned silence.  

In my mind, I was still a newer runner, not confident and sure like I saw others.  Humbled and encouraged by what Lara saw in me, I had to step out of my comfort zone to see where this new experience would lead me.

A month or so passed and the race slipped to the back my mind. I was prepping for another race; the Marine Corp Historic Half. Although I hadn't received any emails, Lara reassured my Type A++ personality with a smile that my name was there and I just needed to be patient. Finally a couple weeks out we received assignments and later our code to register.  I got paired up with my friend, Jill, who endured an insane weather marathon in March with me. We were very excited as this was a first for both of us. As an added bonus, we were even given shirts by Lululemon, a big sponsor of the race. Wow! I could get used to this whole pacing thing if all this is involved!  

For every race I've ran, I am always a mix of nervous and excited, causing me to over think every nuance; weather, wardrobe choice, nutrition etc.  For the first time ever, I was calm, happy and just about as stress free regarding the race as I've ever been.  Don't get me wrong, I still checked out all those things, but my focus was redirected to the job at hand. How would I set the pace group up for success and even more specifically, be there for my sole sister, Theresa, to help set her to PR a race she'd ran last year as her first 10k. It was the focus of a coach and mentor and not a racer. That flip in mindset changed everything.

Most races are on Sundays, but Zooma was on a Saturday, so we headed to the expo after Theresa got off work. We did our preliminary nutrition, sock buying and socializing.  I was excited to finally meet and see the Fellow Flowers, Theresa, had always talked about.  I love what they stand for and especially loved the FIERCE shirts, my tag as given to me by said cohort. 

The expo was small, but we knew many people so it was nice to catch up with familiar faces.  The swag was pretty nice minus some strange items, as I will defer you to her blog post on the matter.  We went our separate ways, did our evening pre-race planning, and I sat out my Flat Pacer Cindy equipped with extra nutrition and stuff for the runners joining us the next morning.
Theresa, Michelle and I had planned to meet O-Dark Early (5:30 AM) at the field to try and secure great parking together and allow at least one if not two trips to the port-a-potty line before the race.  We were scheduled as pacers to meet up at 6:00 give or take to get our pacing signs.  Start time was 7 AM so needless to say we were early-along with more than a few other very early risers.  We met later than usual because Theresa almost forgot her bib but remembered in plenty of time and was still earlier than others. This is another good reason for adding in buffer time.  That scattered us to the 4 corners-thank goodness for cell phones.  Luckily we had enough time to find our needed groups, goof off a bit, take some pictures and put everyone in a good mood to match the gorgeous weather for the race.

The Race

Michelle, Cindy, Theresa - Prerace
We meet up with our group, some of whom were still trying to wade through the long bathroom lines (score for the early birds.) We got our pacer pictures and made our way down to the start.  Jill and I met just before race start, but had already discussed even splits to the best of our ability ahead of time.  A 2:10 finish meant an average pace of 9:55.  We told the people in our pace group that this was our plan. 
We had no idea who would stay with us, but we were huddled in the corral like sardines and we knew after a couple miles we would find out.  I of course was checking over my shoulder for Theresa, as I knew I would be pacing her for at least part of the race.  Neither Jill nor I had run carrying a pace stick in the air and we weren’t sure how easy or challenging it would be, so our agreement was to switch off the sign every mile to give the other one a break.  With the start of the race, we started our watches and, of course, the size of the crowd  would mean a slow start. 

Or NOT.

Luckily both wore GPS watches.  We found out our first challenge would be maintaining our planned pace, rather than get caught up in the race and speed up.  So our first mile, thinking we were holding back, was in fact about 9:35 - for this group, that's TOO FAST.  Not by a ton, but we both understood, how starting out too quick for your pace can be bad for later.  After the first mile, we were much more mindful to keep it closer to our in range 9:50-10:00 goal. As the race went on, we talked to the people hanging with us and learned some of their names (Theresa took off after less than 2 miles because it was packed around us and she kept getting elbowed.)

We finally got into a good rhythm, and got some of the ladies around us to talk, so we knew what their main goals were.  The goals and backgrounds were as varied as the people.  I think we both took mental notes on this so we had that knowledge to help them in the race.  We encouraged them, called out water stops and mile markers, and we cheered on our fellow pacers and racers in the numerous double backs.  Each time personally keeping a sharp eye out for Theresa, knowing the further ahead she was from me and the closer she was to the 2:00 group, the better the chance she had for her PR.
Courtesy of John LaRue

The group that seemed to be with us were both familiar and unfamiliar with the course. With that said, we knew our biggest issue was the bridge and hills midway in the race.  As a strider, we know them well. They are part of our training runs many weeks, but understand how intimidating they can be. This is where Jill and I put our coaching and mentoring skills to the test.  We talked them through hill running 101 and they listened and followed well.  Unplanned, but in tune, we kept our cues short, alternating between the two of us, to get them up and over every hill thrown at us.  Together, we cheered them, boosting them up when they needed it. I am grateful for Theresa and my other friends who have dragged me up and down hills, as this was not nearly as arduous for us. It was quite a challenging course for those that don’t run hills.  At this point, I got to see Theresa in passing with a wave and half smile, so I knew she was okay. It gave me a lift of energy to know she was right on track to PR.
Courtesy of Kit Yan
Towards the end, our motivation and early planning made a huge difference for a few runners.  Several failed to bring enough nutrition and one got a bad cramp. I stayed back, gave her and extra gel and made sure she was okay before catching back up to Jill.  This is the last time I saw Theresa, nearly at the end, a smile and a heart which meant she was good to go. I was thrilled. 

We made a final turn, and I see a young runner clearly struggling. I got to her and helped her through the last tough part of her very first half.  We crossed the finish line at 2:10:12 only 12 seconds off our goal.  I was quite pleased.  Theresa was right past the finish and she told me she more than likely PR’d. YAY!!! We congratulated our runners as they crossed with hugs and high fives. We got our medals and skipped the food to cheer in our friends. Then we celebrated with a little wine in the wine garden.  We found a fence and as all runners will know, it was a perfect place to stretch, so we stretched out our legs. Then took some more photos before heading home. 
All in all it was a great experience. We felt like we helped a few during the race.  Jill and I had runners come up after the race to thank us for helping them through the race, making the experience even better. 

The best was a text from Jill that afternoon-she said she was heading home and overheard two ladies talking saying, “Hey, that’s one of the 2:10 pacers, they were awesome!!!”   

Will I pace again? Most definitely!!

~ Cindy


6 comments on "Zooma: Running as a Pacer"
  1. What a fun experience! Maybe I should try running as a pacer. I never really thought about it :)

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    1. it was something I didn't either, actually. I thought it was "those other people". You can always contact the race director, but I can promise you, if you go in the right mindset and not a pace too fast (that you cannot coach) those runners will have a great experience!! I will definitely do it again.

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  2. What a great experience to have! I was at the race and planned to run the half but a recent injury forced me to run the 10k. My first race back since the injury. Funny, I would have been in your pace group if I had done the half. Next year! love the outfit btw. Confessions of A Mother Runner

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    1. Thank you!! That is good that you were smart and pulled back. I have learned sometimes to shelf the ego for the bigger picture and goal. Hopefully we will run into each other in a training run!

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  3. What a lovely way to give back. I really enjoyed my experience running with Pacers -they are always so supportive and enthusiastic!

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    1. I had only run with a pacer myself once, and it wasn't the best experience as I picked poorly and ran a pace faster than I was ready for(aka how to bonk a half marathon badly) but it was probably the most fun half marathon I have had, and yes the giving back made it that much sweeter! <3

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