I recently read that the Boston marathon is 50 days away. I only care because that means it’s spring race time. The local races kicked off this weekend with the first half marathon of the season. I haven’t paid to run in anything yet (but I will, I just don’t know where or when, and I probably won’t say anyway), but I have promised to do some pacing in the next few weeks at an upcoming half marathon, 30K, and marathon.
I’m a good pacer. Maybe even a great pacer. I can lock onto a time and run it kilometre after kilometre, with little variation. I have no speed, but damn I’m consistent. Last November I paced a friend in a nearby half marathon. He had just run a marathon and narrowly missed his BQ by 23 seconds when his watch died and the not as great as me pace bunny came in a few seconds over 3.15. Ugh. So this half marathon was going to serve up some redemption.
Unfortunately for him this was one of the dreariest races I have ever run. Most of it was on an old concrete air field, which is quite cool in theory but with so much open space that the gale force winds knocked us around a bit and the weeds grew up brushing our ankles as we glided by. This stretch led to a street lined with take-away dining establishments, all prepping fast food for the Sunday crowds. The gag inducing mix of food certainly tested the resolve of a stomach undergoing high intensity exercise. This 6K ended by circling around a pylon and doing it all again. There were two other parking lot mini out-and-backs on the course, for a total of three pace killing turnabouts. The phrase “running is a mental sport and we’re all insane” came to mind.
The conditions were tough. It probably didn’t help that running with him also placed me as the second place woman (I’m not fast, the field was small), so all he heard step after step on those out and back sections were people cheering me on. Not him. Me. This was not a situation for which I had prepared. I tried to convince him to tuck in, offering some wind resistance, but he seemed skeptical. Still he did his best to stay close and slog out the miles. I tried to be upbeat and didn’t once mention how thrilled I was the coach didn’t talk me into paying to race in this horrible soul-crushing half marathon. I’m awesome like that.
By about 16K his sub 1.30 A-goal was slipping, but I was convinced a strong finish was possible, despite the final 4K of rolling hills. As we entered this final – and, I should add, scenic – stretch I finally felt him tuck in tight behind me to shield from the wind and pick up the pace. Aha, I thought, he found the mythical second wind, the finish line pull, the second gear. Woohoo, I thought, we can do this. Without a backward glance I kept pulling him with me, gradually picking up speed. After a few minutes I turned to give some words of encouragement and to my surprise I did not recognize the guy behind me. I did see the guy I was pacing about 400 metres back watching me with bemusement.
I had unintentionally abandoned my buddy and the stranger had tucked in, using me to pull him along (with, I should add, seemingly little intention to return the favour to what he could only assume was a fellow racer). I sheepishly hooked back up with my friend until just before the finish, where he ran across the line to a PB. Even though I accidentally ditched my friend, I still think I’m a great pacer. That stranger likely agrees.
Title: Cage the Elephant – Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked. 2008.