Marathon-Party at Your Pace

Marathons are never easy, but pace groups make them less hard and more fun.  But today marathons offer a lot more than a few decades ago to help make the experience easier.  Some have lots of music, some run through scenic areas but the thing that helps the most are pace setters.

Indeed, 20 years ago, the only runners with pacesetters where elites who had paid “rabbits” to help them hit splits on their way to fast, incentive-pay-laden times.   Today, however, pace groups have become as integral to the modern marathon experience as timing chips, gel stations, and post race space blankets.  If you’ve run a marathon–or even a large half-marathon–in the last five years, chances are you’ve seen them: troops of runners clustered around a leader carrying balloons or a banner  with a goal finish time.  When marathons offer pace groups, an estimated 30 percent of the field chooses to run with one (the 4:00 pace group attracts the largest crowds).  This makes it less intimidating for the novice runner if they have someone who will help then not start the race to fast resulting in a better finish and the individual feeling better about running another marathon.  “Our runners expect it,” says Virginia Brophy Achman, executive director for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

Sometimes the pace groups are led by volunteers from local running clubs; sometimes they’re outfitted and organized by major sponsors.  Part cheerleader, part psychiatrist, a pacer spends many hours during the race encouraging, by reassuring scores and sometimes hundreds of relative strangers to their dream finish line.  The pace setters are experienced runners that will pace the group to a time that is well within their personal time often using it as a training run for their own marathon coming up.

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