I was more nervous for this than I was for any race I remember, even my first one.
There will be people counting on me! What if I have an injury? What if I mess up the pace? What if go out too fast? What if I get behind? What if nobody shows up to run in my pace group? What if I get a jerk in my group? What if I'm just boring? What if, what if, what if.
Well, it was an absolute blast! Running a marathon without hurting is fun! I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the entire group. I really wish we had stayed together the whole time, but I know that was not realistic.
As I made my way to the starting area, people began to crowd around me. I had a group of maybe 25 or 30! I couldn't believe it! I tried my best to chat it up with all of them and get their names. I only remembered a few names, and I simply didn't have time to get everyone's name before the anthem. Most of them needed a 3:50 to BQ and were planning to hang with me as long as they could.
I warned everyone before the race that we would get as much as 40-45 seconds behind in the first three miles. I told them not to worry because we would make that up in miles 4-15, but not all in one mile. I told them that we would try not to run any mile more than 5 seconds too fast.
The Early Miles
We had to run a slow first mile because of the crowds. Very early in the race, my Garmin was way off of the markings on the course. I should have disabled auto-lapping and pressed "lap" at every mile, but I didn't do that. My Garmin actually measured this course at 26.45 miles. Because of this, my splits were not as consistent as I had hoped. The second mile was also a little slow, but we had a good third mile and were about to settle into a pace.
I got all kinds of questions about my running and the course and the area and the weather and who knows what else. The chatter just kept the miles clicking away. It was a fun group of miles, for sure! Our splits were pretty consistent here, too. Mile 8 was a little slow, but it is uphill.
The long stretch on Baily Cove was even boring with this big group. We were out of conversation, and this section of the race is just brutal. I tried to take the lead as much as I could, but the group had spread out some, with some running ahead. I tried, but pretty much everything I said was artificial. I just couldn't stay cheery here.
Near the halfway mark, I HAD to go to the port-a-potty. I was about to burst. I hated to do that because there are no scheduled bathroom breaks on the pace group. I just had to, though. I did not want to, but I had to. So, I spotted the ugly blue plastic stall and told everyone in the group that I was going to run ahead and told them not to chase me! That made mile 13 a 9:03 mile and mile 14 an 8:00 mile trying to catch the group again. I did catch them and settled down quickly.
On to 20
After the turn on Cheney Thompson, the conversation picked up again. The group stayed together well, and we were having fun. I kept reminding people how much fun it is to run. The conversation was amazingly positive and it was just plain fun. I don't remember a lot here. I could see people beginning to fade, and I was trying to bring them along. It worked for the most part. I got several of them to 20 with me.
The Last 10k
People really began to drop here. I told the group, "If you feel good, you can drop me at any time. I won't chase you. Leave me." Only one took me up on it, and I passed him again before mile 23. I hope it wasn't bad advice that caused that.
Actually, the opposite was beginning to happen. People were dropping. Oh... I wanted to go get them. I wanted everyone to finish with me. Badly. It hurt each time I passed someone. People kept saying, "No! I don't want you to pass me!" My response was, "Don't let me! I don't want to! Hang with me! I'll get you there in 3:45!" Some would lift and hang for a while, but most just faded.
I know how difficult that last 10k is. I kept telling everyone that. I kept telling them that the secret to the marathon is conquering the last 10k. You haven't lived until you've experienced the last 10k of a marathon. The last 10k is what you love. The last 10k is what you train for. Embrace the last 10k. Overcome the desire to quit. Overcome the desire to slow down. 10k? That's an easy distance! At 5k I was saying, "5k? we laugh at people who only run 5ks!" During the last mile it was a pure celebration! I was saying, "DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING ON THE ROAD! You should not be able to take another step when you cross the finish line! Dig deep! You got this! A mile? A mile is NOTHING!" I was supposed to finish under 3:45, but I yielded to some in my group to allow them to finish ahead of me and went across in 3:45:04 chip time, 3:45:24 gun time. That's pretty close for a first time pacer, I suppose.
Rocket City Marathon is one of the best marathons ever. Run this one. Great race. Great people. Great town. I'm super excited that it now offers pace groups. I'd lead a pace group again if asked. Awesome fun.
And I'd like to give a shout out to Bob, Sheryl, Lisa, Gretchen, Amy, and Stephanie for Boston Qualifying today! Also, nice job David, Lucas, and Matt for hanging in there the whole way. Sweet! I hope I was some help to you along the way.
After the finish, I wanted to hang out to find all of those that I lost. I found some, but not all. It was great to reunite and congratulate. I'd love to do this again. The star of my group was clearly Stephanie. She BQ'd in her first marathon EVER! She absolutely dropped the hammer in the last mile. She showed toughness and guts that are rarely seen.