This year, I was asked to lead the 3:30 pace group at the Rocket City Marathon. I have to say thanks to Eric Charette and Fleet Feet Racing for giving me this honor. I am so glad that RCM has added pace groups. That is a feature of many much larger marathons. I am being honest and trying not to be such a homer when I say this, but Rocket City Marathon is one of the best marathons in the country. Run this one.
RCM Pace Groups
I'm pretty sure it was Eric Charette's idea to add pace groups to RCM, and he does the work to organize them. I'm very thankful that he thought of me and asked me to lead a group. It's a ton of work and juggling to organize these groups. You have to find 15-20 runners who are able to run a steady pace for 26.2 miles. It really helps if those runners are personable and know a lot about running and know the course. Then, those runners have to be willing to give up their goals to help others. Those kinds of runners don't grow on trees and the fact that we have so many here in North Alabama speaks highly of the running community in this area. Those kind of runners are usually busy professionals and are also fairly likely to get injured. So when someone drops out because of a stress fracture or IT band or hamstring or work schedule, you have to scramble to find replacements and you have to put people where they can run comfortably. What a job to organize that! Big thanks to Eric for pulling that off.
Leading a pace group is FUN!!!! Man, that was amazing. Last year was my first experience. I was leading the 3:45 pace group and we finished in 3:45:04. This year, Boston Qualifying times do not give a 59 second grace period, so I had to bring the group in sub 3:30.
The 3:30 Group
I was amazed by how many runners joined my group at the start. They all had different stories. Some were looking to BQ. Some were looking to BQ-5 to get an early sign up. Some were looking to BQ with a 3:35 but to stay with 3:30 as long as they could. Some just picked a 3:30 pace group because it seemed like a good round number. I really don't know how many runners started in my group. I tried to introduce myself to them all, but it was nearly impossible. There must have been 30 runners who started in the 3:30 group.
I warned them that the second half would be difficult. I let them know that we would have a fairly stiff breeze in our face after about mile 15 or so. I also assured them that we would run as even splits as possible, except for mile 8 and mile 21 which would be a little slow because those two miles have hills. I also let them know that I would try to never run slower than 8:10 and never faster than 7:55.
There were runners from all over the Southeast and one from Kansas in our group. The states represented were Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and Kansas. The guy from Indiana was from southern Indiana, which is a lot like the South, so we'll consider him from the Southeast.
It was really an honor to get to meet and hear about the lives and training of all the runners in my group. They all had very interesting stories to tell.
One guy was a 4:35 miler on his high school track team and he just wanted to train for and run a marathon to improve his endurance before track season. It was his debut, and it was a very good one at 3:34. He hung in there on pace until about mile 23. It was awesome to hear his track and cross country experiences and to hear that his coach encouraged him to run a marathon. I hope my children are as well mannered as this young man when they're 17.
Another guy had just recently paced a 70 year old man to a marathon finish. He had helped him train and ran with him all along the way. Wow.
Another lady was running her first post pregnancy marathon. She had a 4 month old baby! Um, and she left the pace group at about mile 21. No, she didn't fall behind, she dropped the hammer and took off!
Everyone in the group was so nice and we all just had a great time! I know that several were suffering at the end, and I tried to help them through it, but there's only so much that words of encouragement can do.
I consider this pacing effort a very good success. If I had it to do over again, I would have run the first half about 10-15 seconds faster and positive split this run. This is because the wind was stiff in our face from mile 15 to the finish. I ran the first half in 1:44:47 and the second half in 1:44:22. Most of the negative split was in the last mile. I ran it in about 7:50. There were about 4 in my group who were feeling good in the last mile and dropped the pace. Three of them pulled way ahead of me. There was nobody near me from behind, so I decided to run a little faster with them. My slowest mile was mile 8 at 8:08. My fastest mile was mile 26 at 7:50. Other than that, pretty much every mile was between 7:55 and 8:02. I'm particularly proud of that consistency.
On a funny note... While we were running into the wind, there were a couple of runners from the group out front. I asked them, "Do you want me to break wind for you?" Um, that didn't come out quite right! Everyone laughed at that, and most people said, "No, thanks. Hold it if you will." :) The bad part is that I said it more than once... Anyway, I did spend much of the time leading to shield the group from the wind.
For some reason, I didn't have very many catchy quotes for this one. The only one I had was, "Extraordinary accomplishments require extraordinary effort." The group really liked that, and I think it helped some.
At the end, three or four from the group couldn't resist giving me a hug. I'm not much of a hugger, but after running 26.2 miles with someone and suffering through the overwhelming desire to quit or slow down, I'll make an exception. It actually made my day to know that they appreciated my efforts that much.
I really hope I'll be invited to do this again next year. Thanks again to Nike, Fleet Feet in Huntsville and Eric Charette for giving me this opportunity.