A blog by runners. For runners.

The benefits of race pace groups


Diane Walsh, 39, of Ocean City, Md. has been running nearly her whole life — with about 20 marathons under her belt. But a few years ago, she had the desire to give something back to the running community.

Enter pacing.

Diane saw the Air Force Marathon needed pace team leaders, so she reached out to the race director. She was a pacer for the marathon, loved the experience, and went on to work with that pace group for 8 to 10 more races.

Many marathons and half marathons have pace team leaders. These experienced runners run with a group of runners — Diane usually paces about 25 to 100 people — throughout the whole race and keep an even pace, so that the runners can reach their time goal. A race may have 3:30, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15, and 4:30 pacers for a marathon, for instance. Diane, a 3:31 marathoner, typically paces the 4:00 group.

“When people ask me to describe pacing, I say it’s very sacrificial. You’re not out there for your own goals,” Diane said. “When a person comes up to you and hugs you, and says they could not have done it without you, it makes it all worth it.”

She said it’s not uncommon for her runners to hug her and cry at the finish. She often gets introduced to family members, and then after the race, she normally never sees these people again. But that’s OK with her.

“My area of expertise is running,” she said. “When you’re passionate about something, it’s great to share it with others.”

Diane has even paced a blind runner, Charlie Plakson, one-on-one in a marathon in 2012.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Diane said. Diane and Charlie only met the day before the Kiawah Island Marathon and practiced running together for an hour. They were tethered together during the race, and finished in under 5:00 hours, achieving Charlie’s goal.

How to become a pacer

Diane earned a spot on the exclusive Clif Bar Pace Team and will start working with them this fall. For groups like Clif, you need a lot of pacing under your belt. But if you’re an experienced runner and interested in becoming a pacer, Diane says to hit up Google. Search for “marathon pace teams” and see how you can get involved. Or email race directors of local races. Some races may even allow you to shadow a pacer to see if it’s for you.

For marathons, pacers usually pace about 20 to 30 minutes slower than they typically run so they can ensure they stay comfortable the whole race.

What pacers can offer you

Whether you’re a first time marathoner or experienced racer, a pacer can help you achieve your goals.

Many marathoners go out too fast in the early miles, bonk later on, and fall off their target pace. A pacer can help you stay on track, run even splits, and act as your personal cheerleader throughout the race. To see if a race offers pacers, check their website or email the race director.

Have you ever run a race with a pace group? What was the experience like?

Written by Jen Matz