I love pacing, it is such a great way to give back to a community I love. Helping people make their goals and being their "person" for a race to get them there. I especially love pacing marathons, it is awesome watching people hit their 26.2
This is the second year I have paced the Cleveland marathon. Last year didn't go so great, it was hot and humid and long story short I ended up with heat stroke. And just a side note, if you ever have to have your temperature taken after a marathon, there is only one way to get an accurate temp, and lets just say it isn't the most pleasant experience.
So when the opportunity came up to do it again, I said HELL YES! But this time it's going to be better....
Saturday, I load up the car and drop off my keys to my friend watching Waylon and do the 2.5 hour drive to Cleveland. Get there, find *maybe illegal* parking and hit the expo. There I hang at the pacers booth for about an hour talking to runners about their goals and convince people that running with a pacer is worth it. I meet a few people planning to run in my group, the 3:55 group, and talk to them about what to expect. I grab some compression from Sure Sport who graciously gifts pacers with an awesome pair of compression sleeves, grab some new KT tape and a few gels and head to the hotel.
Once I get there I chat with Kim, another pacer who I have roomed with before and absolutely adore. We catch up and then head to the pasta dinner. On the way we run into a few more of the "Pittsburgh crew" who pace every year and we grab a table, We are sitting right next to the Elite Athletes, and another side note... man can those guys put away some food. We spend dinner all catching up, the Pittsburgh crew and a few other pacers, then head back to the hotel.
Pre-race tradition is milk and cookies at 8 pm. We also manage to bring beer so we munch on delicious cookies and drink beer while catching up and meeting the new people on the pace team.
9:30, its time for bed.
5:00 am, Time to get up, get coffee, and get going. The hotel kindly let me use the microwave in the closed off breakfast area to heat up my oatmeal, so now I am ready to go with my race day nutrition. I peek out the window and check the weather app *GASP* Real feel of 30*, winds at 20mph and it is a heavy rain fall. Oh boy... this is going to be fun
6:00 am we head down to the start. Even though the weather is less than stellar we are all in a good mood and pumping each other up for what is to come. Hit the mostly empty porta potty lines, and I am slightly envious of those who have remembered a poncho.
6:30 am we line up in the corrals. We have our pace signs at the ready, get spread out and start to collect our runners. I am co-pacing with Greg. We co-paced together last year too, so we spend a few moments reminiscing about the year before as we also chat with the runners around us.
7:00 am: Gun goes off and here we go. The rain had let up for a minute, maybe two, and now it is back. Not too bad at first. The wind is still nasty and cold but smiles on, watches being checked to make sure we get in our pace groove and away we go through the city of Cleveland.
First 10k we have a large amount of people near us. There is a 10k, a half marathon, and marathon all running together. We have some great guys and gals with us and we get to know them. There is Reed, the college kid who is trying to redeem himself from his last marathon that he admittedly didn't train for. There is the 15 year old from Canada who is running the full with her dad, and who's mom and brother are doing the 10k. We have a few returning runners with us, and a whole bunch of new ones too. It stays decent enough that I feel comfortable taking off my long sleeve, which since its under my short sleeve means a full outfit change while running. This of course getting turned into a "stripping pacer" joke which keeps the mood light. At mile 3 we come up on a group offering beer. At first they offer cold beer and then change it to "Warm beer here". haha
A little after the 10k mark we get a new weather surprise. Hail or maybe sleet. This becomes a discussion. One of our runners, a man who is easily over 6 ft and 180 pounds says sleet because it's not big enough to be hail. I tell him that "size is relative" which brings a chuckle to the group as we sludge through getting slapped with hail/sleet. I am glad I wore my visor.
The hail ( I am going with hail) turns to genuine sleet after a few miles and finally peters out. However, those winds are still whipping across us. Some areas are "calm" as in 10 mph winds, but there are many areas we are getting 20-30 mph. But, as we go we are talking to the runners, talking about other races they have run, talking about the city of Cleveland and giving advice on staying loose and relaxing. I have to put my long sleeve back on, I am freezing. My fingers hurt from the cold, I have my left hand tucked into my sleeve some so I can't read my pace band, but I am watching my watch and we are good.
Half marathon mark, we are right on pace and Greg and I are still pumped full of energy. We have a quick but much needed break from precipitation and are enjoying it immensely. Then we hit a straight away and with it comes back high wind and a nice mix of rain, hail and sleet all slamming into us. IT IS BRUTAL! The word of the day for the next 4 miles is "Woof". I keep my smile plastered on my face and remind everyone what a great race story they are going to have, and that they are earning their "Bad Ass" badges for the day. By now we aren't even avoiding puddles anymore, we are all soaked! In my head I am thinking "What the fuck is this shit?" I may have even muttered it at one point, but I know it is my job to keep my group positive, so I am yelling and chatting about things, I don't even know what. We have a hand bicyclist near us for several miles and we are trying to keep runners to the left to give him space as well as encourage him as we go.
Turn Around, OH THANK THE GOOD LORD! I sing the turn around song, you know the one "Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears, every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by, TURN AROUND" (Bonnie Tyler, Eclipse of the Heart) which brings a chuckle. And we have the wind at our backs. It is AWESOME! We have kept the majority of our group and picked up a few. The water stops were kind of mess since the weather has kept a lot of volunteers home, however the the volunteers who came and braved the weather infallibly met us with smiles. I shared my water with runners a couple times when they couldn't get a cup and we kept at it. There are also some brave souls out on the course spectating. I say hi to every single one of them. God Bless them for being out in this weather!
Bathroom stop, damn 2 cups of coffee was a bad idea. This is my 2nd stop (First one was mile 3 and I sprinted to catch up). First time I have ever had to do that... like EVER! But I stop at 18. So did one of our runners. We came out together and I helped him catch up to the group is a wise way. Got back and this is when the run really began.
Reed, our buddy from the beginning, had gone ahead earlier and we catch back up. Our 15 year old has stuck my side like glue and looks awesome. She is talking about doing ultras when she is older. She gets excited when she sees another kid. We talk about how she gets tired of training with adults all the time and guys, so she is excited I am a female pacer. We see a man pushing his child with a disability on the other side of the course and I have our group give a big shout.
Mile 20, group is getting quite. Nope, not allowed. I yell back to see how everyone is feeling and get a few answers. Nope, nuh-uh. Try again. I tell them I need more than that and yell again. This time I get a big cheer. Alright. We are on the countdown. Every time we are coming up to a mile marker I yell out "see that big beautiful blue banner up there, we clicked off another one" and sing out "Another one bites the dust". We keep on trucking through, picking up every runner we can. Anytime I see someone walking I encourage them to join us. Our group is hanging steady. After awhile the rain/hail/snow has stopped and I am able to take my long sleeve back off. I attempt this without giving up my stick and manage to do it fairly gracefully, which I announce to my group gives me serious street cred. I get bonus points for tying it around my waist while holding the stick. This brings some smiles (especially as I make sure I loudly announce it give me a second bad ass badge of the day).
Mile 23 See a photographer, I start yelling "You have to smile, there is photographer." They tried. Although I am sure a few cussed me out in their heads.
Then the bridge. Mile 25. its up up up. I announce we are not going to let this hill get the best of us and we begin to climb. We keep them with us. When they start to drop back, I yell every encouraging thing I can think of and we climb. Ahhhh.. Blessed flat spot. Keep the pace scaled back a bit, we have about a minute in the bank so we can take it easy. We have more to climb. Most of the group catches up and we keep going.
We keep going up that bridge. I tell my group "We just ran through a friggin storm, no hill is going to kill us, LETS GO!" and that is what they did. MILE 26, we are almost home! We power through that finish line with a good group in tow. Some had fallen back on the final hill, but they came on-time regardless. THEY DID GREAT! My girl and her dad thanked me, Reed gave me and Greg a hug, and another couple had huge thanks for getting them through. This is why I pace. Knowing I got to help someone accomplish a goal. I got to make sure they did what they needed to make the goal they wanted. And for some I got to help them get to that finish under 4 hours, even though they didn't hit their original goal.
I talk about the stupidest things when I pace, I make up songs, I comment on the houses and building, I yell at runners along the course, I swear, apologize for swearing, then swear again. Give advice on staying loose and enjoying the miles, tell funny stories about past running experiences, say good morning to every spectator and volunteer I see, and I yell ALOT! I joked (sort of) I am getting Greg ear plugs for next year.
Overall, the weather was crappy but we pushed through and had a lot of fun along the way. I hope to see some of my runners again next year, but hopefully as they start in front of me. There were a few first timers who I know are going to be fast runners once they figure out their training. And there are a few I know I will see in my group again next year, because they told me.
I enjoy pacing Cleveland. It is an interesting city and a good course. Like any race it has its hiccups, but as a pacer I enjoy doing it and can't wait to go back and do it again next year!
So no matter the weather, go out and have fun. Happy Running!