I got in to Mankato around 5pm, and somehow managed to get to the expo, even though I am notorious for getting lost. I grabbed a seat at the Minnesota Pacers booth and introduced myself to a few folks that were pacing either the half or the full on Saturday. I got to talk to a TON of people that were looking to run with me (2:10 half marathon pace group) and the pace bands were going like hot cakes. :) Jeff stopped by the booth to say hello and snapped this picture for me. (Danke Jeff!) I haven't seen him since the Sioux Falls Half Marathon when he ran a mayjor PR and then up and moved away. LAME. Jk. It was nice to catch up with him briefly. Shortly after, I ran into Tom and Sara. Tom was planning to run the full and Sara was ready to dominate the 10k on Saturday. I also got to meet Sam from Operation Jack who was pacing the 3:40 group for marathon #51 of the year.
Then it was time for Dick Beardsley's speech at the expo. Amazing. We watched the final 10 minutes of his 1982 Boston runner up finish, and it was awe inspiring. He recounted some of his amazing races and got me pumped up. This was the first time of many times of the weekend that I wished I was racing v. pacing. :)
After the expo it was time to check in to our hotel and then meet for our pacing team dinner. We chowed down on some pasta and went over some pacing tips. After dinner everyone split, and Alyssa and I headed to to the restaurant next door to partake in our pre-race brew ritual. :) My stomach was super duper upset because some dumb-dumb decided it would be ok to eat some pasta with alfredo sauce. Luckily the beer really does the trick for chilling out my upset stomach. I love catching up with Alyssa (probably why I plan to race with her all.the.time.). We talked running, racing, and life.
We headed back to the hotel to get everything in order for race morning, and then I introduced Alyssa to the athlinks website. Which we then spent waaaaaaay too much time looking up people's race results. We quickly realized it was bedtime and called it a night. Unfortunately, I was super duper nervous and could not sleep. The last time I checked my phone it was 1:30am and I had yet to sleep a wink. Alyssa's alarm went off at 4:30 and I thought it was our alarm. Sadly, I couldn't fall asleep until our real alarm of 5:30. Ugh.
I woke up and my stomach was still upset from my dinner choice and I struggled to get any food down for breakfast. I choked down almost half a bagel and a banana, which was so not enough. [Priority #1 in the next 5 weeks is to figure out my fueling!!!] We headed to the finish line in the dark and scrambled around hoping we could find a bus to take us to the starting line. Also, we were running a tidbit late for the pacing group photo so we thought it was perfect time to do our fast warm up run to catch a shuttle. :)
We made it to the start and met up with the group of other pacers. They were blasting some great raging music so Alyssa and I spent our warm up dancing in lieu of running. :) And by dancing I mean flailing about spastically (in my case). :) Before too long it was time to line up for the race, and I was surrounded by tons of people who were looking to run a 2:10! There were some who were shooting for PRs, others were just hoping to finish with me, and many many others. I tried to chat with them all and get them pumped up for the race.
Before too long, we were starting! I was concerned that the 10k, half marathon, and marathon were all starting at the same time (roughly 2000 runners) and that it was going to be a royal cluster-eff (it was Mankato's inaugural half and full marathon, so you learn to not expect perfection on race day) but it went off fabulously! It took about 2-2 1/2 minutes and we were on our way! Within the first few blocks of starting the crowds spread out a bit and I had runners running on my shoulder chatting it up with me. For a 2:10 finish, the pace was to be 9:55. I was instructed to come in ~30 seconds under to right under 2:10, so I had assumed a 9:54 pace. I kept a good eye on my average pace to keep us on target as well as to check our mile splits against the pace band I was wearing.
We ran with the full marathoners through the first few miles and we were just slightly under our goal pace. I gave the runners some tips about the water stations when we were coming near to them (pinch the sides of the cup and drink out of the spout to cut down on the amount of air you swallow, grab a cup and run a ways before trying to down it, etc). Our average pace dipped down to 9:51-9:52 after some downhill stretches so I consciously tried to slow up the pace a bit so we wouldn't lose some runners. This, I feel, was my only mistake as a pacer for the day. At this point, we were almost right on with the mile markers and my garmin miles, but unfortunately that would change.
Mile 7 brought a tough hill (tough for me, so I'm sure the 2:10 crew were struggling as well). I naturally run a little slower up hill and did the same for this mile. We ended up just a little bit behind pace after the 7 mile spot. Of course, if I wouldn't have slowed things up a mile or two earlier we would've been right on. Grrr. The next mile ended up being right on pace, but long. Gah! If you are to run a 9:55 pace, it doesn't matter if you're running a 9:55 pace for the 1 mile your watch says, it matters from mile marker to mile marker. For the remaining 4 miles we worked to make up the .05 miles (almost :30 seconds at the pace we were at) difference.
I felt TERRIBLE, because I know a lot of runners who run in the 2:10 range will run 10-11 miles as their longest long run in training, so they were already pretty fatigued at this point and probably did not want to make up the time difference caused by the mile being long. I had a group of about 10-15 runners still surrounding me for the final 5k of the race and we pushed to get them there in their sub 2:10 goal. I tried to chat with a couple of gals to give them extra encouragement. I also heard a LOT of runners that we were passing say, "Oh $#!t! We just got passed by the 2:10 group!!" I tried to encourage everyone along the way.
At mile 12.5 Dick Beardsley was on the course cheering on folks and cheered for me!!! "Great job 2:10 pacer, keep it up!!!" Uh...heck ya! I told the group we had roughly 5 minutes of running left, and that you can do ANYTHING for 5 minutes. I told everyone I wanted to see their final sprint once we rounded the corner to head in to the finish. One gal told me she was already giving it everything she had, and I convinced her she would have an extra gear somewhere when she saw and heard all of the people surrounding the finish line. And she did. :) I started pumping my 2:10 pacer sign to encourage the crowd to cheer even more and then I crossed the line after my crew.
Amazing. That's all I have to say about pacing. It was so much fun. I had such amazing conversations along the course with runners. I met some amazing other runners that were pacing as well. I got to run a gorgeous course for a completely unselfish purpose. [sweetest most awkward self timed photo EVER. love it.]
I had so many runners come up to me after we finished to thank me, I was just beaming for them and all of their hard work. Those that finished before me stuck around to stay thanks. Those that fell off pace tracked me down to thank me for being there for the miles they were able to stick around for. A-ma-zing.
I finished the 13.18 mile race in 2:09:26.
I learned so much about pacing just from one attempt at it, and I can not WAIT for the next opportunity to do so. As I said, I wish that I would've kept the pace around 9:51-9:52 when it fell to that and let the race gradually eat up that time as the course inevitably reads long, or to have an extra cushion for tough hills, but I'm so proud of all the runners on Saturday, especially the 2:10ers, whether they finished ahead of me, with me, or just behind me. What a truly amazing experience.
I only have a couple of suggestions for race improvement, which is shocking because as I said before, it was their first. There were a couple of points on the course where I was dyyyyyying for some water. I sweat like a crazy person (as I've mentioned once or twice before) and so I was super duper thirsty in the 80+% humidity. A lot of the folks in my group were as well. I think it was after mile 5 because I had just taken a GU. Also, there was one water stop that I got a cup of water that tasted really rusty. My stomach was already pretty upset since I wasn't able to eat much before work, but that water DID.NOT.HELP. Ickers. Otherwise, everything was great. Not just good, but great! I'd recommend this race to everyone, but be prepared for hills if you're doing the full. :)
Alyssa and I both had 20 miles on our schedules for the weekend, so we had planned to do our remaining ~7 miles together while spectating the race. After I was done pacing, I felt super super nauseous. I know I hadn't eaten enough before the race, and because of the 80+% humidity, I was probably a bit dehydrated as well. After chugging down some water and gatorade my stomach did NOT want to run. We made it about .8 miles before I had to call it quits. Let's just cheer instead. :)
We watched the 3:20 and 3:30 ladies come in and talked about our future marathon time goals. I watched for Jeff and saw him running strong just before mile 26. I cheered my face off for him but could not even get a small smile. He must've been working hard. :) I waited for Tom to come through and after 4:30 started to freak out that I hadn't seen him yet. I sprinted to find my car and grab my phone so I could call Sara, his fiance, to figure out what the heck was wrong. I sadly realized that I had MISSED HIM on the course, and was so so disappointed. :( It was time to say goodbye to Alyssa and then we both FREAKED when we realized that we'd see each other in 6 weeks for Vegas BABY Vegas!!!