What follows are my thoughts on pace groups. You may or may not agree with what I have to say. That’s fine. When discussing this topic with my husband after Columbus Marathon, he remarked, some people like to turn off their brains and just run. For those people who just want someone else to do the work of pacing and such, then a pace group may work for you. I can only tell you why I DON’T run with one and never will.(I also don’t wear pace bands but that’s another topic all together)

In order to be a pace group leader runners typically have to show proof of running a recent marathon much faster than the projected time they are pacing. For instance with my 3:13 I could pace a 3:40 pace group.

On any given day a 3:40 marathon MIGHT be easy for me. If you are running with the 3:40 pace group it likely means that 3:40 is the BEST you have on that day. It is a target goal time for most of you. If I am running a 3:40 and start out at a pace that is too fast, I can slow it down and not feel the affects as much as the runner who needed to start out at a slower pace and then work into the faster pace. It also means that if I am running too slow I can pick up the pace. Say I am off  by a couple of minutes. Instead of running a targeted 8:32 I may just run a 7:59 to get us back on track. Pacers are supposed to evenly pace a race, but they are humans. Most of them ordinary runners, who sign up for the job. This isn’t their full time job – they are not experts at pacing marathons, they are not rabbits for elite runners.

I said 3:40 MIGHT be easy for me. The beauty and heartbreak in marathons is that you can prepare for months but not know the outcome on that day. How many of you have targetted a sub 4:00 marathon only to run a 4:20 something? What if I am your pacer and I am having a terrible day? My stomach is hurting and I have to take a potty break? What happens if 3:40 suddenly seems like the best I could do that day and I wonder if I can even do that?


I don’t think you should ever do anything new on race day. No new foods. No new gels. No new shoes. No new clothes (hint hint – don’t wear your race shirt). No new socks. NOTHING NEW. If you haven’t trained with it then don’t wear it, use it, or eat it.

One of the reasons I am drawn to smaller marathons is because there are less people. Do not get me wrong I LOVE big marathons. I love the amenities that smaller races do not offer, but I don’t like the people. Race courses are crowded enough as it is – now try running in a tight group for 26.2 miles. Something about the stinky guy who breathes too loud might not bother you in mile 6 but by mile 20 you think to yourself if you had a baseball bat you might just go Tonya Harding on his legs. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to feel like I have to run with the same people for 26.2 miles. I want to enjoy the race and the scenery – not be clumped into a large group of runners I don’t know.

Do you run with a pacer on your long runs? Do you know the pacer? Is he or she someone you can trust? You trained for months, maybe even years for this day and you are now willing to put your faith in someone you have just met moments before?

Those of you that you have successfully run with a pace group and had a great time will argue it works. To that arguement I will counter with the fact that if you had gone out at a slower pace and worked into a faster pace, instead of running even splits, you could have run an even faster marathon time. Even splits are not only extremely hard to do but they do not show your true fitness level.

Runners worry will I be able to make up the time? You always die at the end of a marathon. NOT TRUE. You don’t have to run out of steam.

I’ve run marathons thinking I could put time in the bank – it doesn’t work.

I’ve run marathon trying to even pace the whole race – it rarely works.

I’ve run marathons where I started out too fast and hit the wall hard despite being in great shape.

I’ve run 3 marathons where I started out at the appropriate slower pace, worked into a faster pace, and didn’t hit the wall. They are my three fastest marathons – 3:13, 3:21, 3:23.

Before I end this post I will say one last thing. Do what works for you. If you are scared to run alone and want the comfort of other people you know are targetting the same race time. Then by all means – run with them.

I’m not telling you what to do in your marathon – just giving you food for thought. In the end – each runner has to do what is best for them, not what is best for someone else.

Other Posts You May Like:

If you haven’t read my race recap of Columbus Marathon you can do so HERE.

If you want to read about how not to hit the wall in a marathon you can do so HERE.

Gear Review of the Saucony Elite Arm Warmers I wore at Columbus Marathon HERE.


  1. Thanks for some great food for thought. I signed up for the pace group for MCM clif just to at least have the option and I did get some fun stuff (hang head in shame) but I am not planning on running with them especially after reading this. I don't like to run on my own and like having someone else with me. But I do have some friends jumping in which will be awesome for me :) I also really want to start out slow. Last week in my half marathon i learned my lesson. i started out faster than i should have. i felt great so it felt easy so i thought this is my slow pace for today WRONG = wall and positive splits. Next week, I am going to stick with my plan. I am going out SLOW. Even if I feel good, I will use that feeling later…like you said time in the bank does not work. Thanks lady! Can't wait to see you crush 3:13 next week :)

  2. runthelongroad.com says:

    I also advise AGAINST a pace group. they often go out too fast in the beginning, thinking that banking time will work. it never does. ever notice how a pace group is large in the beginning and dwindles to maybe a handful of people at the end? there's a reason why.
    my last marathon (BQ!) i ran even splits. prior to that, i would always start out slow and then speed up later on.

  3. A lot of interesting points to think about – thanks for another great post!

  4. Allie @ The Constant Pursuit says:

    This is a really good post. I think another thing to consider is that running with a pacer can actually be really deflating. I remember in my last half marathon I lined up ahead of the 1:55 pacer hoping to come in between 1:54-1:55. At mile 9, the pacer actually passed me. I was tired and frustrated, but I looked at my fiance running with me and said "I think we're still on track." And, we were. We finished in 1:55:17. The pacer finished about 3 minutes faster than that. Although it is "only" 3 minutes, I knew I didn't have anything else in me that day and would have blown up if I had stayed with his quicker pace.

    Another example – same race, prior year. The 1:55 pacer decided that he had "had enough," dropped his sign, and just took off dusting the 1:55 pace group.

    Race day, you can only count on yourself. Lots of great points in your post!

  5. This is great advice, thanks! I started in Chicago with a pace group and they went out fast for the first 10k. I also noticed that their paces were all over the place at times. I finally just started to run my own race and ended up with even splits (slight negative splits at the end) and I caught back up to them and finished right in front of them!

  6. I tend to stay away from pace groups but starting with one really helped at my last marathon. I picked a pace group slower than my goal, and used them to keep me even and easy for the first 10K. I'd had some trouble doing that myself in past races, getting too caught up in my head about going too fast, slowing down, going too slow, speeding up, repeat. I wanted to not have to look at my watch and it was amazing to not have to think at all during those first 6 miles. I got in a groove, and then started to drop them, eventually putting over 5 minutes between me and them at the finish.

  7. First of all, I caught up on all your CM posts this morning and am inspired and amazed. You really make me believe that one day I can get faster too.
    Second, I started the Chicago Marathon with a pace group and will not do it again. They had multiple pacers in case one of them fell apart. My issue is that they started out way too fast. I looked at my splits for the first 7 miles (that's when I stayed with them) and they were way above pace for the first few. I always start my long runs slower and then pick up the pace, so this strategy just won't work for me. Like you said, try nothing new on race day. I did and it backfired. (But maybe if I had started with a pace group slower than my goal pace, that would have helped).

  8. I stay away because I'd rather run on my own. It also seems like it would be demoralizing (to me) to drop off the pace when I am slow as it is.

    It's a shame when they don't seem in it for the runners they are supposed to be helping. At Vancouver this year the 4 hour pacer came in BEFORE the 3:50 pacer. Yes, he could run fast, but he shouldn't have!

  9. mickiruns says:

    Very cool insight, that I totally agree with.

    Mine stems from a personal experience at the Air Force Half Marathon. It was my very first half, and I decided against using a pace group, because I just wanted to enjoy the Half.

    At about mile 2, a pace group passed me, and they all moved like a huge group of amoebas and you could not get around them. Their pace leader was also moonlighting as a cheerleader, and while that *may* be somebody's bag, it is most definitely NOT mine.

    Lastly, I finished my half in 2:10, but in the final miles of the race I was passing the 1:50, 2:00, and other various times on my way in. Of course, I had my Garmin and these people look like they were hurting – so I knew that they had fallen off pace. This left me a little irked. How can you personally lead people at a certain pace when you clearly can't hold it?

    Anyway, that's just my two cents. :) I'm glad there's people out there that can correctly pace, and that people are more than willing to follow them. In retrospect, it's a great idea – just not for me. :)

  10. Thanks for the insight! I like hearing what others have to say about pace groups and marathon prep, etc. I haven't been racing long enough to know how to navigate all this.

    I have been going back and forth between wanting to run with a pace group and not. I'm headed into my first marathon, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "Do what works for you" and "Don't do anything new". A big do and a big don't. So, now, I'm planning on running as my own pacer, just like I did on my training runs. :)

  11. Great post, Dorothy! And to think, I just avoid pacers because they're often chatty!

    Do you start off your 1/2 marathons slow too? Just curious! :)

  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! The only marathon I really trained to race I started to slow but waited too long to pick up my pace. I waited until mile 20, thinking I would hit a wall I never did. I felt like I had WAY too much energy and ran a really fast 10K to finish it out. Next time I will start slow but pick up the pace a lot sooner!

    Yes, I was wondering the same thing about half marathons? I know that it's a different speed all together. Do you personally like marathons more than Half's? Just curious. Thanks!

  13. {lifeasa}RunningMom says:

    I'm with you. I don't think I would ever want to run with a pacer. I am in charge of my run. I know what I have at that moment and don't want to rely on someone else.

    Good points about them having an "off" day though.

  14. Where did you get the Saucony pink hat? I can't find them anywhere online or on the Saucony website.

  15. Nice to find your blog! This is great information, and I love your first hand experience in pacing.
    Now I am curious why you don't wear a pace band! :)

  16. My last marathon I ran with a pace group. I knew the average pace would be doable, even if the pacer goes out a little too fast. I enjoyed running with the group and not worrying about anything. But I also knew to keep an eye on the pace. Sometimes they go much faster/slower than planned pace and it can throw you off. In my case, the pacer was much faster and at mile 20 it was 20 seconds per mile faster than planned and I just let them go and did my own thing. It worked out well for me :)

  17. werrunners says:

    Great Post – I just finished my first Marathon a week ago and was thrilled when I caught and ran with the 3:20 pace group for a while. Rookie mistake thinking I could put some time in the bank – I ended up finishing in 3:58 but learned many valuable lessons along the way. Can't wait for #2..and it will be soon! Good luck at MCM

  18. I am like a slow, old you. I agree with your pacing recommendations and the Tonya Harding reference. And I have done the fly-and-die thing in a marathon. And there is just so much I love about this post.

  19. I've run with a pace group once. It was at a big 10 miler, where you are guaranteed a slow first mile because of the crowds. He made up the time in the next two miles and it killed me. If I had let him go and made up that time over the 10 miles, I'm pretty sure the last mile would not have sucked so much. I may not have made my goal, but I would not have died as early as I did. So, yeah, pacers serve a purpose, but you have to think too.

  20. Chas Melichar says:

    Personally, before anyone critiques a Pacer, I think they should try it first. It's not as "easy" as you might expect. Some Pacers are awesome, some are terrible, but before I say anything for/against, I try to put myself (run) in their shoes.

    Pacers are as different as individuals, each with their own style.

    So, this Sunday I ran as a Pacer for a marathon for the first time. It was, in fact, a lot harder than I expected. Partly because I like to do a good job at what I do, partly because it was my first time, and partly because I knew runners would be relying on me.

    At the very beginning of the race, I told the runners with me my intended strategy. My other Pacer in the group had a different strategy and we ran separately for a good portion of the race (but finished together almost exactly on Pace time). I also loudly announced that I would be telling stories, explaining why I was doing what I was doing and when, and giving "heads up" on the hilly course on what to expect next. I also said that if that wasn't your bag, to completely ignore me. Additionally, no matter what I said, to NOT do anything new on race day. I took all the great things I'd seen from Pacers, tried to do that, and tried hard NOT to do all the bad things.

    Running as a Pacer I did NOT start fast. In fact, I started SLOWER, because it was a cold morning and we needed to warm up. I told everyone what I was doing – and then gradually increased the pace over several miles. My strategy was an "equal effort", so we were slower on the up hills, and faster on the downhills. When behind pace, I announced how far, why, and when we would get "back" to pace time (usually an upcoming downhill). Having driven the course before, and studied the elevation profile helped a lot there. Perhaps over-preparation, but I didn't want to let anyone down.

    Other Pacers may not be as prepared or care that much. Best to determine that early on.

    If you were a 8/1 runner (Galloway), or negative split, or something else, I said not to stick with me as I did not match your intended strategy/training. If you were a social runner, stick with me. If not, go on your own and good luck!

    So the advice to do what you think best and what works for you is golden. Pacers aren't your bag. But, in the Ultramarathons, I have found them both critical to success (Comrades, where many, many marathoners fail because they don't pace properly), and also completely unnecessary (50k+ trail runs as I always end up running by myself).

    The best strategy is to use all tools available to you to achieve success. Sometimes, that's Pacers. Sometimes, if the Pacer isn't to your style, it's without. Have "A" strategy, that's the important thing, but also a "B" and "C" strategy when things don't go as planned, and roll with the punches.

    Just my 2 cents. You should give it a try, Dorothy – consider it a new challenge in your racing career, and try being the best pacer you can. Then see what you think. If you still don't like it, then at least you have a new perspective and a great training run!

  21. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    Tia – I do like marathons more than the 1/2 but that is not to say I don't like them. Totally different animal. The pacing strategy for a 1/2 marathon is similar to a full marathon – you should start out slower than goal pace, work into goal pace, and then drop down faster than goal pace for the last couple of miles. My 2011 Riley's Rumble Race Recap is proof positive that you can hit the wall and hit it hard in a 1/2 marathon.

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  1. […] for this race, I thought I would utilize the pace group for my target time. After reading this post, (by a very fast runner) and seeing how far the pace groups off were at Savannah (despite my […]

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