Race pacing for fun and fitness

If I learned anything from the 2023 Parkway Classic, it was that I enjoy pacing people while running and that a large singlet was too big for me and threatened to sag below my shorts when it got wet.

Anyone I work out with on the track knows that I take a lot more pride in running my laps “dead-on-balls accurate” (it’s an industry term) than I do in running any rep particularly fast.

When Elyse Braner asked if I’d like to pace the 7:00 mile runners for 10 miles last April, I found my solution. Most years, the race is a week before my hometown Pittsburgh Half Marathon, and I usually find myself just participating in the Parkway Classic to save my legs for the next seven days. This way I could take part and contribute to someone else’s effort.

I was paired with my pacing partner Sam Wellman and I immediately felt that was unfair to the other runners. We were there to work for them and here I am about to have the time of my life!

I kind of winged it and didn’t read an article I had written 10 years ago on marathon pacing, though I feel like that kind of distance is a whole other animal.

It’s remarkably hard to hold back in a race like the Parkway- the downhill first mile is one thing, but the excitement and great weather makes it so enticing to take what the course gives you. But I owed it to the people who depended on us to get it right, and we came darn close, passing the mile in 6:56.

I’ll spoil the ending right now and say we didn’t run any 7:00 miles- we were generally four or five seconds faster. Former RunWashington writer and experienced pacer Vanessa Junkin said it’s okay to be a little fast, but for someone who likes to hit his track laps consistently and excoriates himself when he’s off by half a second, I worry I might prompt someone to overextend themself keeping up with me.

I was able to assuage that when I  loosened up and Sam and I started chatting with the runners and between ourselves. We joked about what kind of “that dawg” we have in us. I think about it a little further – in Ghostbusters, did that demon dog say “I got that Louis Tully in me?”

Sam has no idea what I’m talking about. He hasn’t seen Ghostbusters. Youth is wasted on the young.

The great thing about the race is that no matter how it goes, you have great views all throughout the race, and the groups of neighbors who come out to cheer every year makes it memorable.

I’ve loved the Parkway Classic for years. I set a PR running alone in a steady rain in 2012 and regardless of my time, I thought the experience was beautiful. In 2017 I found myself way out in front and shouted requests to my publisher, Kathy Dalby, ahead of me in the pace car. She obliged with Casey Jones and Gumbo, the latter not exactly what I anticipated for Phish but I wasn’t going to argue. Hell, long before I’d moved here, I knew about the race because my college track coach, Steve Taylor, won it back when it was a 15k. What I didn’t k ow back then was how he dressed for the race.

As we battled the toughest stretch of the course by my estimation- the climb to the end of mile nine, I saw the group that clustered around us start to take off and use what they had left. They were going to make their goal, and they were waiting in the finishing festival to celebrate that.

I’ll get a chance to pace again at the GW Parkway, April 28, when I take the 6:00 runners down the road. Come on out and join me!


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