A 7 Bridges Race Report – A Lesson About Race Pacers

I had been telling myself for weeks that I was just going to do the 7 Bridges Marathon with the 5-mile pacer so I could be sure to take it “easy” and not race it. Since my training hasn’t been perfect for a few weeks and my 50K is next month, I didn’t want to hurt myself, so “easy” was my goal.

But, the thing is – I still have not really come to terms with what some of my paces are. I PR’d a 5K in the Spring at a hair under 25 minutes and I PR’d a 13.1 at a hair under 2:02. Those are both REALLY fast for me. And my marathon PR is 4:38, which is a bit slower than the other two numbers indicate. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe 5 hours was too slow. Maybe that would hurt me more than help me if I’m trying to keep my steady pace a little higher than last year. So, I decided to start with the 4:45 group.

In retrospect what I should have done was stuck with my mind and my watch and tried to just keep an 11-minute pace the entire distance.

The pacers, it turns out, spent the first several miles trying to catch up with the clock so that their clock time and NOT their chip time (you have chips on your race bibs so your race time actually starts and ends when YOU cross the start/finish lines) would say 4:45. This makes sense, now that I think about it, but we started about 4-5 minutes after the start of the race so they spent the first 10 miles or so catching up with the clock. And while 10:30 does not seem that much slower than a 11:00, it REALLY is over the course of 10 miles or more. And all I know is that we did a few stretches of sub-10 minute pacing and one was going up a hill to a bridge and THAT is where I felt my first twinge of a quad cramp.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Sometimes it’s OKAY to listen to the voices in your head telling you to slow down. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to tell you WHEN to listen to those voices because many times I ignore those voices and am happier for it. But this time I ignored them and I think it damaged me.

Anyway – quad cramps are something I periodically get threats of. They’ve never completely cramped during a race but I’ve had a few races where a push to the finish line caused them to cramp up afterwards. And I’ve fought off the twinges before, often having more problems on flat that on uphill or downhill.

My point? This was not foreign to me, but also not something I still knew exactly how to deal with. I knew NOT to stop. I know the SECOND I stopped they would cramp up completely, but I didn’t know the best way to keep them from getting worse.

Basically, I slowed down a chunk and added in a few uphill walk breaks from about mile 15 to mile 20. Not too much walking and still kept close to the 4:45 pacers, but at mile 20 I sent my friend on her way and I came to terms with letting go of that 4:45 finish time. I texted Donnie to let him know I was struggling and not going to hit the 4:45 finish time and I posted a smiling selfie to try to keep my spirits up.

I ended up holding about a 13-14 minute pace for the next 6ish miles. It was ROUGH. I didn’t take too many walk breaks because walking didn’t really help a lot. My run, however, was stupidly slow because I was resisting bending my leg because my quads were hurting. E called me around mile 24 and I thanked him profusely for giving me a mundane distraction while I took a walk break. While we were on the phone I snapped this picture.

It was signed by a Chattanooga running group but I took it to heart and after I got off the phone with E I decided to push my run as hard as I could to the finish.

By the time I got to the last mile I was fighting back tears, often unsuccessfully, my quads hurt so bad. I just wanted to be done. When I got to the finish line, the kids joined me and I was so happy I was crying out of joy and pain all at the same time.

It was ROUGH. I still finished around 4:53 which is faster than last year’s 7 Bridges time, so I’ll take it. But man the finish was UGLY. I just completely fell apart the last 8’ish miles and that will stay with me for awhile. I HATE finishing a race that poorly. I like feeling proud of my finish and not that disappointed. I know I should just be happy I finished but I’ve gotten so much faster and stronger in the last year, I really wanted to feel strong about this race, not discouraged and now stressing about my 50K. I’ve never been greeted by my family after a race and just sobbed, but Sunday I did. I just said, “They hurt so bad!” and was simply crying. It was definitely a first for me.

I might not have handled the “heat” well either, which can also lead to cramps. That’s a whole other issue in itself though, so I’m not going to get into that now.

I finished. I’m proud to add another marathon to my completed races lists. I’m proud that I still beat last year’s time which was actually my main goal. I’m proud I didn’t walk the entire last 8 miles. I’m proud I’m still looking forward to the other races in my future.

I just wish I had not tried to run with the pacer. Now that I realize how that works (I’ve never try to finish with the pacer I start with) and that in SOME cases (I’m not sure if it’s ALL cases or not) they’re trying to finish with the clock, and you need to know that when you START with them so that they don’t overpace you. If I had finished with them, my chip time would have been 4:40 and that would have been okay if that speed had been spread out over 26 miles, but they tried (for reasons I do understand now, just didn’t realize it then) to make up that time as fast as possible. So, next time if I want to start/finish with the pacer I’ll make sure they’re pacing CHIP time and not CLOCK time. If they’re pacing CLOCK time I’ll either start up front and let them catch up with me, or I’ll pace myself.

3 thoughts on “A 7 Bridges Race Report – A Lesson About Race Pacers”

  1. Hey, remember when you didn’t run at all and look at you now; practice marathon.

    I’m proud of you blog friend.

  2. I think our pacers were trying to make up too much time, based on the final results. They both finished in 4:42:29 clock time, so 2.5 minutes fast! My memory was that the clock said 4 minutes when we crossed the start line, and my memory was that we crossed the 13.1 split at 2:21. Looking at the results, we crossed at 2:19 and our clock/bib offset was 2min7s, so I think the pacers were trying to make up 2 extra minutes! It is easier for the pacers to make up that time quickly (so they can be on track with their lists), but bad for the runners who are pushing to run that pace. I still haven’t finished with a pacer! I started with the 4:30 pace group at Rocket City 2012, when I cramped terribly in the last miles. I just compared my split times to yesterday’s. At mile 18 I was 3 minutes faster than we were on Sunday. However, it took me 30 minutes longer to finish those 8 miles in 2012 than it did Sunday. Wow starting too fast for the day can really make a difference for me!

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