Whilst flicking through one of my favourite (and free!) running magazines, runABC South, I came across a for/against article by writers Joanna Barlow and Dan Afshar about running a race with a pacer which discussed the question ‘is it cheating?’
So I thought I would weigh in.
In my opinion, it most certainly isn’t cheating. Doping is cheating. Getting a taxi half way round and then claiming you ran the whole way is cheating. Smart pacing isn’t. You still have to cover the distance, you still have to train hard and be mentally prepared.
Affectionately known as ‘rabbits’ some elite races (e.g. London) have pacers and some (Boston I think) don’t. Elite runners may tell the pacers what split they want for a marathon and let the ‘rabbit’ guide them through at least the first half of the race.
I’ve run races with and without pacers. My first marathon was my first experience running with a pacer, Keith, who was on something like his 148th marathon. I didn’t intend to run with him but got swept up in his little group and found that the camaraderie, banter and singalongs were actually quite good fun. He promised me if I stuck with him, I’d get a sub-4 and true to his word, we came in at 3.53. I trusted his marathon experience and it paid off.
Not only was this my first paced experience, it was my first EVER run with a group and even prompted me to join a running club. Before this, I always thought I was a little too slow, or too unfit, to run with others. Not so and not only did Keith support me to my sub-4, he taught me something, too.
Did I feel like I’d cheated? Not at all. I felt energised, encouraged about my running and happy with a sub-4 marathon debut. I also didn’t have to worry whether my often- unreliable Garmin was going to behave properly or not, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
When I ran my first ultra in March, there weren’t any pacers and I ran a lot of the race completely alone. Even though I really tried hard not to, I went out way too fast and found that the last 3 miles in particular were very tough because of my rubbish pacing at the start. It’s something I’m working on improving, as all runners know there’s always something we can do better.
Personally, I don’t make the decision to enter a race based on whether it is paced or not and I have run in races with pacers and not used them. It’s all about running your own way and doing what you need on that particular day to achieve your goals.
Use the pacers or don’t, but don’t consider it any less of an achievement if you do.
Footnote – runABC magazine is amazing and you can get a free copy from many different locations such as running stores. It is published regionally in the UK, check out the website for more details here – http://runabc.co.uk/