“Watch Out for the Cones!”; or, my 2017 Wineglass Marathon Pacing ExperienceOctober 6, 2017
2017 Wineglass Marathon Pacer Review
Client Name: Chris Patterson
Date/Time of Race: Sunday, October 1, 2017 at 8:15 a.m.
Weather: Sunny skies; 38 degrees at the start increasing to 64 degrees at the finish.
Course Description: Point-to-point from Bath, NY to Corning, NY. A few hills along the course, but a net downhill with a nice finish (similar to a Stella Artois).
Pace Objective: 3:45 Pace Group, with a finish of 3:44:30, +/- 30 seconds (chip time).
Official Finishing Chip Time: 3:52:15
Garmin Connect link: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2032925164
This was not planned nor advertised. In a way, it was a bit selfish of me. Let me explain.
To understand why I paced the 2017 Wineglass Marathon is to first understand where I “grew up” as a runner. That would be at the 2010 running of the Wineglass – which brings to mind a wineglass than somehow runs, which is as much of a disturbing thought as it is intriguing. I hung on to the 3:10 pace group for dear life, through a port-a-john stop near mile 6, through shin splints, knee pain, ankle pain, foot pain, mental anguish, almost tripping over railroad tracks, trying to run ahead at mile 23 and having it nearly do me in, all the way to a finish of 3:09:11 and being able to register for a Boston Marathon that, back then, was a first-come-first-serve type deal – more based on the B.A.A.’s server capacity and a runner’s bandwidth than by how many minutes one qualified by. Very different from today.
I am very content with running the half-marathon, which is my favorite race distance. I was looking forward to recovering from an Achilles tendon “soft tissue issue” (as I like to call it) and pushing the baby stroller around in the spring seeing if I could actually place in any races. But then, two days after running the 2017 Rochester Marathon on September 17th, I received a message from a person in my “pacer network”, you know, because I’m cool like that. “We need a 3:45 pacer for Wineglass in two weeks, are you available?”
I stared at my phone screen in disbelief. “You have got to be kidding me.” The race that made me see the value of pacing, the race that made me want to pace a race in the first place, needed a pacer, and I was being asked? Come on. What would you do?
“Yes, of course,” I replied. ‘I’ll do it.”
And so, on Wednesday morning, at the conclusion of my first physical therapy appointment, I asked my soon to be incredulous caretaker of my future biomechanics, “By the way, I have this thing next weekend where I run a marathon and carry the sign the entire way to help people achieve their goals. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Yeah,” said the PT. “But… didn’t you just run a marathon a few days ago? Wait, when is this race again?”
“Next weekend,” I replied. “If you tell me I shouldn’t run it, then I won’t.”
“Hmph,” he said. “You just ran a marathon and you’re fine. We have a lot of work to do, but I think you can give it a shot.”
That’s all I needed to hear. On the plus side, now I had excellent motivation to do my PT exercises every day.
The company MarathonPacing.com is contracted to pace the Wineglass Marathon. The same company who paced for the race back in 2010. They have been in business for a long time. The average pacer there has run over 50 marathons, so at only 30 marathons I was a rookie. They also require all of their pacers to have a valid CPR/AED certification.
Jim, the owner of the company, told me over the phone during our phone interview, “Pacers are the first-responders on the course during a race.” If you have ever run a race of any length, you know that not every meter of a course is lined with people spectating. There are always areas devoid of people, and aid stations are sometimes two or more miles apart. Often, first-aid stations are not located until later on in a race when folks start to have issues.
During our pacer meeting the night before, Jim reiterated the point of the responsibility of the pacer. Not just to run perfect splits, but the value of doing a good job and keeping your group together, and also for the safety of the group. That it's imperative that a pacer know what to do in an emergency situation. Again, the safety thing.
And then I heard about these construction cones on the course from other pacers. These cones are used to help separate traffic from the runners, which is pretty standard in most running races. What’s not standard is how they are placed on the road.
The morning of the race was cold and brisk with valley fog. The race organizers repurposed a large party tent with walls as a “keep runners warm and happy before the race” area. Although there was no party inside, there were a lot of people. And chairs. So many chairs. It felt as if we were getting ready for a presentation. Outside it was cold enough to make you shiver at the starting line, especially when you’re a pacer and have to stand there 30 minutes prior to the start of the race so folks know where to line up.
We started the race and immediately I saw them. The orange cones. Not placed on the center-line as so many other races do, but 2/3 of the way inside of the right-hand lane. I was appalled at the placement of the cones as they seemed to present an obstacle course for the runners, especially in some instances where there was a cone and a mile marker side-by-side. One of my pacees described it best as a "marathon slalom course".
At about mile 4.9, there was one of the smaller green cones, which were more inset in the road than the standard orange cones. These cones typically had another purpose, yet I don’t remember what that was. I yelled my standard, "Cone!", to the group. A second later, I heard a woman in the group go, "Oh, my God!", and I looked back just in time to see a man, with the green cone in front of him, tumble face first into the pavement.
See below for an example of how an orange cone was located in the path of the runners of the pace group.
He was not able to break his fall to the pavement and likely broke his nose, as blood was healthily gushing out of it. Myself and another runner from the pace group guided him over to the side of the road and made him sit down. A race marshal on a bicycle came by and asked what was needed. I asked him to call 911 and get paramedics to help. I turned back to the gentleman, who was holding his nose and in a good amount of pain. I had the other runner from the pace group continue on with the race while I stayed with the man.
The man asked me to look at his front teeth to see if they were all still there (they were), and then if any were cracked (no obvious cracks, although it was challenging to tell with all of the blood). He said he wanted to keep running, and I shook my head and said, "Not right now you aren't." He also told me, "I heard you yell out about the cone, and I saw the cone, but I still ran into the cone.”
About 2:30 went by (I thought it was longer, but that's what the Garmin data says) when a couple that was spectating came over and told me to continue running and that they would stay with the man. I initially protested, but they were adamant. It was at this point that I looked up the road and saw an ambulance coming. I later found that a few members of the pace group had noticed the ambulance stationed about 1/10th of a mile up the road from the incident, and let them know that a person needed help. It was very fortuitous. The race director has been notified, and we are hopeful that appropriate changes will be made to the cone placement next year.
So, I was left with a choice: Do I try to catch up with my group? It was still so early in the race, and my group was very large, so I opted to try to catch up. I embarked on a 3/4 mile sprint (averaging between 5:30-5:45 per mile pace) and caught up with the group.
Right before the half-marathon mark, some GI issues were starting to catch up with me. We passed the half-marathon starting line and a bank of port-a-john where I was sure I would be able to find an open one without a wait. I informed the group to keep going steady and that I would rejoin them in a few minutes. I made a dash to the port-a-john, did my thing, and then ran out. One of the volunteers had my pacer stick at the ready waiting to hand off as I ran by. It was pretty awesome. I caught back up with the group very quickly and was fine until around mile 18 or so.
My upper legs, specifically my quads/hamstrings, were getting quite tired. I've run enough marathons to know that this was not a good sign. I hung on for another mile, and then by the middle of mile 19 started fading very slowly. For the folks who remained in my group, I told them one-by-one to follow a women who I noticed had been running very evenly throughout the race (and mostly a bit ahead of the group). I kept running until the next water station at mile 20. That was where they were handing out donuts and cookies. I took a donut hole, ate it whole, took a swig of water, and stopped in front of a trash can meant for empty cups. I broke my pacer sign dowel into a few pieces and buried the sign along with the dowel pieces at the very bottom of the barrel. I also asked one of the volunteers to unpin the "Pacer Chris 3:45" bib from my back. I also buried this in the barrel. I thanked the volunteers and stretched and walked for a bit to try to get the lactic acid out of my legs.
I believe that my sprint to catch the group after mile 4.9 (and to a much lesser extent my additional sprint just before the 1/2 marathon mark), caused my legs to seize up later in the race. Eventually one of the folks who had originally been in the 3:45 pace group came along, Kerm, and asked how I was doing. I told him I was just giving my legs a bit of a break. We started out running again, had a few freezer pops some spectators were handing out, and kept it going the rest of the way.
I cheered on runners as I ran, and encouraged where I could. I found a girl, Amy, at around mile 25 who was struggling. I said that towards the end of a race, I always try to find someone to help out, and today that person was her. So she sped up and we ran the rest of the way to the finish line. I kept on encouraging folks as we ran, shouting out how many laps on the track we had to go, "Only three laps of the track left! Come on, you've got this!" And even managed to convince Amy to sprint the final few blocks to the majestic finish line.
Overall it was a rewarding experience. I did the best I could under the circumstances. I always remained upbeat, was resilient in my encouragement to others, and exemplified the spirit of what it means to be a pacer and to help others achieve a significant milestone: a marathon finish. I think part of becoming an adult, or “adulting” as I’ve seen it put, is seeing the bigger picture in life; Getting your head out of the weeds and looking at the meadows and rolling hills. No, I didn’t finish in 3:44:30, or even 3:45, but that is okay. And being able to understand the reasons why is something I look forward to teaching my child (to be born in a few weeks) about someday.
I look forward to pacing again in 2018. Probably without a jogging stroller.