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Pace Groups: Help or Hindrance?

By Allie Burdick, 11/17/17, 4:00PM EST


We cover the physical and mental pros and cons.

Although runners are a tight and encouraging group, there is plenty of dissension in our ranks. Disputes abound from whether or not to run with music, slap a 26.2 sticker on your car or wear compression socks.

Another quickly emerging topic of heated debate is the illustrious pace group. Ranging from the speedy elite to the back-of-the-packers, these groups are now a staple at large races. Do they help or hinder? Let’s hash it out:

Pace speed

The Good: You are in the hands of someone who can easily run your goal pace. Typically, pacers need to have a finishing time well beyond what the pace group goal time is, so you’re sure to make your personal PR. Or are you?

The Bad: Your goal is their easy day, and as runners know all too well, reigning in a pack of race starters is akin to taming wild animals. Although there is no data to back it up, it’s been my experience that most pace groups (like most lone runners) start out too fast.

The Ugly: If you start out too fast, what usually happens in the end? I’ll give you a hint — it’s the opposite of negative splits.

Mental component

The Good: Your mental game can take a little break. In the minds of the pace pack, they have a fearless leader who will steadfastly whisk them to a finishing time achievement. No constant Garmin checking or pace bracelet needed — just follow the leader.

The Bad: You’re not really running your race and therefore are at the mercy of the pacer’s pace. Very few of us run a steady pace throughout 13.1 or 26.2, and pace groups frown upon individuality. It’s right in the name: pace group. If you can’t adopt the group mentality, you’re screwed.

The Ugly: You may hate your pacer’s personality. Some are chatty, and some are silent. Others are cheerleaders, and still others may be chronic snot-rocket blowers. You must be open to anything if you put your racing feet into the care of a stranger.

Those of us outside the pace group but with similar finishing times can be completely thrown off or just irritated by their gaggle. Two tips for a lone runner finding himself in the midst of a pace pack:

  1. They’re probably going too fast. Do not adjust your pace. I repeat, do not adjust your pace.
  2. If the group is taking up the length of the road or path you’re all trying to race on, don’t get frustrated. In fact, this could help you by staying slightly behind or in front of them for the entire race. Make a game of it, and watch the miles fly by.

There’s one more upside. If you don’t hit your time goal as part of a pace group, you know who to blame.

You can follow Allie on her blog at

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