Last November, a friend of mine from Instagram, gave me the news that she would be directing her very first race, a marathon in her hometown of Youngstown, OH. She was a volunteer on the race committee and when the race director had to unexpectedly back out, she stepped up. I told her I would do anything I could to help. I would become the Ambassador Coordinator for this race and helped with various other things along the way. Needless to say, when race day came, I was really excited to participate in something I had helped organize.
I had never been to Youngstown. I had never met any of the people I was working with. Being the first year, you wonder how it’s all going to turn out. What is it going to look like? How is it going to be received? Well, for that last question, we had over 1200 people sign up to run either the full, half or 5k race, so it was being received really well.
The expo was held at the local YMCA and was such a cool event. It was not overly crowded like so many expos are, and yet, it seemed full. There were lots of people there checking out all the vendors and picking up their race packets. Saturday morning was also the kids run which was a lot of fun to help out with. Those kids can move!
That afternoon, after I had done my 5k shakeout in preparation for my half marathon the next day, I met up with my friend Courtney (the race director) at the expo to see if there was anything more I could help with. She said there was. The 3:35 marathon pacer was a no go and they needed someone to take that spot. After having run a 3:17 just one week prior, I though, oh. Ummm, I just ran a marathon last weekend. And it did not go as I had hoped. Granted this is a lot slower, but still, what if I choked again?
I tried to wait until the last minute, but eventually I caved and said I would do it. Everything about this race goes against conventional wisdom for me. Back to back marathons, not usually recommended (especially marathons 3&4 lifetime). Trying a new fuelling strategy during this marathon, probably not wise. Wearing a new shirt, one that isn’t as comfortable as I’m used to, that made me very nervous. I even had to go out and buy a handheld which I’ve never carried before, because I didn’t have anything big enough for my new sports drink. Oh yeah, and did I mention I’m pacing for the first time ever?
Race day came and it couldn’t have been a much better day for June. It was warm, in the 70’s I believe, but overcast and a nice breeze. The course is mainly in Mill Creek Park which has massive trees and you’re shaded most of the way, had their been much sun to begin with. June can get hot, so I was thankful for the weather.
I had a few people asking me my pacing strategy. Most people want negative splits. However, I think you need to give mind to the course. This particular course is very hilly. The front half isn’t too bad, with more of a downhill flavour to it. However, the back half is where you learn to fight. The back half of a marathon is tough enough, this one was just mean at times.
I paced one guy for the first half who said he wanted a negative split. I told him I was probably going to positive split it by about a minute. Either way, he stuck with me. My pacing started a bit quick. It was hard to find my rhythm because amongst all those trees, my garmin was not happy. My pace was jumping all over the place, plus I was using miles because #murica.
I managed to get to the half way point about a minute ahead of schedule, which was exactly what I was aiming for. As we passed the half way point, the first hill reared it’s ugly head and immediately, I was alone. It might be a little mean, but there’s a little bit of satisfaction knowing that you can climb those hills and feel good, and others are struggling to keep up. As a pacer, I was encouraging and I wanted them to stick with me, but it’s also a testament to how hard I’ve worked too.
Not long later, I met up with another guy who I was able to run with for the next 7 miles or so. He knows the park and knew the hills we were dealing with. They just kept coming. I passed by a few friends along the way, running with them a little bit, trying to encourage them on, but had to leave them all at some point to maintain the proper pacing. That was a little sad to do.
As I hit mile 22, I knew the hills would be done and I was on the home stretch. The trees had messed with my mileage since mile 15 and so I was trying to do the math in my head at each mile marker rather than waiting for my watch to beep with the split time to try and figure out how fast or slow I need to be the rest of the way.
As mentioned earlier, I was left pretty much alone from mile 21 on. I didn’t get too concerned with the time after that seeing as how nobody was following me anyways. I was able to encourage a few people along the way, and it was a ton of fun. I crossed the line at 3:33:11. It being a smaller race, that pacing time actually gave me 3rd place in my age category as well!
All in all, it was a fun experience. It was so much better than I could have imagined. Yes, it was a challenging course, but people seemed to love the challenge. As someone who normally looks for flatter courses, you could tell people who ran this one wanted to conquer these hills and not let them win. It was so inspiring to see and fun to listen to the stories afterwards.
Great weekend and I can’t wait until next year to do it again. I probably won’t pace next year so I can try and tackle those hills at full speed. Oh, and it’s always nice when the natives are fascinated by why you came from a foreign land to run with them. Check out the vid: