San Luis Obispo Half Marathon Pacing Round 2 5-1-16

“Sure hope at least one person runs with me this time…”
Polaroid CUBE
Getting ready for pacing duties round 2
After my half marathon pacing debacle last year (finished in 1:28 without a soul around), I wasn’t sure if Samantha and Nicole would blacklist me from all future RACESLO opportunities. Thankfully they let me back on the team this year, and they attached me to the 1:30 half marathon group again.
I better not screw this up…
Committed to bringing home at least one runner in under 1:30 this year, I’ve got some different plans for leading this pace group:
– I’m going to take charge from the beginning and bring the 1:30 group together beforehand to talk through the pacing strategy
– The second half will be harder than the first, so we’re going to bank a few seconds on the easier early miles, knowing it’s going to be a grind on the rolling hills coming home
– Negative splits will be difficult and I’ll relay this to the group
– My strengths are definitely not in keeping a perfect pace, so I’ll let the group know we may shift up or down depending on the mile, but we’ll do our best to adjust accordingly
– We’re going to try and talk with the group throughout the race to keep them relaxed and running as efficient as possible (short strides, loosen the shoulders, don’t kill yourself on the hills, etc.)
– Again not a strength, but I’m going to work on being very positive with the group. Lots of “attaboys,” “you can do it’s,” and “looking good.” Need to work on curbing the abrasiveness that can be present in an ultra when someone needs their shit called out in the later miles
– If all else fails, I’ll literally drag someone’s ass through the finish in 1:30 to beat last year’s goose egg
– I’m going to give Luis the finger if he calls me out for being the worst pacer of all time again… well deserved in 2015 though
After an early 2:45hr run on Cerro San Luis Saturday morning, Carly and I hustled home so I could shower and head over to the vet with Alejandra. Considering he’s killed every creature smaller than a dog in the South Hills, it’s surprising Omar’s came out relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, he took one in the eye while recently fighting with some creature… my call was one of the two gophers he killed last week. After an initial trip to the vet and against my call to just buy him an eye patch, we had to bring the little guy in to make sure the antibiotics were kicking in. After a relatively uneventful appointment, I packed up the vehicle for Sunday’s post race ride home, and drove over to the SLO Marathon Expo site at the Madonna Inn for the ambassador meeting and pacer check-in.
Samantha Pruitt has done an incredible job coordinating and tweaking the logistics of the SLO Marathon/Half over the past several years. Being the 5th anniversary, Samantha and her team have really dialed in the details, starting with the layout of the Expo center. Held in Madonna’s open pasture, adjacent to the gaudy-as-hell restaurant/hotel, the Expo center is filled with a wide variety of vendors (food, recovery products, shoes, hydration, nutrition, apparel, beer, kid gymnastics, etc.).
After a quick check-in and packet pickup and with a few minutes to spare before the ambassador meeting, I made my way through the vendor tent to sample some products and see what’s hot in the world of running. Making my way through the various products, I was surprised to see so many small-to-midmarket dealers. Nuun was handing out samples of their electrolyte replacement tablets that you drop in a water bottle. Not the greatest tasting beverage, but that’s the last thing on my mind when I’m cramping uncontrollably and begging for salt. Honeystinger was also passing out samples, as they’ve created a new line of products. Their bars taste great and their new pea protein chews were really tasty as well. Don’t think chomping down on those bite sized chews would work well at mile 80, but they could be useful for shorter runs/races. The last vendor I stumbled into was Altra. Walking up to the booth, I cursed them silently for not bringing me on to their ambassador team this year. Looking to say hi and move along quickly, I recognized the guy behind the Altra table.
Zach Bitter is the American record holder for a 100 miles, recently breaking his own record in 11:50ish (7 minute miles). He’s an absolute stud in the ultra world primarily racing on asphalt and flatter courses. He’s also racing Comrades in a few weeks, and I expect him to kill it. I introduced myself and we talked briefly about his upcoming schedule. As his last hard effort before Comrades, Zach would be running the SLO Marathon on Sunday as a tempo run (He would later win the race outright in 2:36).
After a short Ambassador meeting, I met up with Nicole and the rest of the pacers for Sunday’s races. Melissa, Niki and Terry would be pacing the marathon, and Larry, Adolpho and my new partner Stepan would be pacing the half. Stepan is a great local triathlete that used to smoke me on the track during Wednesday SLDC workouts, and I was stoked to have a fit teammate to lead the 1:30ers. We talked about a plan for Sunday, banking some time in the early miles, shouting out mile/cumulative time splits and sharing words of encouragement and support throughout the run.
Couldn’t wait for some redemption on Sunday!!!
Considering the ungodly times I’ve been getting up for daily training runs, a 4:45am wakeup call was actually sleeping in on Sunday. Thankfully Alejandra’s boss lives less than a half mile from SLO High/Starting Line, so we parked at her house and I hustled over to check-in with Stepan and cheer on the marathoners.
Polaroid CUBE
Good Morning!
After watching Zach Bitter lead the marathoners off at 6:00am, Stepan and I warmed up and gathered the group circling around the 1:30 area. We told them about our plan to bank time in the early miles, and that there was likely to be headwind in addition to big climbs on the back half of the course. Before we knew it, the national anthem was being sung, supervisor Dan Carpenter was giving his obligatory welcome address, and we were sent off.
Polaroid CUBE
The Legend, Luis Escobar, snapping some pre-marathon photos.
The first few miles of the race are relatively flat, so Stepan and I focused on keeping the group reeled in. Hearing the familiar chime from multiple GPS watches as we crossed the 1 mile mark in 6:37, we realized our group was several yards short of the official course mile marking. Being a USATF certified race, courses always run longer than expected. This is due to the course meeting the minimum distance in the shortest route possible. Being nearly impossible for a racer to run the absolute shortest distance the course allows, we expected the mile markers to be a bit farther off from our GPS’. Shouting out our official 1 mile time of “6:40” as we crossed the mile marker sign, we informed the group that we would base our time off the SLO Half signs and not our watches. Miles 2-3 were uneventful as we continued to bank a few seconds each mile before hitting the Johnson climb.
Knowing that the group would slow as we hit each climb, we focused on powering up each hill to lose as little time as possible. By banking time in the early miles, we could afford to give a few seconds back on the climbs, but we kept the pace honest to not piss away too many hard earned seconds.
Heading out to Orcutt Rd., there are some rolling hills that drop off racers into Orcutt/Tank Farm. This is the largest aid station in the race, as many supporters can access this location via car, and cheer their runners on. We were doing great on time as we rolled through mile 5ish and into the climb up Orcutt from the Tank Farm intersection. Talking probably a bit too much to our runners, Stepan and I continuously reminded the group to loosen their shoulders, keep their strides tight and short, and most importantly… to relax!
Making our way out Orcutt Rd. towards the turnaround, we realized that there were 10-15 runners within our general vicinity. Not certain if it’s common in road running, but some of the racers were literally right on my shoulder. I could smell what they had for breakfast, let alone hear the incessant gasping from a few that likely went out waaay too fast.
“If you’re breathing too hard now, SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!”
Eloquence and subtlety are not my strengths, but thankfully the heavy mouth breathing subsided, so the runners got the point. Heading into the turnaround, Stepan and I had kept 10-15 runners within our group, and had banked close to 30 seconds. I couldn’t wait to pass by Luis Escobar again to give him the finger…
Expecting heavy headwinds like we faced in 2015, thankfully the weather gods were easy on us, and we barely had a breeze on the back half of the race. Stepan decided to peel back towards the back of our group to let them know our mile splits, and that they had approximately 30-40 seconds on the 1:30 pace. We continued past Orcutt/Tank Farm, and made our way out towards Orcutt/Johnson. With 40-50 seconds banked at this time, we tried to keep a steady pace on the downhill before hitting the railroad tracks.
With less than three miles to go, Stepan and I felt confident that anyone hanging on by now would likely make their 1:30 goal. Checking our watches and finding that we had close to a  minute banked, we peeled back dramatically and clocked our first 7+ minute mile of the day. We let our lead group go to catch any runners struggling to hold pace. We locked onto a few runners and continued running parallel to the railroad tracks and into downtown.
With 1.5 miles to go, Stepan and I had three runners in front of us without absolutely no one behind. We felt confident that these last three runners would break 1:30, but sure as hell wouldn’t let up on them. A runner in a blue jersey was the slowest of the three making their way towards the finish, and I decided he needed some extra “motivation.” Normally I save expletives for those I know and love, but I decided this guy wasn’t working hard enough and needed an extra push. I’ll leave the choice words off this blog post, but he got the full monte. Not sure if he ran faster due to the motivational words or if he was literally trying to get away from me, but either way it worked and he crossed the finish line sub 1:30. Stepan and I cruised through the finish in 1:29:35, with several seconds to spare and no one left behind.
Retribution!!!
Not certain if cursing at our group was the most effective tool in getting them across the finish, I was pleasantly surprised when the blue jersey runner came up to me post race to let me know he wouldn’t have finished where he did without our help. Having his parents come up and thanking me for pushing their son was icing on the cake… although I’m fairly certain they didn’t know the words I used to get their boy moving.
After a quick hipster shower (wetwipes), I cheered Alejandra on as she finished her 5th consecutive SLO half.
Things I Learned:
– Communication before and during pacing is imperative!
– Having a fit partner on the same page makes pacing really fun and much easier
– “F Bombs” happen when racing
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