From local 5K runs to international marathons, pacers are part of running cultures at all levels. Pacers enter races not to win them, but to help other runners to run faster. Whether you're a veteran runner looking for a personal best or a new runner who just wants to meet your goal time, you can benefit from using a pacer.
Professional pacers, who are often called "jack rabbits," are paid to run extremely fast paces at the beginning of races before typically dropping out of the race halfway or three-quarters into the race. The purpose of these pacers is to push the other runners to catch them, creating an artificially fast race. If the runners fail to keep up, the pacer may choose to finish the race as Paul Pilkington did, famously winning the 1994 L.A. marathon.
Pacers aren't universally used by all races, and some people claim using pacers harms the sport. The Boston Marathon, for instance, has never used pacers and the New York City Marathon abandoned the practice in 2007. According to the news agency Reuters, the organizers of the New York City Marathon stopped using pacers because it removes the tactical element from the race as the top runners simply wait for the pacers to drop out before the real race begins.
You don't have to be an elite runner to use a pacer. Amateur runners often use pacers to help them achieve a goal time in a race. The pacer is usually a more experienced runner who can maintain the desired pace without difficulty. Unlike elite-level pacers, at the amateur level pacers usually finish the race. The person being paced must simply keep up with the pacer to reach her goal time.
Using a Pacer
You can use a personal pacer if you have a trainer or know an experienced runner who can act as your pacer. Some races have pace groups that are led by pacers. Usually a race will have multiple groups running at different paces. Check with the race organizers before getting a pacer. You can find out if there will be pace groups and the paces they will be running at. You can also find out the rules for using your own pacer. For instance, some races will allow you to be paced by someone who is not registered for the race, while others will require the pacer to be a registered runner.
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