I went to bed on Saturday night about 4.5 hours before I'd need to wake up and get ready to be a pacer for the half marathon race. That's not a ton of sleep, but I was consoled by the memory of the time that I only slept for 2 hours and then got up and ran for 2.5 hours. I figured that as long as I slept for longer than I needed to run, I'd be ok. I laid in bed with my brain flipping between replaying moments from the reunion, and thinking about the half marathon. Every few minutes I'd look at the clock and think something like, "Ok, I'll get 4 hours of sleep if I fall asleep NOW!" and then, predictably, "Ok, 3 hours is good. Just sleep....NOW!"
I've played this game before. Everybody loses. Especially me.
The alarm clock went off at 5:00am. I had slept for somewhere between 1 and 2 hours. I slid out of bed and immediately began cramming coffee, water, and cereal into my most awake orifice(s). Meanwhile, I was starting to feel under the weather. I don't get sick often, but my body was right in that borderline state, where I could either get some rest or get sick.
So, I packed my running bag, and headed out the door.
By 8:00am I was standing at the starting line amidst thousands of other runners, holding a sign that said "1:30".
As I've mentioned a few times, my goal in this race wasn't to run it as quickly as possible, but rather to be a pacer. I had promised to run the race in 1 hour and 30 minutes*. That meant that I needed to average 6 minutes and 52 seconds per mile. It wouldn't be reasonable to think that I could come in at exactly 1:30 but I'd be damn close. On my last training run I had practiced this pace around a track, but was never able to nail it exactly. Regardless, the woman who had organized the pace team told us that we should exude confidence and be supportive of the runners around us. Some runners would be counting on us to correctly pace them and our job was to help as many of them as possible reach their goals.
Of course each of us internalizes instructions in our own way. As far as I was concerned, those runners who wanted to pace with me were essentially signing themselves up to be my own personal audience, held captive by The Mike Show for 13.1 miles. I spun around at the starting line and introduced myself to the crowd.
"Hi runners. My name is Mike and I'll be your pacer for the next 13.1 miles. My intention is to run a very even pace, each mile at exactly 6 minutes and 52 seconds. I've been saving up a lot of banter to entertain you with, and I just left my 20 year high school reunion a few hours ago, so you can all look forward to hearing about that for the next 90 minutes. Have a good run."
The race began about a minute later.
We launched and started running down the street. A few runners gravitated towards me and we chatted about past runs. I checked in with my pacing partner occasionally to get her opinion on our pace. She thought it was a little slow and I thought it was a little fast, so we decided it was probably right on the money. The 1 Mile Marker was up ahead and I readied the lap-timer on my watch. It would be the first bit of feedback for our pace. And we clocked in at...
6 minutes and 52 seconds.
Perfect! In between the 155 beats per minute it was already doing, my heart leapt with joy. I grinned my biggest grin and calmly announced that we were right on pace. "Folks, I'm the metronome of running," I bragged.
Turns out that bragging was a bit premature. Buoyed by the excitement of being the perfect pacer, I ran Mile 2 too fast by 10 seconds. Ditto for Mile 3. Consequently, we ran Mile 4 a bit slower to get back on pace. I was feeling pretty locked in at that pace, so when we hit the Mile 5 marker a few seconds after I expected, I announced to the crowd that the race organizers had misplaced that marker by about 5 or 10 yards. A few people snickered. I was not joking. I'd bet money that I was right.
Meanwhile, I kept up the banter. I interacted with the spectators, I shticked about runners obeying traffic laws, I philosophized about the true halfway point of a half marathon, and I offered up the reunion stories.
"Who wants to hear the most touching story from my reunion?" I asked loudly.
"Do we have to?" one smart ass replied.
And so it went.
We hit the markers for each of the subsequent miles only off by a few seconds. Once the Mile 13 marker was in sight, I made my final announcement.
"Folks, we have about 1/4 mile to go. I'll be crossing that finish line 90 minutes after we started. Everyone who wants to beat that time needs to finish ahead of me and my sign. You have 1/4 of a mile. GO!"
Sure enough, a cluster of people around me suddenly picked up the pace. We hit the 13 Mile Marker and we were about 5 seconds ahead of pace. So, I slowed down a bit and crossed the finish line at....
1 hour and 30 minutes and 0 seconds.
One of my old cowowkers saw me before the race and I told him that I'd doing the 1:30 pacing. He sent me an email the next day saying that he saw that I hit my target to the second and thought to himself, "How Mike...".
It's the nicest compliment I've received in a long time. What's more embarassing? The fact that I derive so much of self esteem from being on time? Or that everyone knows it?
There are some races I'll never forget. I'll always remember my first marathon (3:35), my Boston qualifying marathon (3:14), my 5K with my daughter (0:49), and the Perfectly Paced Half Marathon (1:30).
*For reasons that are uninteresting, all the time measurements in this blog post have been changed. However, the accuracy by which I hit my desired times is unchanged and correct.