top of page

Your pace or mine? Pros, cons and tips for running with a pacer

Several of my runners have races coming up over the next few weeks, which has led to some interesting chats about the benefits of running with pacers. These are my thoughts on the pros and cons, as well as some tips for getting the best experience if you choose to run with a pacer.

Firstly, what is a pacer? Most big road runs offer pacers – runners who are there to finish the course in a specific time. The idea is that if you follow a pacer, they will guide you around the course in the time you are aiming for. The majority of races have a team of pacers who will run at five- or ten-minute intervals, depending on the length of the race and size of the field – you’ll be able to spot them at the start because they will be wearing a bib, or carrying a sign or balloon showing their target finish time.

Here's the good stuff! Running with a pacer can be a brilliant way of allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the race. If you trust your pacer, you don’t have to think about anything except keeping running – they will do all the mental maths, checking of pace and adjusting as necessary that will get you over the finish line in your target time. This frees you up to enjoy running, to think about other important things such as nutrition and hydration, and lets you soak up the race day atmosphere.

Pacers can also act as your personal cheerleader on the course – a good pacer will try to encourage and motivate their group of runners, as well as keeping the pace. If you don’t know too many other people running your race, joining a pace group is a great way of meeting some people to run with, and getting some support along the way. You might also find you get more crowd support because you’re running as part of a pack.

Some potential pitfalls to think about. Unfortunately, not every pacer gets it right every race! It’s not very common, but it does happen that pacers can miss the target they were aiming for, or even suffer an injury and need to drop out of the race. If you would be relaxed in this scenario, then that’s ok, but if you are someone who likes being in control all the time, you might find it less stressful to pace yourself.

Pacers are usually running at the pace they have chosen because it is an easy one for them – a lot slower than their own PB pace. This can lead to difficulties, particularly on undulating courses, if you don’t know, or your pacer hasn’t considered, how they are going to run the race. For example, are they going to maintain the exact same pace for every mile, regardless of any hills? That might be easy for them, but impossible for you at your race pace. It could be dispiriting to watch your pacer disappear up a hill if you’re not aware that you will catch them up on the next down.

Similarly, if you go through a slow patch at some point in your race, you might not even realise it if you are running alone. With a pace group, you will be very aware of it, as the group will pull away. Most of us go through some pace fluctuations within each mile, and it can be better to do what feels natural for you at any given point, rather than sticking rigidly to the pace group.

How to get the best out of your pacer. Introduce yourself before the race starts and explain that your plan is to run with them. This means your pacer is more likely to watch out for you throughout the race and give you some personal encouragement. They won’t slow down for you if you start to struggle, sadly, but they will try to give you a bit of a boost if they can see you’re going through a tough patch.

Ask your pacer what their pace strategy is. Are they hoping to cross the line exactly at the target time, or say 30 seconds before? Will they run an even pace throughout, including on the hills, or are they going to slightly slow down and speed up on undulations? Having this knowledge will help you adapt to what happens during the race, and a good pacer will be happy to explain their plan. Decide what your personal strategy is going to be. If you start to struggle at any point, will you try to stick with your pacer, or will you let them pull away and then reel them back in?

Finally, know your own psychology. Personally, I absolutely hate running behind someone. I immediately feel slow and anxious, my heart rate goes up and my breathing gets harder. If I run at the exact same pace in front of someone, I feel relaxed and happy, and the pace feels easier. In short, I prefer to be chased than to chase! You might be the same, or you might be the other way around. Consider this in advance and decide where you’re going to position yourself relative to your pacer.

Whether you decide to run with a pacer or not, take the time to consider your own race day strategy, and how you plan to manage your pace. Good luck! I hope you have a great day racing.

220 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page