For the third year, I’ll be pacing the two hour group at the Asheville Half Marathon this weekend.

Since the course is front loaded with hills the first 5-6 miles, it does not make sense for anyone actually trying to run two hours to run even splits. So I plan to run by effort again this year.

A two-hour half is an average of 9:09 per mile. On mile two last year, I clocked a 9:48 because that mile had 179 feet of elevation gain. Our fastest mile was mile 7 at 8:33 due to the 146 foot drop.

We crossed the finish line just a few seconds under two hours.

I get a lot of questions about pace groups as a coach. Should you use them?

The single biggest piece of advice I can give you is to find the pace group leader before the race and ask about his or her plan. Is she planning to run even splits, despite the terrain? Will he run by effort, meaning slower on the uphills and faster on the downhills? Does she plan to negative split?

You might also ask the leader what their PR is. Is the leader much stronger than the pace he is leading? Or will he be struggling just as much as you?

You want a leader that is much stronger than the pace, but also know that if she miscalculates, she is strong enough to speed up at the end to make the time while you might not be able to.

In one of my full marathons, I ran next to a pacer for the half that was going on simultaneously and asked what his plan was since his splits seemed a little fast by my watch. He actually said that he was planning to put “time in the bank” on the flat course. Avoid that type of pacer!!!

Running with a good pace group can be very beneficial. You can quiet your brain and just hang on with the group. If it’s windy, you can tuck behind and draft. The energy of the group can help minimize the effort you feel so running at pace feels easier. You can avoid going out too fast by simply sticking with the group.

On the other hand, if you choose to follow a pace group that’s a little too ambitious for your fitness, you could be setting yourself up for a very tough day, so choose wisely.

In general, pace groups can be enormously helpful, but don’t 100% rely on them. Don’t forget to double check with your watch to be sure that you are on target.

I speak from experience on that one. When trying to break 3 hours in the marathon, I thought I was doing awesome staying with the perfectly paced group. I was so trusting after seeing the even splits each mile that I gave up even looking at my watch.

When the group pulled away during the final 5k, I thought for sure I was getting slower. I didn’t look at my watch because I figured I was running as fast as I possibly could, so what did time matter at that point?

Well, that attitude cost me my goal time. I was not slowing down that much. The group was speeding up. I missed the sub three by 30 seconds.

As a pacer myself, I like to let everyone around me at the start know my plan so they can choose to go with me or not.

It’s enormously rewarding to help athletes reach their goals and a sub-two half is a big one! In fact, at this point in my running life, helping others with their goals is more fulfilling to me than racing for myself, so you can bet I’ll be helping out again next year.

About Claire

Coach Claire has helped hundreds of runners chase their dreams and conquer big goals. Her coaching philosophy combines science-based training, plant-based nutrition, and mindset techniques to unlock every runner's true potential. She's an ASFA certified running coach, sports nutrition specialist, a 2:58 marathoner, mom, and borderline obsessive plant lover.

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