Tag Archives: pacing

Smoking, and the Bandit

Wow, what a week. Seven days, four running events. I’m going to recap today’s events here and save the other two for a bit later – just cuz I wanna.

1. Smoking (the good kind)

The day kicked off with the Flirt with Dirt 5K, a trail run in Lakeshore Park in Novi. Regular readers know how much I love me a trail run, but this was actually my first-ever 5K on a trail. My strategy was basically the same as for any 5K – run like hell – and after all the half marathons and 50K races this year, I was looking forward to letting it all hang out from start to finish. (So to speak – this was not a natural run.)

Start of the 10K race.

Start of the 10K race.

At the FinishI lined up at the front, literally “toeing the line” and got into the front group right from the start. The course had been advertised as “an ungroomed bike trail” but it was in terrific shape. There were sharp turns but it was wide enough to run comfortably, with fewer roots and stones than my other trail runs. So I kept up my pace, and to my surprise, nobody passed me, or even seriously challenged me. I charged up the final hill and over the finish line in 4th place overall – my third top 10 finish (all on trail runs) and best finish ever in a race.

I just had time to get my award and take a few quick photos, and then it was down the road to Northville and the Kona Run.

2. Forced Into Banditry

I’m a regular pacer for the Kona series of races, and thought it would be a good challenge to run the trail 5K and then pace the Kona 5K. I’d cleared it beforehand with Larry, the organizer. But when I got to the starting line, the pacer bibs and signs were nowhere to be found. Turned out Larry had relocated to the finish area, and there wasn’t time to go find him.

1st Time 5K - 2So, Plan B; I became an unofficial photographer and “race cheerleader”, and took photos of people who were running their first-ever 5K, along with high fives and encouragement. Then I ran in the second wave, with no bib, and took more photos. In running, this is known as being a “bandit.”

Bandits are generally harmless, unless they’re deliberately cheating in a competitive race – for example, by wearing someone else’s bib and essentially impersonating that person. But many in the running community consider banditing uncool, the attitude being that if you’re going to run an official event, you should pay for it.

Read more: Why Running Bandits are Bastards

The price of banditry - getting splashed by little girls.

The price of banditry – getting splashed by little girls.

But some bandits have more noble motives. Perhaps the most famous bandit is Kathrine Switzer, who ran the 1967 Boston Marathon when women weren’t allowed to participate. Actually, she did register (as “K.V. Switzer”) and ran with a bib, although it was nearly torn off by Jock Semple, the race manager, when he saw her on the course. Read Kathrine’s account of the event at this link – it’s a good read.

In my case, Larry had no problem with what I did. He even gave me one of the pacer shirts at the finish line. But next time I’ll get specifics on where he’ll be.

3. Like Fish, The Best Photo is the One That Got Away

But perhaps the most memorable event of the day took place at the cafe where I was enjoying a post-race latte and scone. I happened to be sitting outside near the road, and a car pulled up next to me and stopped. And the driver starting speaking to me in French!

Oui, Monsieur, il faut parler francais quand on est a un cafe.

Hanging out with fellow runners Hunter and Katie. Malheureusement, ils ne parlent pas francais.

“You’re outside at a French cafe,” he said. “You should be speaking French!”

Turns out he was a D-Day veteran, and seventy years ago this weekend he was in Normandy. I wish I’d gotten his photo, but there wasn’t time – he was blocking traffic. So I settled for thanking him for his service, and exchanging a few phrases in French.

Next up: a recap of the week’s other events, and looking ahead to the Liberty Festival in Canton and the Uncle Sam Slam.

The Perils of Pacing: Race Recap, ShamRock ‘n Roll

KARMIC RETRIBUTION. That must be it.

As payback for my perfect-weather Dances With Dirt race last week in Florida, Nature turned the polar vortex back on for this morning’s ShamRock ‘n Roll 10K. In another tweak of cruel irony, the race is part of the Kona Running series – hardly a name that evokes sub-zero wind chills.

But I’d volunteered to pace it, so I pulled on two pairs of tights, slipped a green shirt over my Heater Hog and wind jacket, and headed to Kellogg Park in Plymouth. And to my surprise (well, not really) the turnout was as strong as ever and the costumes just as wild. There were so many runners that wave starts were used for both the 10K and 5K.

I warned you.

I warned you.

Larry, the pace organizer (among other duties) gave us some advice before the start. “We know there’s black ice out there,” he said. “So don’t worry so much about sticking to your time. Just line up in the proper spot and be safe out there.”

I was grateful he said that. Because I apparently wasn’t done paying for the great experience last week.

Cold - No problem - we're PR Fitness!

Cold? No problem – we’re PR Fitness!

For the first time in a Kona race, I paced solo. Usually Larry assigns two or three people per time, but understandably he was a few pacers short today. So I took the 52 minute sign and assumed my place in the starting queue. The horn sounded at 7:30 and off we went.

I started in the back of the first wave, so I had to work through the crowd for about a half mile to get to my target pace of 8:23 per mile. And just as I was settling in, my right shoe came untied. I’ve run with an untied shoe before – even set a 5K PR that way – and my hands were numb despite the double gloves, so I stuck it out a while.

By the end of mile 2 my hands had thawed, so I pulled over. Procedure: Put sign down. Take off two sets of gloves. Tie shoe, with double knot. Put gloves back on. Pick up sign. Resume running, faster, so I can catch up. This wasn’t a problem for me, but it meant I was passing a lot of people. “I thought you were [already] ahead of me,” a woman said as I went by.

Now I felt guilty; the runners around me may not have been as fast or as fit as I am, but they were working hard. It couldn’t have been encouraging to see a pacer pass them. But it was only until I got back on target. As the end of mile 4 approached, I was just about there – and then my left shoe came untied.

This time I stopped right away and duplicated the above routine, except for jamming on the gloves rather than fitting them on right. And I was determined not to embarrass more runners, so I lowered the sign and took off in a sprint. After a bit I glanced at my watch to see when to slow down – and it had shut off. Battery failure.

Bundled up but rarin' to go! The 5K starts.

Bundled up but rarin’ to go! The 5K starts.

Now there was nothing for it but to make it look good. So I slowed down and just winged it, and headed toward the finish line with head and sign held high. And after all that, I finished at the 53:26 mark. Given I’d crossed the start line over a minute after the gun, I was remarkably close to target. Maybe the cosmic spirit likes me after all.

Right afterward, someone came up to me. “Thanks for keeping the pace,” he said.

“Hey, no problem,” I replied.

Me with another famous "Shoelace", Denard Robinson. Taught him everything he knows about running with untied shoes.

Me with another famous “Shoelace”, Denard Robinson. Taught him everything he knows about running with untied shoes.

Pacer Chatter, and R.I.P. Chris Chataway

Chris Chataway. (Courtesy ewishamlegacy.wikidot.com Creative Commons license.)

Chris Chataway. (Courtesy lewishamlegacy.wikidot.com Creative Commons license.)

THE FOUR MINUTE MILE. Even today, doesn’t it still resonate as a symbol of the incredible things determined people can do? This May will mark 60 years since that time was first broken, and last Sunday one of the participants in that event, Sir Christopher Chataway, passed away at age 82.

Non-runners may not be familiar with Chataway, who competed in two Olympic games (1952 and 1956) and set world records in the three-mile and 5,000 meter distances. But perhaps his most famous contribution to running was as one of Roger Bannister’s pacers during his famous 3:59.4 mile run on May 6, 1954.

Why, you might ask, would top runners like Bannister want or need pacers? Primarily for discipline. Bannister planned his attempt carefully, setting a defined time for each quarter-mile lap. By following Brasher (first two laps) and then Chataway (third lap), Bannister was kept from starting too fast, thus preserving energy for the final lap and his famous finishing kick that allowed him to break four minutes.

Video of Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, with Chataway's help. Click to see it.

Video of Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, with Chataway’s help. Click to watch it.

As this Wikipedia article explains, the use of pacers for record-breaking attempts was controversial at the time. Many people believed that pacers were not providing real “competition” and there were restrictions on using them. But for most races, pacers are welcome. Marathons provide them for certain finishing times, and I am a regular pacer for the Kona series 10K races. In addition to a steady pace, we provide encouragement and motivation, and runners, and even spectators, thank us.

The "three amigos" at the 2013 Kona Run. (A spectator actually yelled at us, "Yay, sign people!")

The “three amigos” pacing the 2013 Kona Run. (A spectator actually yelled at us, “Yay, sign people!”)

I first heard of Chataway through Neal Bascomb’s book The Perfect Mile, which relates the quest of three incredibly talented runners – Bannister, Wes Santee, and John Landy – to be the first to break the four-minute mile. It’s a great story of persistence, dedication, and competition that you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy. I highly recommend it, and in particular the audio edition, which I got from our local library.

Chataway later became a member of Parliament and cabinet minister. He wound up running a sub-4:00 mile himself before retiring from competitive running in 1956. Later in life he appeared in a few events in a ceremonial fashion, and could still run under a six-minute mile at age 64. (By contrast, I have yet to run under a six-minute mile, but I’m working on it. I figure I’ve got at least 12 years to try.)


Coming up: Bigfoot Snowshoe Race recap, I learn how to pull the perfect espresso shot, and entering the magical and mystical world of triathlons.

Would You Run a Litter-Free Race?

This morning I ran the Wicked Halloween 10K in Plymouth, one of the Kona series of races that I volunteer for as a pacer. It’s a nice change to enjoy being part of a race without busting a$$ trying for a PR. And at the end you’re encouraging people to pass you. How fun is that?

Wicked pacers.

Wicked pacers.

Despite a chilly start, I enjoyed the event. My regular pace partner, Mike, and I breezed through our 52-minute assignment, and everyone there seemed to have a good time. A typical well-run local race, and I wouldn’t have anything to contribute by way of improvement – except for the cups scattered along the roadside at the water stations.

Races generate large amount of trash from cups and disposable water bottles. Most is handled through numerous trash cans and boxes throughout the area, and runners by and large are good at putting trash where it belongs, with one exception.

On the race course itself, runners typically grab offered cups of water and Gatorade without stopping, gulp them down on the run, and then throw the cups on the road, or off to the side. This is standard behavior, and if not ideal, is accepted and is dealt with through lots of volunteers. During the Chicago Marathon I even saw people standing at the aid stations with brooms, sweeping the trash off the road whenever they could. But I still had to step carefully at many stations to avoid slipping on cups, sponges, and other debris that 35,000 runners discard over the course of 26.2 miles.

Water stop at the Berlin Marathon (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Water stop at the Berlin Marathon (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Two recent experiences changed my perspective. At Run Woodstock, some runners left cups and other trash by the flags on the trails, where there were no volunteers to see it and pick it up. Then a recent post of the French Word-a-Day blog covered the subject. Kristin Espinasse, the author, writes about her experiences as an American married to a Frenchman and raising a family in France. Her husband recently completed his first triathlon, and look what happened: (excerpt edited)

Nearing [the finish line], Jean-Marc needed to dispose of one of those energy gel packs. Approaching one of the race volunteers, he flashed a winning smile and pitched the plastic tube to the side of the road. [A] race official, standing nearby and seeing the tail end of the exchange, held out a yellow card. Jean-Marc was sanctioned for littering!

(Read the entire article here to see the outcome.)

This is the first time I’ve heard about penalizing runners for littering during a race. But a little online research turned up a few efforts to minimize and/or eliminate race litter. For example, check out this article from the Mother Nature Network that describes what some marathons are doing to address the amount of waste associated with their events. And here is a video of a zero-trash water station at the Circular Logic Marathon, where every runner uses a refillable water bottle.

Circular Logic Marathon video

Have any readers been part of a “no-littering” race? What do you think of the idea? Would you support it? Please try the poll below, and/or comment – I’d like to know your thoughts.


P.S. The next race in the Kona series is the Chocolate Run on November 17. Hot chocolate, scones, chocolate chip cookies and premium Chocolate Fountain Fondues along with music in historic downtown Plymouth!

P.P.S. In addition to her posts, Kristin takes amazing photographs of French life and the other places in Europe she visits. Consider signing up for her email newsletter.