I took a new approach to the OKC Memorial Half Marathon this weekend. Several years ago when I didn't run the race, I volunteered at the expo and had a great time. I decided this year I wanted to help out again, to help others enjoy and have a wonderful marathon experience.
I started the weekend out on Saturday helping out at the Red Coyote booth at the expo. It was a lot of fun to talk to racers as they wandered around the expo - and I enjoyed helping out the running store the sponsors the race team.
The real job started early on Sunday morning however. I decided instead of trying to race the half marathon while still getting myself back into running shape that I would pace a half marathon group and help someone else achieve their goals while I continued my comeback. I decided on the 2:30 group so that I would be able to take it really slow since I still hadn't run 13 miles straight without stopping. Decked out in my very neon orange pacer jersey I headed downtown at 4:30 in the morning. After meeting up with the rest of the group we headed over to the starting corrals. It's been a long time since I've run a race at this pace and it felt weird to head so far back in the corrals, but once we got back there the excitement of all the first time half marathons and those looking to achieve a pace goal for the first time was contagious. After a moving 168 seconds of silence we were off.
I enjoy the new route through downtown that has us running straight towards the Devon tower, it's a cool view in the early morning light. I was worried about being able to keep the slower pace, worried about speeding up to much along the way, about wearing out the runners with us, or not coming in on time. I don't think I have focused on the time coming from my Garmin this much in years. I was constantly fiddling with it, making sure we were running the right splits, trying speed up on the flats, and take it easy on the hills. I also wanted to make sure that everyone running knew what was coming up so I tried to yell out water stops, turns, and obstacles (like hills) coming up. I had a great pacing partner who kept the conversation going and talked to several of the people with us. I think the first 7 miles, the hardest in my opinion, went by very well and all our runners looked great. Around mile 8 I realized that we were a little behind pace because of how much extra I had run along the course weaving in and out. I had to increase the pace just a little to get us back on track, but luckily the second half of the course was fairly flat.
The real job started around mile 10.5 when our runners started hitting the wall. Yelling out encouragement, miles left, one more turn this way, last water stop helped to keep everyone focused. I'm so proud of one of my runners who several times wanted to give up and stop and just when I figured we had lost her I would turn around and she would be back at my side, made me feel awesome! At the final turn to the 1/2 mile straight-away to the finish I just started encouraging everyone around me to finish strong and do what they needed to finish. It was joyous crossing the finish line and seeing everyone so excited to hit their goal.
It was an amazing feeling this weekend - as wonderful as it feels to hit your own PR at a race, it is just as amazing to see someone else hit theirs and know you helped the achieve it against all odds. I would pace another race in a heartbeat - it was a wonderful weekend!