Should you follow the pacer at a Marathon?

By January 11, 2018 April 2nd, 2019 No Comments
Pacer timings

A niggling doubt that many runners have is, if they should match the pacer during a marathon in order to reach their goal time? Lets talk about why you should and shouldn’t with Nandini Reddy

To begin with let us understand what pacing means – Pacing is an average running pace associated with a particular event time goal. For example if you want to complete a full marathon in 3 hrs and 45 mins then you need to target a pace of 5.25 minutes per km.

At every marathon you are likely to meet the pacers with times scrawled behind their shirts or on the balloons tied to their waists. You also see a huge number of numbers tailing them even before the start point. The popularity of pace groups has increased over the past few years as more runners find it easier to follow a pacer. The promise of reaching the finish line in  goal time, is what has most runners hanging on to pacer groups.

Having said that there are still a few pros and cons that should be considered before you decide to latch on to a pacer during a marathon.


One of the biggest cons for running in pace groups is that there are too many people crowded around you. This chaos stays with you through the race, even at water stations. It is difficult to navigate and find a comfortable rhythm when you are running in a crowd. This leads to increased frustration and tempers and also many runners miss water stations because of the sheer number of people crowding the station from the groups. Missing a hydration interval can be detrimental to your pace when you are running a full marathon.

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Pacing on terrains

Flat surface runs with pacers is fairly simpler because all runners can see the pacer and follow him at an even pace. When terrains are peppered with uphill, curves and twists in the trail then it becomes very difficult to follow a pacer because their pace will also keep fluctuating. A novice runner may not be prepared to deal with this and it might end up demotivating them to finish the race in a given time.

Trying to keep up

Every runner doesn’t train with a group. There are many runners who train individually and when they latch on to a pacer, they try to adopt the rhythm of the pacer. This means that after training for weeks to find you own rhythm, you are now trying to imitate another runner’s rhythm on race day. That definitely cannot work in your favour! When runners begin their race with pacers they also tend to run too fast in the first few kilometres and get fatigued quickly.

Stalking a pace group

If you feel that you cannot handle the crowd and the fluctuating pace when you want to follow a pacer then you can follow a different strategy. Most pacers will either run in bright T-shirts or with helium balloons attached to them. Even if you are not in the middle of the pacing group, you can certainly see the pacer. You can stalk the pacing group from a distance so that you are comfortable with your running style and still get the advantage of having a reference on your timing.

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Group Motivation

Have you ever noticed that even when you train for a particular timing, on race day you always seem to do better? That happens a lot because of watching other runners around you. If you are a runner who thrives on group motivation then pacing groups are the place to be. The cheering from other runners will keep your spirits up and will constantly motivate you to finish the race.

Runners who train alone may not want to be in pace groups but running groups seem to prefer them more. It doesn’t matter what another runner does or recommends, go with your gut when it comes to finishing in goal timing.

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