Also in October's issue of Runner's World is a great article on Pace Groups. The article titled, Party at My Pace, is an excellent account of the benefit of planning a pace strategy and having help maintaining it whether you are new to marathons or have run several. It's a good read. Remember only 1% of the population has completed this distance. What an accomplishment. To get there however, you need to use all available strategies. Pace Groups (groups that run together to reach the finish at a certain goal time) are one of those strategies that I highly recommend.
The article by John Hanc gives the following statistics: 30% of marathon participants run in a pace group, the 4:00 pace group tends to be the largest with 3:10 being the smallest, 38 is the median years of age of participants of the groups, and 69% have completed one or more marathons. These statistics are based on Clif Bar's Pace Team in 10 marathons.
There are however options. I like to put Pace Groups into three categories. A sponsored pace group like Clif Bar, a group that you form on your own probably a small or large group of running buddies, and solo with a pace band or watch.
The sponsored pace groups are really great. They are led by experienced runners that will virtually guarantee the finish time that you sign up for. During some of my early marathons I ran with several pace groups from Clif Bar and reached my goal time without any problem. They are entertaining and also release you from having to know exactly what pace you are running at a given point. They really make the race go fast.
My favorite pace group is running with my running buddies. We can all have the pace bands on and help each other along the way because we know what each other needs in a variety of situations. That has been the most fantastic experience of my running marathons and ultras. I treasure the time I have run with groups of friends from a group of 2 to 10. The support is extremely valuable as well as challenging. I think you are in more control of the situation if you run with your buddies. I have great memories of running with "the group" in several races and anticipate more great times in the marathons and ultras that I have scheduled coming up soon. Of course not everyone is as lucky to have a group of friends travel to marathons and ultras with them. So there is another option.
Running solo, is another option, with a pace band provided by online sources, expo sponsors, or a Garmin or other product is also a choice to keep you on pace. Many individuals choose this option and do very well. It all depends on what you are looking for in your race strategy.
There are some things to do and not do in a pace group as mentioned in the article. Don't arrive at the race late and attempt to find your pace group. If you are depending on running with them and can't find them this can be very upsetting at the start of your race. Don't expect the group to cater to your needs. Some of these groups at the large marathons will have quite a few people in them and they aren't going to stop for you if have do the restroom thing...but don't panic about that, slowly try and catch up to the group. They all carry signs and balloons and/or wear recognizable clothes. Don't run ahead of your pace group. "If you want to lead the pack, leave the pack". It can be very frustrating to the other runners if you are trying to prove your super strength. Do make sure you are in the right pace group with a time that is a reasonable goal for you. Do take clues from the other runners in your pace group and learn from their strategies and needs. Also, do give the pace group leader space. It does no good to be the "teacher's pet" in this case.
So there you have it. Three options for pace groups for you upcoming marathons and ultras. Pick one or come up with your own. Remember, your race strategy is important to your success!
Forward we go! May your roads and trails be happy and safe!