Some marathon competitors use pacers to run a specific time.
Sara Kauss/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
A pacer runs at a pre-determined speed in a race, typically a long-distance event. Other runners follow or stay with the pacer, to ensure that they're running at their desired speed. A good pacer must be a steady, consistent runner who is focused on maintaining his speed and helping other runners realize their goals.
Long-distance pacers try to run marathons or other distance events within a specific time frame. Some marathons, for example, feature several pacers aiming for different times, potentially ranging from a bit less than three hours up to five or six hours. Runners join the pacer's group at the start and follow the pacer throughout the race. The pacer tries to run even splits, moving at the same speed from start to finish. The pacer checks his time regularly and makes any necessary adjustments if he's running too fast or slow. You can expect the pacer to be an experienced runner who's ready to give advice along the way or simply encourage others and motivate them to finish the race.
Running with a Pacer
Running a distance race with a pacer allows you to focus exclusively on your running, without having to expend any mental energy on your pace. You just keep your eyes on the pacer, focus on your running form and listen to your body. If you've set a goal to run a race in a certain time, for example, running with a pacer ensures that you'll meet your goal, as long as you can keep up with your target runner. If you're new to distance running, a pacer can give you quick advice on a variety of subjects while you're running, such as how much to drink along the way or how to maneuver hills and the course's turns.
Professional Distance Pacers
Some major, competitive marathons or other long-distance races hire pacemakers for the benefit of the race's fastest runners. These pacers set the tempo that the top runners request, which is often one that the pacers can't sustain for the entire distance. The pacers then drop out about midway through the race, leaving the elite runners on their own. Some major races, such as the Boston Marathon, do not permit pacing.
On the professional track and field circuit, pacers are occasionally hired to help an athlete break a world record. As with the professional distance pacer, this type of pacer -- commonly known as a вЂњrabbitвЂќ -- runs about half the race at a speed he can't maintain for the full distance. But the elite runner who follows him benefits by not having to calculate his pace during the first half of the race. When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mark for the mile in 1954, he famously used two pacers -- Chris Brasher during the first half of the race and Chris Chataway during part of the second.