By: Coach James Dodds
If you know me, then you know I have 5 loves in life. Here they are listed in order: Jordan Dodds, LeBron James (yes, I know how that makes you feel and that’s why I am reminding you of it), Running, Coaching, and as of last year Pacing. I’m only gonna talk about #5. The 1st I plan to take a lifetime expressing, the 2nd you wouldn’t listen for even a second (in fact I think some have already stopped reading because I made mention), and the 3rd and 4th have given birth to the 5th. So pacing is the topic and how I shared it in good company will be the focus.
I cannot talk about the pacing experience by starting with race day. It is more than that. It starts early and it builds with anticipation. Knowing the date is coming means I have to stay in shape. It is not as though I train specifically for this race but decisions are definitely made. I have had a little pain in my plantar and I had to manage that. I considered taking a few weeks off and letting it heal but I enjoy the pacing experience too much to pass the chance. So I had to run only enough to stay in shape but not too much to exacerbate the nag. But it’s not just the anticipation from a fitness perspective. There was a build up among the team.
A few months before race date Paul started sending the emails and the whole “reply all” with jokes started. Then we had the team happy hour at Hops & Grain and Josh was serving up IPAs and Paul was giving out hugs and sweet swag donated by Conley Sports, Nike, Road I.D., and of course the LIVESTRONG Marathon itself. I was so excited about my gear! I wore it so often that Meredith started questioning my hygiene (stop judging me Meredith!). I talked with Colin about the summers he spent in my hometown (small world kinda moment). I got to know Dan better and Josh was serving up IPAs. I spoke with the bearded men, Paul and Bryan, about how their epic running journeys began. We all sat, talked and joked and Josh was serving up IPAs. I left happy, thinking, “I am in good company.” Runners are a great breed! They are a people who constantly challenge themselves in some form or fashion and if they are pacing then they probably like people and like chatting … so to say the least I was in good company.
Then the weekend finally came and it was EXPO time. When I walked into the room I could feel the energy. People were buzzing around, some frantic, some calm, some confused, some ecstatic, all knowing the moment was upon us and we would get to put ourselves up against the marathon yet again. We pacers had our own booth and we were in charge of fielding questions and handing out pace bands. Many wanted to know how we would approach pacing the course, even splits or tactically, how to find us on race day, and the best were those who looked at the pace bands perplexed asking, “What are these and are they free?” Moments in between answering questions I learned that Frank is running his 200th-ish marathon and we reflected on how great his Frankenthon Marathon was this past fall. I talked to Syd about how she likes running 100 milers for fun, and Jordan was over my left shoulder asking Adam how he met his wife … that’s Jordan! Then we took the stage and Fred opened up like a full time public speaker and started rattling off jokes, information for the runners and introductions to the pacers. James and Patrick had these great Cat in the Hat outfits and Patrick read off this poem that would make Dr. Suess himself quite jealous. He has an accent so it would really make the Doc jealous. We all laughed and yet again I thought “I am in good company. “
Finally it was race day and the excitement reached its pinnacle. We all gathered in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel for a team photo and one last check in with Paul. Carolina and Tzatzil were decked out in heir infamous pink hats and I gave a few high fives to Clea and Korrie. We headed out the door through the allies and to the pack of thousands. Nothing is sweeter than walking into that pack of people who have worked so hard to get there. They’re so happy to meet you. Furthermore, I have had the privilege of coaching 60 athletes for this race and many were lined up in my starting coral. We took pictures and talked about tackling this race. They had no fear. Butterflies? Sure. Fear? Nope! They were ready. They wanted this fight and as the day played out a fight they gave! I wish I would camp out on another 10-page blog about each one of their stories because every time I am with them I know I am in good company.
The gun went off and we started out the chute. We encouraged all to remain calm and relax en route to Congress and up her hills. Down South First I had to make my pit stop and feared never catching my group. I always have those damn pit stops. I was sprinting away from the bathroom and Ruth and Steve saw me without a sign or pace group. I felt the need to explain and then sprinted on. All played out though and I cannot express how much energy you could feel running through the LIVESTRONG cheer station. I kept raising my hands like a rock star because that is exactly how they made you feel. As we looped around mopac and said bye to the half marathoners it was bitter sweet. They provided great company and energy but we knew their mission was to finish there and we had our own to complete. We gave a loud farewell and told them to kick then and not save anything. They yelled and clapped for us and then the silence set in.
The regrouping occurred on Enfield. We determined who was with us to the end and formed a tighter pack. We were 55 seconds ahead of pace as we started down Exposition and all agreed to give a little time back through the hills. We coasted through easily and were so excited to see Corey and Bobby. The pack was strong through Shoal Creek and I could feel another great silence setting in as we turned onto Great Northern. I made a wide turn asking Jordan to stay in front. I picked up the rear and talked loudly. That was our section to remember why we came. Silence was not an option down Great Northern’s loop. I told them to talk out loud even if to themselves and to laugh at themselves for doing so. Pictured here is the majority of our pack. My smile is sincere and the people around us are the true reason for my title to this blog:
Pacing gives you an opportunity to peak into the lives of so many unique and telling stories from everyday, great people. The runner in the far right just moved to Austin from New York and originally from the Carolinas. He fell in love with our culture here and said he is struggling to keep up with the Sunday Fundays in Austin. He will learn 😉 In the far back and right in a red shirt is a guy named Bryan who I just met this Friday at 7@7. He was pacing his little brother to his first marathon finish. Behind Jordan’s right shoulder is a man in a yellow shirt. I wish I knew his name. He told me of his struggle through the Rogue 30K and how we lifted his spirits to the end. He held with us through this race and when I saw his shoulders slouch at mile 24 I patted his back saying, “Your stuck with me now. You have landed more punches and the fight is yours …. Your just waiting for the bell.” He finished ahead of us and I was overjoyed to give him the 4:25 flag. The runner in the blue shirt and black hat behind me finished exactly on pace and never quit fighting. I loved shaking his hand and looking him square in the eye post race with that sense of knowing. No words needed to be exchanged. The two on my left shoulder I am most proud of. Malinda, in the grey, kept form all day, even holding the flag when Jordan had to make her pit stops (there were two .. sorry to throw you under the bus, babe). We ran shoulder-to-shoulder across North Loop and over to Duvall. She seemed strong enough to be a pacer herself. When she gave Jordan back her flag, she slowly ran ahead of us fading from our site and closing her race with strength and pride. We looked for her and so badly wanted to give her Jordan’s pace flag but she was too far ahead of us. Lastly, I will tell you of Gio. He is in the green shirt sitting tightly on my left shoulder. He is a man who has lost over 100lbs. He fights for his health and existence. Yesterday was his second marathon and he delivered a 40-minute PR. He is training for the Cap 10K and will surely drop huge results. Don’t be surprised to see him pacing and coaching and running for years to come. He is only 23 years old. I can tell he has the staying power for the sport and in 10 years who knows what kind of times he will deliver. For now he shows the commitment and consistency to distance running that it takes to be something special. His story is young and yet already special. I cannot wait to see what he does down the road. For now, I am happy to say I paced him through the LIVESTRONG marathon and each time we run together I am in good company.
In closing I would like to say that pacing is truly a privilege. I am thankful to know the pacing team. I am thankful to our sponsors. I am thankful for Paul’s leadership. I am most thankful that my wife was willing to pace with me. No blog will ever do the experience justice. I do hope to pass on a glimpse of my appreciation but my story is but a microcosm of all that occurred yesterday. Many will have their own telling of their experience. Many finished their first race or PRd. Some will take that experience and apply it to who they are and who they want to be as a person. And that is why I love running and coaching and pacing … Because when I am doing any of them “I am in good company.”
These are some of my peeps that love training for marathons. We are about to start training for PRs in the 5K and 10K and you are welcome to come join us.