My job: To run even splits of 6:22 per mile for a 2:47:00 marathon to pace the U.S. elite women looking to qualify for the Olympic trials.
The race: Haile Gebrselassie, who now – as Adeel puts it – holds the world record for the fastest non-joggling marathon, was there to pace the men's leaders through 10 miles. I saw him at the start but didn't get a chance to talk to him. I was too busy focusing on the task at hand.
I got the small group of elite women through the first mile in just over 6:30. After that, some pulled ahead a bit and I tried to run even splits. At the half I was behind by about a minute, which I had lost with a few slower miles early on.
At about 17 miles, I regained the exact pacing for 2:47 and stuck with it for the rest of the race. There were hopeful trials-qualifiers with me at various points of the race, and it pained me when I had to let them go, but this train had to keep it moving.
Holding onto those 6:22 miles proved to be more of a challenge than I expected because there was a fierce headwind for last five miles. I was carrying a pacing sign that said "2:47" that produced some serious wind drag and I had been using up a lot of energy encouraging and talking to other runners along the way, so I was really fighting it in the last few miles.
With one mile to go, I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep up the pace. It was going to very close. Then I as approached the finish line, I heard the announcer yell: "Here's the 2:47 pacer, and look at this, he's going to be in at EXACTLY 2:47!!! How perfect a pacer is that?!"
Sure enough, the clock struck 2:47:00 as my foot hit the mat. It was a great feeling to get that one right on, but I wished the two women behind me could've been there with me. Laurie Knowles ran a 2:47:46, but she had qualified already in another race. I was really hoping that another top American runner, Marybeth Reader, would make in under 2:47. She made a valiant effort to fight through the wind, but I had to leave her at about Mile 22 and she finished in 2:50.
I can barely walk today. My legs are feeling the effects of two tough marathons only three weeks apart, but the Detroit pacing experience was something to remember.