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How to be a good parkrun pacer

parkrun pacer event tips

This blog is not about getting faster at parkrun, if that is what you are looking for check out my free 'How to PB parkrun' guide here.

A lot of parkrun have pacers at some of their events, some try and do one a month where others less frequent.

The impact of pacers at parkrun is explained in the blog I wrote here, technically we can all pace ourselves but there is something about seeing another runner with a number of their back to spur you along.

The impact of using a pacer really supports my view and training approach that the mind is more powerful than the body! Hence why all of my training programmes come with a component of mindset work, not the woo hoo kind, but if most elite athletes have sports psychologists, I think the average, recreational runners should at least have some awareness of it and do some work on it!

If you’ve paced before you’ll probably know it’s pretty nerve wracking, you’ve been asked to do a job to hit a certain time, other runners are relying on you. This is why I’ve put together the following guide on how to be a good parkrun pacer, it’s worth noting all the concepts work for other distances. If you enjoy the tips and advice below please share this page on social media.

How to be a good parkrun pacer

Picking your time.

When asked to be a pacer make sure you pick a time you know you can comfortably do, I would suggest at least 2 minutes slower than what you find relatively easy. As an example, if your current best effort is 27 mins and you can comfortable run it in 28 mins, I would recommend doing at least 30 mins.

Know the course

This sounds obvious, but I mean have a really really good knowledge of the course, it is really helpful, if you’ve never done the course you don’t want to find you’ve got a massive hill in the last mile that is going to be a struggle.

I’d recommend you run the route yourself first so that you know what your GPS measures the course at.

Don’t do it injured

Again sounds obvious, but if you are fast runner and you have a niggle you may be tempted to pace at a much slower pace than you are used to! There is nothing worse following a pacer who has to pull out due to injury, trust me I know!

How to actually pace:

Plan your strategy

Choose how you are going to run it, e.g. are you aim for consistent pacing or slower start and faster second half (negative splits) or vice versa with a faster start and a slower second half.

Personally I think as a pace you should be trying to run consistently as other runners will be following you, unless you’ve communicated your approach they won’t know what’s going on, I.e. if you go off too fast and they are aware of their time/effort, they’ll think you are mad going off to fast and won’t go with you or if you go off to slow they’ll think you need to get a move on and crack on ahead!

During the run

Hopefully you’ll be using a GPS watch like a Garmin, if not check out the failsafe section below, even if you are using a GPS do not ignore the failsafe method below, it’ll pretty much guarantee you’ll nail your target time!

On your GPS I recommend being able to see:

  • Time

  • Distance

  • Lap Pace or Average Pace

If using a Garmin, within settings you can choose how many data fields you can see, select 3, so you can see these above.

You’ll need to work out what pace you need to run at to hit your target.

If working in miles this will be Target time divided by 3.1

If working in KM this will be Target time divided by 5

Remember when dividing a time you’ll need to work out what the seconds are, E.g if aiming for 25 mins, dividing by 3.1 gives you 8.06, this is NOT 8 mins and 6 secs, you will need to times the 0.06 by 60 to give you 3.87 seconds, so it’s 8 mins 3.87 seconds per mile.

Make sure you check what your watch is set to as you can be measuring distance in KM but then pace in minutes per mile!

The difference between lap pace and average pace:

Lap pace is the average pace for that lap (where lap is 1 mile or 1 km depending on your settings). I like to think of it as a current predictor of that current mile (or KM) regardless of where you are in that mile, e.g. you could be 30 seconds into that mile or 4 mins into that mile and it will show you what that mile is likely to be. Incidentally I like to have ‘last lap pace’ on my second screen (the screen if you press the down button when in the middle of the run) incase you miss the lap time flash up.

Average pace is the average pace since the start!

I prefer using lap pace, it is is a bit more work but I like that you can either bank seconds or make up seconds after each mile (or KM)

Failsafe Method

Right the problem with the above is that you GPS watch will probably measure the course differently each time, especially if there is a lot of trees overhanging the course.

Let’s say you are trying to do 30 mins parkrun.

So let’s say this time we are aiming for 30 mins, we divide by 3.1 to get the mile pace time 9 mins 41 seconds.

If on our watch it’s says that we are running 9 mins 41 seconds we think we are doing perfectly well, BUT that day the GPS measures the course at 5.03 km, this that it’ll take you over the 30 mins, i.e. at 5km on your watch (which is actually short) is 30 mins so by the time you do the extra you are over 30 mins! Pacing Failed!!

So how to avoid this (there are two failsafe methods…)

  1. Know exactly where each KM mark is, this means you only need to know the time at which you should be passing, you may want to know where the 4.5km mark as well to check you are on track in the final KM!

  2. Knock a few seconds off your target time, don’t go mad here because again those around you that are using you may be working accurately but aiming for 10-20 seconds less than your target time, will reduce the risk of your GPS measuring the course too long.

Finally, a small tip but make sure you start you watch when they say go (gun time) not when you cross the start line, as this is what people’s results will be based on. When doing a larger event with chip timing then the opposite applies and you should start your watch as your cross the start line.

I hope that has help, please share this post as know it’s settle some of the nerves of some first time pacers.

Let me know if you’ve utilised these tips or is if there is anything else you’d add?

Here is the link again if you are looking to improve your parkrun time to download my free 'How to PB parkrun' guide. It includes my full approach to training.


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