Prairie Fire: A Pacer’s Story

Do you ever have something on your bucket list that you accomplish and cross off, but you loved the experience so much that you immediately add it back to the list?

Pace Prairie Fire Half Marathon.
Pace Prairie Fire Half Marathon AGAIN!

I do not race well in the spring. My body isn’t acclimated to the heat that often surprises Kansas the first week of May. So Mr. Neon and I begged Lacy to let us pace.

The 2:30 group was already taken, so we opted for the 3:00 group. 13:44 pace. I’m going to admit that I was concerned about going that “slow.” I use quotes because I have respect for all runners…the speedsters and the back of the pack. But honestly…13:44 is slow for me. My training has really picked up lately, and my usual training pace for long runs is right under 10:00. I was worried about keeping a nice even jog. I didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s race plans!

The morning routine was the same. Breakfast: coffee and bagel with PB. No decision on what tank to wear.

Mr. Neon called me Friday at work. “I’m going to send you a picture, but you have to promise not to cry.” He sent me this picture. The tanks were purple and pink for my mom and her fight against pancreatic cancer and another pacer’s wife who is fighting breast cancer. I didn’t fulfill my promise. Big tears. My mom felt loved. VERY loved.

Dream team…eat your heart out! We wore party hats because it was Fernando’s birthday. Mr. Neon wore his the entire race.

And we’re off. Right before the gun went off, I told Mr. Neon that I needed to pee. He said, “You’ll have plenty of time.”

We shuffled our way through the first two miles around Friends University. The stories started flowing. I ran with a retired Sargent Major in the Army. He is 65 and has done 58 marathons. He told me he’d quit when he does 100. Mr. Neon ran with a man from Germany. He was in Wichita visiting friends and signed up for the race the day before. His accent was fun. I ran with a library patron who brings her children to my storytime. We spent the first four miles staring at each other trying to figure out where we knew each other from.

I took a potty break at mile 2. We walked through aid stations. We ran with several first time half marathoners. They didn’t know about salt tabs or gels. We talked about race strategy, training plans, and Galloway. One of our runners had a blister. Note to self: next time pack the extra sticky big bandaids in my spibelt. One of our runners needed her blood sugar checked. We flagged down the EMTs.

We enjoyed the out and back and cheered for the speedsters and had sword fights with our other pacers. I got scolded for not staying with my pace group. I hollered for a sharpie. I’d change my goal time to 2:55.

We cruised through the first five aid stations and then the heat hit. The breeze stopped. The runners around us stopped talking. I could tell the struggle bus had arrived for passengers. I kept my nutrition and BASE salt plan the same as my faster paces. But at mile 10 my stomach wobbled. Seriously? I’m running the easiest pace I could run and my stomach is cramping?! I sipped water at the next aid station and took an extra hit of BASE salt. Crisis averted. Mr. Neon passed his third GU off to another runner. Note to self: pack two extra GUs next time.

More than once, I’d come up behind someone, only to see them turn, groan at me, and dash ahead. Mr. Neon and I were not a welcome sight with our 3:00 flags, but at the same time, I could tell they were glad we were there.

Mile 11 through 12 were long. We passed people whose race days had fallen apart. Sore feet, bad knees, cramping calves…we encouraged them all. The end was in sight. There was pizza and beer waiting. And a big shiny medal.

The smile says it all. I had the time of my life out there!

We rounded the corner and all that was left was the Lewis St. bridge. Mr. Neon and I kept hollering at people. We waved our sticks. Up and over and there’s the finish. I looked down at my watch and saw the 3:00 tick over. I grabbed Mr. Neon’s hand and we rushed for the finish line. We had pulled everyone with us that we could.

Lacy met us at the finish line and asked us how we felt. I think I said, “That was the best half I’ve ever run!”

And it was. Of course, my quads are sore. They feel like I ran downhill for 13.1 miles. The slow cadence on my Garmin data tells me that’s accurate. My left shin is cranky. Pacing is not without it’s aches and pains. My Trigger Point massage ball is doing its job.

My body is sore, but my heart is happy. Running is good…no matter what the pace. 3:00 half marathoners…you all are my heroes. It was a tough day. That last hour was hot, but you did it! And I’m glad I was there to witness it!

Stay neon!

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Author: Hannah

Wife. Mom. Librarian. Runner. Lover of Neon.

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