Does pacing equal cheating?

First of all–wow–you guys love a good party! Thanks for all the nice comments. After that kind of response it was hard to think of a good follow-up, but I think I have one. To me, this is a pretty juicy topic.

Not long ago, I offered to pace someone through a half-marathon in order to achieve a PR. She decided not to run it, so it didn’t become an issue. But after I put that offer out there, it occurred to me–did I just offer to help her cheat?

I am definitely conflicted on this. On the one hand, many marathons have sanctioned pacers to help people achieve their desired goal. Is this any different because it’s just one person helping out another? I would have entered the race, btw, because other than at Boston, where it’s widely accepted, I’m not a fan of bandits.This wasn’t a marathon, so I wasn’t going to be helping someone BQ. But…

The flip side is that it’s probably not really fair to other competitors. What if my pacing this woman cost someone a placement in their age group? If one of my competitors did that to me, I’d probably be a bit ticked. Plus, in the end, the competitor who has the pacer has to question whether or not they could have done this time without someone’s help–probably not a fun one to wrestle with, I’m guessing.

So I don’t know. I do love helping others with their running when I’m qualified to do so. I’ve actually tossed a half marathon before because I came upon a friend who was really struggling in the midst of her marathon on the same course. But that’s different–I wasn’t pacing her for time, just giving her encouragement to get through a really bad day (and she’s faster than me anyhow!). I still like the idea of pacing someone to a PR, but I’m kind of thinking it’s a no-no.

What do you think of pacing others in a race?

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  1. Barefoot AngieB says

    Thats a tough one and I am not sure how I feel about it.
    On one hand the person running is still racing whether they have a buddy or not and anyone could have one. Its not like the pacer is carrying you, just encouraging. If you wanted to sit down and say "eff this I am done" the pacer can't do much about it or any other scenario.
    Would it mean that a garmin is cheating since its kind of a pacer too?
    I don't yet have a Garmin and have never had a pacer friend other than at the half marathon in a pace group.
    It will be interesting to see what others say.

  2. KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) says

    I think it is widely accepted, of course, as long as you aren't a bandit and you've paid to run the race. The Kenyan runners all have someone pacing them for much of a marathon. There are official pacing groups in marathons. I think it's cool and if, as an individual like yourself helping another runner hold a certain pace, it's a goodwill gesture not cheating at all.

  3. Ewa says

    Roger Bannister had pacers when he ran faster than 4min for one mile. A record that at the time was hailed impossible to achieve. So that was OK. Now elites are not allowed electronic devices on long runs (marathons and such) so they would not be receiving pacing info. But Tour de France does allow devices for contact with the crew (or have they changed that rule?)
    My opinion would be – no pacing. Stand on your own two feet. But I will not be arguing about it too much.

  4. ShutUpandRun says

    I see NOTHING wrong with pacing. After all, the runner with the goal still has to get there on their own two feet, ultimately. No one can do that for you, not even the best and most motivating pacer. I don't think I'd feel resentful about someone beating me in a race b/c they had a pacer. We all have that option.

  5. Keri says

    Hmmm this is a tough one…honestly…I also think it is okay. I mean, they still have to be able to keep up with you…you can't do the running for them. When I first got my garmin I actually felt like I was almost cheating (its so silly to think about now, but thats how I felt!). I agree that you should also be entered into the race and not banditing. People run together all the time and so many marathons offer pacers these days.

  6. LMC says

    This is a tough one and it's a slippery slope. For instance, if a pacer is not OK, then is a coach also not OK? A coach does not run with you, but they helped you throughout your training. So, one could say you have an advantage over someone who did not pay a coach. I would not ask someone to pace me, but I think I might be willing to be a pacer for someone (assuming I could actually help them run faster and that's questionable). Provocative post!!

  7. Molly says

    hmmmmm, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. If they didn't have it in them to go that fast, then they wouldn't be running.

    You know what DOES bug me? When I run with someone, and pace them, then they smoke me at the end!

  8. Running and living says

    I've never paced anyone in a race; I would be too worried to mess up, not do a good job, etc! I think pacing is fine as long as it does not interfere with an AG or overall award. I think helping someone BQ is fine, because really you don't BQ against someone else. If there was a rule about "not pacing", then I'd say, everyone should follow it. Oh, and I am for paying and pacing. I don;t think anyone should run as a bandit!

  9. Pam F. says

    I'm with the majority on this one. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. A pacer can't make you do any more than you've conditioned yourself to do.

  10. Rad Runner says

    Juicy!- good JOB!
    The way I see it… If someone has it in them.. If their legs take them that far, that fast.. Where is the cheating? If you are there to tell the little train I think YOU can I think YOU can.. Then all is good in the hood!

  11. Marathonman101108 says

    I don't see a problem with it, as long as you're a registered runner in the race. As you know, their are pacers for marathons. Besides, as others have said, she still has to keep up with you.

  12. Amanda - RunToTheFinish says

    nahh who is to say what your pace should or could be on a given day. And running is all about the bonds we form, so doing it with friends makes it all the merrier


    I don't think it is cheating at all. As long as you are registered it's A-OK. Just think you could find someone in the crowd and latch on to them and they could be unknowingly pacing you. I think we generally are affected by those around us. Running with a faster group will make you faster and vice versa … I think it's all good …

  14. ajh says

    I've never thought of it as cheating at all and was surprised at the concept. You are not running for them. They have to be able to do it. I agree with the no bandit but pacing is fine.

  15. Happy Feet 26.2 says

    I do not think it's cheating at all. The one being paced still has to make it through the race on their own speed and desire. I don't even think it's wrong to be paced and win an award over someone who is not paced. The paced runner still had to run that speed to win, and the non paced runner did not run as fast on that day.

    Good topic!

  16. Jon says

    My thinking is its not cheating. You aren't pushing or pulling the other runner are you? The other runner is doing the entire race under his/her own power? I think that person could probably achieve the same result by hitting the lap button every mile to gauge speed and pace…won't be as easy, but its possible and lot of people can PR merely with the lap button.

    Good question!

  17. Julie says

    I am on the same page as my little bro Jon:) I do not think that there is anything wrong with pacers. Sometimes newer runners don't have the pacing thing down and it is challenging to get things flowing right. I am a good example of a new runner who loved when I was able to run with far only two. I attempted to stay with them…it was me doing the work….they didn't carry me across the finish line:) When I get better and more seasoned…I will most likely give back and help someone else out too:)

    Great topic:)

  18. RockStarTri says

    My first thought was that there was nothing wrong with it but then I thought some more.

    Historically there was a lot of debates on this when Roger Bannister was going for the 4 min mile. They took down some of the records since they used pacers. So, it is ok for the pack but not for elites? I really don't know.

    Good question.

  19. Sarah says

    I have never thought of pacing as cheating. Is it too much different than me wearing my Garmin to keep me on track for my pace? It isn't as if you are carrying the person. I do see your point of view and you definitely present some interesting and thought-provoking ideas.

  20. Erica says

    hmmmm I have never thought of it like this!! I will have to contemplate and get back to you!

    Have a great weekend

  21. MCM Mama says

    I don't think it's cheating. The runner is still the one doing the work. I don't even care if it affects AG standings or whatever. If the pacer wins an award and so does the person they ran with, so what? They both ran the race. And they both likely ran it faster than me…

  22. Anne says

    I can't really give an opinion since I've never even raced. However, I have read LOTS of blog posts that include pacing someone or being paced by someone and it seems very accepted. It never even occured to me that it could be considered cheating.

  23. AM-GoalsfortheWeek! says

    ooh, this is a good topic!!!
    at first (~3 yrs ago) I really was against personally using anyone to pace me. my own trainer offered to pace me, and i thought of it as cheating.
    but now, with more racing experiences, i'm cool with pacing. i've been passed by plenty o peeps who clearly had a pacer and i hated them in the moment, but I had my own DH pace me for a 10k last year that was (then) a new PR. If you got the resources, then clearly you care enough for the time…so go for it;-)

    but i could be swayed…again..great topic!!

  24. Petraruns says

    Is it too late for me to RSVP? WOuld still love to come – the ash cloud is apparently no longer a problem. Nice timing..

    But wow – good topic. NEver considered that it might be cheating actually. I mean you've still got to run the thing right? I use my Garmin to pace me – is that so different?

  25. Johann says

    I think it's fine as well. I don't think the runners doing sub 2:07 marathons will run slower if there weren't any pacers in the race. If you can help someone in any way, go for it, they still do all the work.

  26. Jennifer says

    Never really thought of that, but being such a beginner and a slow one at that I had not really even considered a pacer, unless crawling is accepted! Good post and I'll keep thinking on it.

  27. Big Daddy Diesel says

    Thats a tough one, the triathlete in me knows we can draft or pace, but the cyclist in me knows the importance of working as a team, even though the team doesnt get the time, the individual does. This one I with you and conflicted on it.

  28. blissfulrunner says

    In no way do I see pacing as a form of cheating. Some people use carefully chosen songs programed into thier ipod to keep them on pace, some rely on the crowd to keep their motivation high with friends and family scattered throughout the course – especially at mile points where they know they will have a tough time. Any experienced racer knows what works for them to help them achieve their goal and ultimately, they can't achieve anything if they haven't trained their body for it. Kudos for you though for really considering this from everyone's perspective though – very selfless of you. :)

  29. Teamarcia says

    I see nothing wrong with pacing either. Garmins 'pace' you as well, whether you choose to follow. Most marathons have pace groups, you're still doing all the work yourself and getting in. I say it's not cheating.

  30. Tricia says

    I don't see anything wrong with it. Even is someone is pacing you, you're still the one running and putting in the work.

  31. Viper says

    I think it only becomes an issue of the person being paced is challenging for money prizes. If everyone has the benefit of the pacer throughout the race, then it's fair. I wouldn't have a problem if it's just for a PR. People get awfully cranky when money is involved.

  32. Terry Lonergan says

    I witnessed the most blatent example of unfair pacing in the Malta Marathon in 1986. I was in 4th closing down on a local runner who was in 3rd place. A large group of cyclists overtook me, caught up their local friend, surrounded him and "escorted" him for the last 13 miles to the finish shielding him from the wind. They basically encouraged him to run himself into the ground. On finishing he lay on
    his back for a long time afterwards; his wife and child in great distress. He held on to 3rd winning several prizes including a holiday in England. As 4th I received nothing! I certainly felt cheated on that occasion.

  33. ModernMom says

    Oh it wouldn't matter if you paced me baby. I'd still have to be able to keep up with you for it to matter:)

  34. Laura says

    I don't see any problem with it, like someone above already said (sorry can't remember who!) the person still has to get there on their own two feet and they still have to be able to do it.. essentially garmins would also be kind of cheating if pacing was as they allow you to monitor your pace..

  35. Evolv Rose says

    I don't think it's cheating, and I don't think you're "robbing" anyone else of her place, either. If you pay for your entry like everyone else, then you earn your place regardless of HOW you run, even if you're just helping a buddy out.

  36. Beth says

    Terry above makes a good point that if you are blocking for the person, it might give them an unfair advantage. Interesting that one of the reasons they didn't allow iPods was because it could provide outside comunication, but you could run with a coach by your side and that is okay. I'm guessing if you are a super elite racing for prize money a pacer would not be allowed. For regular folks I think it's fair.

  37. Cynthia O'H says

    An old boyfriend paced me to a 1:31 half-marathon. It's definitely my best time but I never call it my PR because I didn't do it on my own.
    In terms of actual racing, I don't have a problem with pacers – as long as they don't pace someone straight to an award. A real pacer only plans on part of the race; something has to be left to the runner.

  38. Black Knight says

    Never thought about it. However I don't think that it is irregular. Where is the difference with a situation when 2 or more friends decide to run together? I never had an experience as a pacer or as a pace's follower but I am sure that it wouldn't be a problem for me.

  39. Kenley says

    Hmmm, I have been invited to follow a pacer (good friend) to finish the Phili Marathon, if I sign up for it this year. Unless the pacer actually puts you in a stroller and pushed you, I do not consider it cheating. TO think about the other factors, is what you must think about, and burden yourself with. It is simply a choice. But it is a gray area, catch 22. Ask Miles? lol. I bet he would know cuz he has been around the block. Have a good one, and very good thinking question, like Dimension X.

  40. Caratunk Girl says

    I totally see your struggle. I think that it is OK as long as you are both registered. Even though you are pacing her, she is physically doing it herself. A friend offered to help pace me for my upcoming marathon, and I turned him down because I want to run my own race. That is just me. I have seen a man I don't know ready to quit around mile 22 of a marathon and I got him going, kept him going to the finish. In my mind, I didn't pace him, I helped him achieve his goal of finishing, and it was more rewarding to me than a PR.

  41. Dave says

    I don't see anything wrong with it. The runner being helped could also choose to use the winner or other top runner as a pacer without their knowledge. Just try the hell to keep up. Is this not really the same thing?

  42. shellyrm aka jogging stroller mama says

    I run such small events (1500 runners tops) that pacers are rarely an issue. However, when it is an indivdual pacing someone vs an event pacer (i.e., pace groups offered by the race) I am a bit conflicted. I have ran in marathons where pacers rode bikes along side a runner during the race which I didn't like at all. In that instance the runner simply couldn't hold the pace and I did pass her and take 3rd that year. Had she been able to hold the pace I would have been upset that she had assistance to "help" her through. I think when we are talking the front of the pack it is a bigger issue for me then when it is someone pacing a runner for a PR and not a "win."
    In the end we all could choose to have a pacer (allowed by the race or not) so I guess it's about how you want to cross that finish line and the work that was done to get you ready for the challenge. One could ask, if a runner needs a pacer maybe they were not ready for the distance attempted? Just a thought.