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Stafford Gives Back to Others Through the Art of Marathon Pacing

Tony Stafford has dedicated his life to athletic competition; he’s dedicated the last few years to becoming a runner; and he’s dedicated this year to ‘giving back’ to others as he paces them to personal records and goals. Whether the race is a 10 miler in Denver, a fast Chicago Marathon, or a chunk of the rigorous Leadville 100, Tony is actively volunteering his running skills and encouraging spirit to support and pace others. Colorado Runner Mag recently had the chance to catch up with Tony and find out more about his pacing goals. Read on to learn how you might benefit from pacing, or being paced.

CRM: What inspires you to be a pacer?
Tony: First and foremost, being a pacer gives me the ability to connect on a personal-level with other runners. A runner having someone next to them the entire race gives a lot of faith, confidence and assurance that the runner’s best interest is in mind. I do take on a lot of responsibility when pacing a group of runners, however, the satisfaction of someone getting a PR/B (Personal Best), qualifying for Boston or some other personal agenda is such a fulfilling feeling. Each time that I pace a race, I feel the enthusiasm of the group, the energy of each person’s tremendous attitude and arduous training that has put them on the line. I love being right in the mix of the group as a motivator, coach, and cheerleader.

CRM: What was your first pacing experience like?
Tony: My first pacing job was in Melbourne, FL, November 2009 for the Space Coast Marathon. I was assigned to the 3:40 pace group, which is an 8:24 pace/per mile. The nerves were not TOO bad leading up to the race. Upon race day, each pacer is to be “lined up in position” 30 minutes before the gun goes off. It was at that point when I really started feeling apprehension as runners started approaching me and asking questions. I felt the pressure as statements/questions were made such as “I’m counting on you to get me a 3:40”, “If I hit a 3:40, it’ll be my best time”, “Can you hit a 3:40?” and “Have you ever paced before?” However, once the race started and the nerves settled, pacing felt right and something that I knew I could do for a long time.

CRM: You mentioned several races you are pacing this fall. What pace (time) group (s) will you be pacing?
Tony: 2010 has been a year of “giving back” as much as I could to other runners in my community as well as communities throughout the US. I’ve done several pacing jobs to include marathons (Fargo, Missoula, etc.), ultra-marathons (Leadville), a 10-miler (Park-to-Park) this spring and summer. I am continuing throughout the fall to help out wherever I am needed. I just completed pacing the Denver ½ marathon (1:50 pace group). In October I’ll be traveling to Corning, NY for the Wineglass Marathon (3:20 pace group). I will be a member of the Nike Pace Team for the Chicago Marathon (3:20 pace group) and I’m still waiting to hear back for the Rock N’ Roll Denver Marathon for the month of October. For the remaining two months of 2010, November and December, I’m still in contact with a couple of race directors that are working out the details for other races; so stay tuned.

CRM: Many Colorado runners go to Chicago and Tucson, do you have any insights on those courses? Which pace group will you be leading?
Tony: My knowledge of the Chicago Marathon is pretty sound and thorough. I have run the Chicago Marathon twice including my very first marathon in 2007…coined as “The Worst Marathon Ever Run” as race day temps hit 92 degrees. It is a flat, fast course and Executive Race Director, Carey Pinkowski has indicated that this year (2010), “The Chicago Marathon Puts Together Greatest Field Ever Assembled in North America” both on the men and women sides. In its 33rd year, there will be over 45,000 runners, including a world-class elite field, and 1.5 million spectators. I will be pacing the 3:20 group, which should have several hundred people running in that group…most trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon (known as “The Super Bowl” of marathons). It should be an electrifying experience and most of all, very rewarding.

CRM: As a pacer you have a unique view of a marathon as all 26.2 miles unfold. After observing hundreds if not thousands of marathoners in action, what advice would you give to runners re: racing and pacing?
Tony: The marathon is such a special race. I believe that along with the intense training (physically) that is required to run a successful marathon, one has to run a marathon smart as well. Tackling 26.2 miles is a game of endurance, patience and intelligence. People, including myself, get so excited with adrenaline and anticipation that inevitably one starts out TOO fast. This will surely catch up once the rhythm of the marathon sets in and the body gets in its cadence. So the one advice that I would give a runner is BE patient and relax; save that energy for later in the race.