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Often pacesetters are used to set the correct pace to help break a record.

For cyclists there is an obvious physical advantage in running in a group, as those in the middle/back of the group have less wind resistance. Is there a similar benefit for long-distance runners?

Or is the only benefit pschyological, by not having to worry about timing yourself?

Or is there another reason(s)?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There can be a physical benefit to running (closely) behind someone, just as in cycling, especially if it's a windy day.

Typically, pacers are not allowed to offer material benefit (carrying water, muling as we say, or running in front as a wind break). So in most cases, it's purely psychological.

In some ultra marathon races, pacers also offer a degree of safety, as exhausted runners going through the night might get lost, or pass out, etc. Having fresh legs and a clear head nearby can be very important.

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I think it depends on the calibre of the racer. Top, top, top racers, going for world records use them different than others. –  geoffc Feb 13 '12 at 1:35
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At the highest level, a pace setter helps ensure they meet their game plan for the race exactly. The pace setter is told to run a very specific pace (or pace pattern).

This allows the top level runner to just follow along and worry less about pacing, and focus on his/her own race.

There is a question Pace Strategy for Marathon that asks about strategy for pacing.

Like most things in long distance running, the answer for a world class pro is different for an age grouper, and different still for a person just out there to complete or even do a personal race.

The top level racer will have a plan for how he/she desires to hit their goal. Perhaps a bit faster in the first half, or slower. Whatever they and their coach decide. A pace setting lets them stay accurate to that plan.

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The main benefit is psychological but it's not because you worry about the time. Having someone in front of you motivates you to run faster to keep up with him.

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From personal experience I found that a pace setter to be incredibly helpful. I had a race in High School where I was trying to break 5 minutes in the mile as a Sophomore. My best was a low 5 but closer to 5:10 than 5 flat. One of my friends, a senior at the time and the best long distance runner on the team and possibly the state, agreed to help me out and set a good pace for me. We went into the race with this goal and through the first half we were right on. He stayed with me only for one more lap before taking off to win the race, we were in second and third through most of the race and had one guy about 50-100m ahead of us. Before he left me I felt tired, but I knew that the pace was doable, and that it was consistent. He took off and I tried to keep the pace as best as I could, but I fell back a little and finished just a handful of seconds slow. I believe I fell short because I stopped believing in myself to keep the pace and to be able to maintain the speed. And yes, we agreed before that if there was anyone in front of us on the last lap, that he would take off after them - the meet was being scored and we wanted the points.

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