In addition to the pacing and the timing and the cheerleading, the pacers are actually running a marathon
. What is a lifetime accomplishment for many is just part of the gig for a pacer.
Pace runners become like wallpaper at a marathon. Runners know that they're there. So do spectators. But you really don't take time to stop and take note of them.
Unless, of course, they are your lifeline.
That's what Bobby Howe was for Michael Harper.
"How many people want to go to Boston?” Howe asked the runners gathered around him before the start of the race.
Harper raised his hand.
The Tulsa man had tried to qualify for the Boston Marathon a couple times before, but he'd missed the mark and failed to reach the granddaddy of them all.
"I'll get you there,” Howe promised Harper.
Howe worked to keep his group from thinking too much about the conditions, which included rain, cold and a stiff wind. He reminded them to stay hydrated. He warned them to watch their pace. He asked them trivia questions.
A sample: What was the loudest movie ever made?
Howe picked up a few trivia questions Saturday night when he went to see a movie, and the Tulsa native, who now lives in McKinney, Texas, used them throughout the race. Better for his runner to be thinking about the answer than how steep a hill was or how much their legs hurt.
Who knows if trying to come up with the answer — "Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — might have kept a runner from worrying about aches and pains?
Harper knows that everything Howe did helped him.
"Never got out of my sight,” Harper said. "I was right behind him.”
That is until the final stretch down Broadway when Harper sprinted ahead.
"I came in under 3:30,” he said.
His voice wavered.
His eyes welled.
Harper made his Boston Marathon qualifying mark by a full 30 seconds, and when Howe came in right on time at 3:30:02, Harper was waiting for him just beyond the finish line.
"I couldn't have done it without you,” Harper said, putting his arm around the shoulders of the man holding the yellow balloons.