Over the last three decades, more than 40,000 runners have crossed the finish line at Olympia’s signature running event – Capital City Marathon.  Each year, 500 volunteers help make it happen.

Whether watching family and friends cross the finish line, handing out orange slices and water to flagging runners, or massaging sore backs in Sylvester Park, every volunteer is integral to the race’s success.

oly ortho logoAs Capital City Marathon marks its 35th anniversary in 2016, the race continues to evolve to help runners achieve their personal goals. As the marathon has grown, so has the scope of what it takes to make the event run so smoothly.

One group of unsung heroes relatively new to the event are the volunteer pacers who help runners reach or exceed their target finish times. “Pacing is a fairly new concept,” according to Andy Fritz, who has coordinated the pacers the last two years. “Most races still do not have pacers, but it is becoming more common.

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Corey Nunlist and Chris West finish the 2015 Capital City Marathon. Photo courtesy: Capital City Marathon.

Fritz, who has run more than 100 marathons, has paced every Capital City Marathon since pacers were first offered six years ago. He said the real challenge for marathon runners is to keep a steady pace and not go out too fast.

“In a marathon, the runner is always having to monitor pace. By using a pacer, the runner can relax, stop looking at the watch and just enjoy the experience,” Fritz said.

Later in the race, the pacer offers strategies for holding a steady pace through the grueling final miles of the race. During the downhill finish of the Capital City Marathon, Fritz said he often encourages the runners he is pacing to move on and finish on their own.

This year’s marathon will feature 18 pacers for both the full and half marathons. For the full marathon, there will be one pacer for the following finish times: 3:30, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45 and 5:00. The half marathon will provide pacers for 1:45, 2:00 and 2:15.

Corey Nunlist, a Tumwater Hill Elementary teacher and avid runner, will be pacing the 3:30 marathon group this year – his first stint at pacing.

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Capital City Marathon pacers are identified by green balloons. Photo courtesy: Capital City Marathon.

“For the last couple of years, I have really focused on both running and teaching, and it has sure shown me how hard work pays off,” Nunlist said. “I’m not a huge fan of large and regular group running, though I do appreciate the positivity and shared work. However, it’s almost impossible to go through the training and work even in an individual sport like running without some sort of strong human bond resulting from the experience.”

Carie Bussey, who has been assistant director of Capital City Marathon since 2014, believes her role dovetails nicely with her profession as a nurse practitioner by encouraging people to stay healthy and active. She says pacers can give runners much more than constant speed.

“Pacers offer runners more than just the right pace to reach their goals; they tend to bring enthusiasm, motivation, and support to their runner group,” Bussey said.

marathon pacers
Pacers will be on the course for both the half and full marathon. Photo credit: Capital City Marathon.

Recruiting the pacing team is Fritz’s responsibility. Twelve of this year’s pacers (and the two driver volunteers who get the second half pacers to their start) are from Club Oly, a popular local running club, and the other six are experienced runners from Seattle and Tacoma.

“We all do some training runs at our assigned paces to make sure we can keep a steady pace that is often much slower than we usually run,” Andy said.

The strong bonds among members of the Olympia running community will be evident on Sunday, May 15. Runners will be pounding the pavement, perhaps close behind a pacer, while volunteers stand ready on the sidelines.

For Bussey, the 35th anniversary of the Capital City Marathon will again represent what it has for the past 29 years – a celebration of community and running.

“Like so many of our 500 race volunteers, the pacers enthusiastically volunteer as they are excited about helping runners meet their goals,” Bussey said. “Thank you!”

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