Yankee pacers will help First Midwest racers

By Jeff Vorva

On the surface, this sounds like a lousy gig.

Anyone who wants the role of a pacer in a marathon or half marathon needs to do what the regular competitors do. They have to train. They have to get up early on race day. They have to run the course. They have the pain and the sweat of a regular competitor.

But they get no glory.

No trophies, medals or other competitive awards go to the pacers.

A bad deal?

Not for those who choose to do it.

The sixth running of the First Midwest Half Marathon will take place May 5 in Palos Heights and for the first time, the race will feature pace runners. A pace runner basically sets a pace for groups of runners who want to achieve certain times. The pace runner shouts encouragement, advice or even tells a few jokes while trying to keep the runners geared toward the times they desire.

Race founder Mel Diab said that having pacers give the race a big-time feel.

“All the major marathons have pacers,” he said. “It elevates the race.”

The south suburban-based Yankee Runners organization will provide the pacers, including first grade Palos East teacher Karen Ancevicius, who has competed in various marathons across the country including the Boston Marathon. The Oak Lawn native who is living in Homer Glen, said it’s rewarding to be a pacer.

“I’ve paced at the Chicago Marathon in 2004 and 2005 and I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “I help people reach their goals. I feel like I can give back to running in the form of helping others. It’s enjoyable to line up at the starting line. There is a lot of enthusiasm. And when the race starts, you can help them through the tougher times.

“This being a half marathon, it’s not as long. In a regular marathon, there is that wall you hit at mile 20 and you have to help people brave through that. They don’t have that in a half marathon but for some people, it will be their first experience and they don’t know what to expect. So I want to help as many people as I can.”

Joe Werner, who runs the Yankee Runners organization, has 14 pacers lineup up including Brian Greinke of Orland Park and Don Potter of Palos Heights.

“I get more out of pacing than I do competing,” Werner said. “I like to laugh and joke and keep them motivated.”

“You are being a mentor to a lot of runners,” Diab added. “It’s very good for the runners and very good for the pacers because they can help someone get a personal–best.”

As of last Friday, 1,171 racers signed up, Diab said. There were 130 from Chicago, 115 from Orland Park and 108 from Tinley Park. There were 61 from out of state and a runner from Holland and another from Mexico.

Race director Jeff Prestinario said ABC 7 News reporter John Garcia will run the race and confirmed that U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and former state Sen. Ed Maloney are confirmed as the race’s co-marshals.

Per First Midwest Bank’s request, the color of the race’s shirts this year will be purple again. The marathon’s committee originally planned on green shirts.