A Tale of Two Pacers & an Idea

This article is sponsored by SOS Hydration

By: Carlos Fernandes II

The swashbuckling Pace Pirate leads a trail of men around the orange ovals across America as the humble Valiant Viking leads men around the ovals in Europe. These two men are considered as the gold standard for pacers. They’re blue collar and have led many men to fast times this year. I sat down with Craig Nowak and Erik Sowinski to talk about all things pacing. 

How the Pace Pirate Got His Name...

The two time All American from Oklahoma State University, Nowak, signed with Asics after graduating. His contract eventually ended, yet he decided to keep on racing. He roamed the internet looking for a new singlet to race in when he stumbled upon a white singlet with a black horizontal stripe across the front sporting a skull and crossed swords. He thought to himself, this is perfect. It looks cool and it doesn’t have any big name logo branding. He purchased it and the people began referring to him as The Pace Pirate for the swagger in which he leads eager racers around the track and the booty he collects post-race for his efforts. 

How the Valiant Viking Got His Name...

...the humble man when I asked if he had a nickname people use to refer to him, he merely shrugged and said when racers want to run fast, they call me and I lead the way. Sowinski loves pacing and his first name is reminiscent of the valiant men from the Norse lands. When he agrees to pace, he’s paving the way to new personal bests and personal records never achieved by the men he leads much like the Vikings as they set out to conquer new lands. Thus, I have given him the nickname, Valiant Viking.

How the Pirate and the Viking got their Reputation

The Viking started building his reputation as a pacer when he paced Yomif Kejelcha to the indoor mile world record at the legendary Boston University track in 2019. Following this, he was asked to pace the 1500m Gateshead Diamond League race in May of 2021. This opportunity allowed him to be requested as a pacer for a handful of the other Diamond League races this past summer.

In March of this year, the Pace Pirate led Josh Kerr to the American Soil record for the 1500m. Following this, he paced the USATF Grand Prix 1500m, the USATF Golden Games 1500m, and then got the privilege of pacing the mile at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League race. Two of the best 1500m/5,000m runners had this to say about the Pace Pirate’s pacing:

A Radical Idea

When I sat down with both Sowinski and Nowak, they both expressed that they paced a lot this year in order to earn enough money to pay the bills. The sport of Track & Field has some of the least money in it to pay professionals for their efforts. Many pros have to resort to working side jobs, embracing the blue-collar life style, in order to scrape by as they pound their feet around the orange oval or black asphalts. Pacing has provided the ability for both Sowinski and Nowak to earn some money and compete at the highest levels in our sport. 

Pacing is a lot easier on your body as all pacers are capable of running much faster than the pace they’re asked to set. However, you still need to be in a strong fitness so that on your off days you can still hit the prescribed pace in an effortless manner. You can pace every weekend if you wanted to since the strain of pacing is nowhere near the strain of racing. However, if you pace too frequently, it can take away from your ability to race at a high level. This happened to Nowak this year. He had ten weeks of mostly pacing engagements and only 1-3 races. The traveling to each of these engagements limited his ability to get in quality training and then he got injured for five days, two weeks out from the Olympic Trials. As a result, when he showed up to the Trials, he underperformed to his capability.

Choosing to pace comes with sacrifice, more so when you do it frequently. You have to be at a strong fitness level, yet in order to make it worth it, you have to pace frequently in order to earn enough money to cover travel costs and still make money to support yourself. This in turn causes pacers to struggle to get in quality training between pacing engagements due to travel, especially if they’re pacing high caliber meets in Europe as Sowinski did multiple times this year. 

What if there was a professional group that trained specifically to pace races? Nowak’s idea is simple, put together a group of skilled athletes who then can be hired by meet directors. There’d be packaged pace options for a meet director to choose from. An example of this would be a package where the professional pace group would offer a pacer for two races during an upcoming meet and then the meet director can choose the distances he wants. 

Nowak sees a difficulty in recruiting qualified athletes to join this professional pace group as those who’d join would need to place their racing pursuits in the back seat. Pacing truly is a selfless pursuit and finding qualified athletes who are willing to focus on pacing could be challenging. However, if the pay was good then I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to find athletes willing to join.

Another variable you’d have to contend with would be pro athletes who have strong connections with pacer who they usually call in for key races. The way around this would be to have Nowak and Sowinski join forces and then work to recruit other established and credentialed pacers. This group could still function without recruiting all established and credentialed pacers, but it would take a little longer for the group to take off and craft a reputation. 

While there are many challenges that this idea would face if it were to come into existence, I feel like it has the potential to be extremely successful and create more opportunities for athletes in our sport.