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The rewards of running and pacing

I first met Wan Ho Kou three years ago when he paced the Alpine Classic Half Marathon. Up until that time, I had not used pacers during my races. For some reason that day I was moved to run and chat with him and another pacer as we ran through the streets in Alpine, Utah, with glimpses of the nearby Wasatch Mountains.

Even though that race was at altitude (5,000 feet), I not only set a then-PR in the half (1:41:29) but I won the 45 and older age group. Clearly, my new pacing buddy had a positive effect on my performance. Through the years since that race, we have stayed in touch via social media.

Pacing has been on my mind lately as I am looking ahead to my first 100-miler and I recently paced a friend at a 100-mile race in Ohio. So I could think of no one better to reach out to for a blog post about pacing than Wan Ho Kou.

An inspiration to run

Kou wasn’t a runner until a Sunday morning in July 2011 when he spotted a young mother walking funny. He asked her if she was OK and she said, “I’m fine. I ran a half marathon yesterday.”

That was the motivation he needed.

“The next day I ran my very first mile with many stops,” he recalls. “I felt horrible physically. How could anyone run 13.1 miles? That’s impossible. That morning, I stepped into an unknown territory for the first time in my life. It was also the beginning of my first half marathon training.”

Just six weeks later — Sept. 10, 2011 — Kou ran his first half marathon at Mt. Nebo with a time of 1:41:07. “From that experience I was hooked to running.”

Kou tried another half marathon, the Salt Lake City Marathon, the following spring but it did not go as well.

“I collapsed 25 feet from the finish line,” he remembers. “Fortunately, volunteers came to my rescue. They held me up at the right moment and walked me cross the finish. Later, I was transported on an ambulance to the ER at a local hospital. It was a costly ride but it didn’t stop me from running.”

Getting stronger, going longer

It did not take him long to progress to marathons and ultras.

In June 2013, he ran his first marathon at Utah Valley in Provo with a time of 3:55:33, an average pace of 8:59 per minute. In May 2014, he ran his second marathon with a goal of qualifying for Boston at the Ogden Marathon.

“I crossed the finish line at 4:05:10, 37 minutes off from qualifying for Boston,” Kou says. “My desire to qualify for Boston remained deep inside my soul. In September 2014, I toed the start line at Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon with a time goal of sub 3:30. I felt so good and focused throughout the entire race and clocked in at 3:22:19, an 8-minute buffer for the 2016 Boston Marathon. Yes, I ran the 120th Boston Marathon in 2016. Once was a dream and it became a reality. Thanks God.”

With that goal achieved, he looked to even longer distances.

“After the Boston experience, I wanted to do something more challenging so I started looking into ultra running,” he says. “In August 2016, I completed my first 100K at Katcina Mosa Mountain Run at 20:39:01. Two months later I ran my first 100-miler, the Pony Express Trail, in 25:24:29. Thanks God.”

Next month, he is running his third 100-miler, the Wasatch 100.

'Pacing is fun'

Even before he became an ultra runner, Kou was a pacer. He started in 2014, three years after he became a runner. In 2015, he paced 27 half and full marathons.

“Pacing is fun,” he says. “Seeing big smiles on runners’ faces brings me joy. Helping runners obtain a new PR is the most rewarding experience. I LOVE PACING. I have paced friends for 20 to 40 miles in their 100-mile races as a friend, not an official pacer.”

He says that the standard protocol for half and full marathon pacers is a pacer has to be able to run 15 to 20 minutes faster than the assigned pace time. For example, if you pace the 2:00 group in a half marathon race, the pacer should be able to comfortably run a 1:40 half marathon.

“A pacer doesn’t get paid,” he notes. “It’s a volunteering job. A pacer, however, gets a free entry to a race and pays a minimal fee to a pacing company.”

‘A rewarding experience’

Thinking back to the Alpine half marathon, I chatted with Wan and Allison (another 1:45 pacer) as we navigated the hills. With a couple of miles to go, Allison noticed they were ahead of pace and told me that they would be slowing down but encouraged me to push forward. And so I did.

I finished strong, buoyed by my new-found friends, who I greeted with hugs at the finish line. Their roles as pacers made all the difference to me and my race. And it’s still a great memory.

Being a pacer is a rewarding experience.

“Giving back to the running community is a real rewarding experience,” Kou says. “To a pacer-to-be, I would say do it. To a runner looking for a pacer, I would say let a pacer does his job and follow his lead till the last mile.”

Speed drill

Name: Wan Ho Kou Hometown: Herriman, Utah Number of years running: 8 years. How many miles a week do you typically run: Marathon training, 60-70 miles; ultra training, 70-90 miles. Point of pride: Having the courage to toe the start line and determined to cross the finish line. Favorite race distance: 100K. Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Eat a lot of rice and drink plenty. Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Nature delivers the best music. Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Overcoming your limiting believe is your greatest strength. Where can other runners connect or follow you:

• Facebook: Wan Ho Jerry Kou.

• Instagram: ultrawanho

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