Every year, Heather Hamilton and Sonya Lerma run the Rock ’n’ Roll San Antonio half-marathon in two hours and 30 minutes – or just about.

“We are on the money,” Lerma said. “We have been for the last five or six years. We are at like 2:28, 2:29. We’re right on the money. It’s super impressive.”

Lerma and Hamilton are “pacers” for the race, which means they provide runners a general idea of how fast they should be running to finish the half-marathon in two hours and 30 minutes. On Sunday morning, they each held a sign marked “2:30” to let racers know whom to follow to maintain that pace. While Hamilton wore a “We Run San Antonio” tank top, Lerma wore one that said “Just Here For The Party,” matching six of her friends. One member of their group wore a purple shirt emblazoned with gold letters: “The Party.”

“She’s the party!” Lerma said, pointing at her friend Claudia Ramirez. “It’s her birthday today.”

Lerma and Hamilton are two of the race’s most popular pacers, according to Edgar Gonzalez, owner of We Run San Antonio. He coordinates the pacers for the Humana Rock ’n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon & ½ Marathon every year and said he gets positive feedback about Lerma and Hamilton each time.

“The people that run with them love it because they talk with the runners, try to motivate them,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a good way for people to connect because you get people that come from out of town and don’t know anybody.”

Lerma said the key to making the race a fun one is welcoming everyone.

“We want everyone to join us and we literally talk to everybody,” she said.

The Rock ’n’ Roll races – a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, half-marathon relay, and marathon – welcomed more than 18,000 runners over Saturday and Sunday, race spokesman Ryan Lobato said.

The half-marathon is by far the most popular event each year, he added.

Hamilton taped a small note card to the stick of her sign with a list of how many miles they should have run at certain periods of time, which she monitored with her wrist tracker. Not only are pacers the cheerleaders and coaches for racers, they also serve as listeners, Hamilton said.

“A lot of them share with us how they started,” she said. “You hear a lot of stories from other people what got them to start running and or why they chose to run the half-marathon. … And that’s one good thing about running: it almost serves as therapy in a way.”

Hamilton started running long-distance races after she met Gonzalez nearly 10 years ago through the American Cancer Society Determination program, which signs people up to run races to raise money for the cancer-fighting organization. Hamilton was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2010 and trained as a way to stay healthy and have some control over her body, she said.

“I wanted to be able to control what I could control and to prove that I could do whatever I wanted,” Hamilton said. “I was raising money to help the fight against cancer and then fighting my own. That’s what really got me into running, to prove to myself that I could still do whatever I wanted regardless of what life throws at you. And I just haven’t stopped since.”

Hamilton runs three to four times a week. She uses her runs to either spend time with friends who run with her or have some alone time.

“When you have running buddies you get to talk things out when you’re running,” she said. “And if I run by myself, it’s kind of like my meditation time … just to kind of get out there and leave things on the road and come back and be refreshed.”

Hamilton has been pacing the half-marathon for seven years now. Lerma started running marathons in 1998 and has been pacing the Rock ’n’ Roll half-marathon since the race started in 2008. On Sunday, her pace sign was decorated with silver tinsel, a shiny marker for runners to follow. She returns to the race each year not only because she loves running but because she loves encouraging others to finish their own races.

“I like helping others achieve a goal,” Lerma said. “It’s gratifying to me.”

Though Lerma and Hamilton have been pacing the half-marathon together since 2012, they see each other only once a year on race day and catch up with each other then. During the rest of the year, Lerma runs with a group of women who travel to different cities for different races. In 2019, Lerma ran 30 races all over the country, she said.

“I’ve met a lot of friends running,” Lerma said. “So it’s kind of a social thing as well. And I’ve gained some really good friends that I’ve had for 20 years. As an adult, how many people can say that every year I meet new people?”

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the Rivard Report.

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