Running is hard. Sticking to a training plan is hard. But knowing that you have a race in a month is a great motivator to keep you going when you’d rather be watching TV. If you’ve never run a race before, putting one on your calendar might seem scary: Will I feel out of place? What should I wear?
Most big races will have signs with a pace so you know where to stand. That goes for cycling too. Sadly, there will be twits who seed themselves in a pace group that is too high for some odd reason. Depending on your speed, you’ll know them because you will pass them because they burnt themselves out. I see it a lot in the swim in triathlons, because they’re the ones breast stroking. It makes sense in cyclocross racing – being at the front means you’re through a choke point that can make a world of difference in the overall race.
Pace groups can be awesome for motivation. They can be very supportive, encouraging, and helpfully distracting. Obviously the attitude differs depending on the pace and on the personality of the pace group leader. In cycling, things like sportifs and Grand Fondo’s, pace groups can be very small and change quickly as people either fall off the back or someone is joining the group from being dropped from a faster group. But there’s a lot of benefit to being in the draft of a cycling group, just take a shorter pull if you need to.
I’ve also used pace groups just to help keep track of where I am without needing a watch. I like to position myself between two groups: as long as I stay ahead of the slower one, I’m happy. This is mentally easier (for me) than trying to keep up with a specific group.