Pacing in the Melbourne Marathon – by Erin Black

I applied to be a pacer in the Half Marathon at Melbourne several months before the event, I knew it wouldn’t be a great idea for me to race an event so close to New York Marathon but I still wanted to be involved and participate in Melbourne, hence the idea to apply to be a pacer was born. I applied online completing the application for pacing the 2 hour 20 minute half group and waited patiently for a response. In the application I put some race results and then a few reasons why I thought I would make a good pacer. One I mentioned was how far I had come in getting back on track with my running this year going from around a 2:20 half last December to a 1:53 half in the space of six months.   My only previous pacing experience had been over 5 kilometres at parkrun. I thought back to times when I had used pacers in the past in events, I clearly remember in 2009 chasing down the 1:40 pacers in the Half and feeling so elated when I passed them. I knew thinking back to that experience that pacers have a lot of responsibility out there on the course to their fellow runners.

Once I found out I had been accepted to be a 2:20 Half Marathon Pacer at Melbourne my brain went into overdrive over thinking splits and race plans. Then I calmed down and bought it back to basics, to run a consistently paced 2:20 Half Marathon. I practiced my pacing in the lead up to Melbourne and felt confident that I could do the job. I had worked out that I would be looking at running between 6:30 and 6:34 pace per kilometer and that this would allow for approximately 3 minutes for congestion at the start as well as slowing for drink stops.

The day before the event all pacers had to meet for a briefing at the MCG. Here I met my fellow 2:20 pacer (she wore a broad brimmed fluorescent yellow hat with foam sushi strapped to the top of it on race day – hard to miss really) and pacers for all the other groups in the half and the marathon. We got to go down into the footy rooms under the MCG, as a Geelong supporter this was pretty cool, it is like a maze down there. I was super excited and nervous at the same time. Thankfully there were a lot of first time pacers in the room for the Half Marathon and a number of old timers for the Marathon.

At the briefing I found out that I would need to run from gun time. What this meant was as soon as the gun went off I would start my Garmin despite taking several minutes to cross the actual start line. It took me a while to understand this as a 2:20 half would then potentially become a 2:17 half if it took say three minutes to cross the start line. The reason being for running to gun time is so that anyone anywhere in the field at the start knows if they see a pacer on the course, regardless of where they started in the field, that they will run a sub 2:20 if they finish in front of or just behind a pacer. I never knew this. The down side is that anyone who starts near the pacer for the time they want to run will be running up to 10 – 15 seconds quicker per kilometer to keep up with the pacers. This extra 10 – 15 seconds can be just that little bit too fast for some runners. The other thing that stood out that we were told was to make up the time that it took to cross the start line slowly and not within the first few kilometers.

We got given bright yellow Asics singlet’s to wear and I also got to wear a pacing flag so I was easily identifiable as a pacer. I could have opted for a balloon but the flag was cool. We had our own room under the G to put our gear in and with refreshments; we had access to showers, ice baths, fruit and lollies….Mmmmm, lollies. Our room was also down next to the elite athlete rooms.

I spoke to my co-pacer prior and we agreed that we would run together from the start and try and make up the time gradually at around 10 seconds per kilometer, allowing up to 3 minutes to cross the start line would have us back on track by the 18 k mark. It was lovely to see some of the RMA girls before the start, I really wanted to make sure I got people home in under 2:20, I was excited and nervous but ready to go.

The gun went and my garmin was all systems go. It took us 2 minutes 20 to clear the start line, I calculated that we would need to run between 6:20- 6:30 minutes per kilometer to catch up this time and also allow for drink stops and congestion. My pacing buddy was at least 150 metres ahead of me before we even turned into Flinders Street; I was surprised she had started so fast. It wasn’t until almost the 10k mark that I actually caught her. My plan had been to start conservatively hitting 6:30’s, I didn’t want to burn anyone early on with starting too fast.

I had quite a small group following me from the start and then it built as we headed towards the turn onto Fitzroy Street to then head around the Lake. I was vocal about everyone making sure they took on fluids early at all the drink stations due to the warmer weather, I tried to get runners to head to the end tables as these were less congested, this worked well. Around the 10k mark I could see my fellow pacer had two runners with her.

One lady who was with me looked so strong, I encouraged her to go for it and off she went.

Being a pacer means you have many runners come past you asking how your pace is, if you are on track, what splits you are running and how far until the end, you also get to have lots of chats with runners which I enjoy, but the concentration required to pace consistently I found is immense. I basically forgot about taking fluids on for myself as I was so conscious of checking in on how all the runners around me were travelling and that we were on target.

Back up onto St Kilda Road and the group had shrunk, a few had gone ahead and a few had dropped off, a few I could still see behind me and I could see they were trying their best to hang on and quite a few did. Rounding the corner and heading down along the river and up across the bridge a number of runners caught up and then absolutely flew home over the last 200 or so metres, roughly a kilometer from the finish I started yelling to those behind that if they finished ahead of me they would be getting a finish time under 2:20, I could hear the footsteps pounding behind me as runners started their final assault towards the finish line.

After I finished I had a number of runners thank me, some who I didn’t even realize had been using me as a pace marker. That’s the thing about pacing, you are exactly that, a marker, and some runners will not even make it known that they have been pacing from you until they finish.

Pacing is not an exact science when it comes to a race setting but on reviewing my splits I did quite a good job, particularly factoring in garmin error. I made sure I used my Garmin and the kilometer markers to keep on track; you can not rely on a Garmin alone when you are pacing. I finished almost dead on in 02:19:57. Would I pace again, for sure ☺

erin

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