To be a pacer in a marathon is an unique challenge, for it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You not only run your race but also help someone to run their race. My only experience as a pacer was during the Hyderabad Marathon in 2011, when I and KP tagged along for the 5-hr bus. Thanks to KP, we were able to ensure that the bus reached 2 minutes within the 5-hr mark (a detailed report in KP’s Blog). Four years later, I am all set for a different challenge – pacing the 5:30 Bus and sadly, no KP to help me out with the “Strategic Plan” of pacing. More than the goal of finishing the marathon in 5:30, the real difficulty is in explaining the strategy for the race. As I set to outline my proposed plan, I would also like to draw some lessons from a similar experience – running Comrades in an imaginary 12-hour bus and finishing 2 minutes to spare (the actual 12-hour bus went past me at the 6-hour mark and not to be found again!).
Who can join the 5:30 bus?
My simple answer is anyone who do not intend to finish the run under 5 hours and would like to get the best out of the entry fee they paid. On a more technical note, I would suggest that anyone who can run a half-marathon “comfortably” under 2 hours 40 minutes or “less comfortably” under 2 hours 30 minutes can join the bus to get their sub-5:30 timing for the marathon. Runners who lost their way with the 4:30 Bus or 5:00 Bus are always welcome on the run as long as they don’t wonder why we are running slow!
How do you train for the run?
I would go for something less technical and less mathematical approach. Take the event as a limited overs cricket match – you have to cover 43K (to factor the start line hiccups, GPS faults in route marking and to be on safe side) and you have 330 minutes to cover that distance. In other words, you have to cover 29K at 8 minutes per Km and 14K at 7 minutes per Km. During your training runs, find out yourself how do you feel when you run a Km in 8 minutes and 7 minutes respectively (preferably without music). This will help you to be mentally prepared for the race day. CAUTION: Do remember, you have only one wicket and there is no Duckworth-Lewis method applicable in case of rain!
The Race Day Plan
No matter what you plan or no matter how you train, all that matters is how you react to the challenges on the race day. Training and race-day plans at best helps you to be mentally and physically strong to overcome these challenges. Importantly, always prioritise safety over your goals! Your goals can wait for another day and marathons happen every month. So, make sure you don’t push yourself beyond the limits.
Pacers are normally expected to have their targets set for every Km, factored for aid-station breaks and other contingencies. This approach has its own merits and limitations. However, the objective of running the marathon is not just achieving the goals but also enjoying the run and such pedantry often takes the joy out of running. Losing an extra minute for a photograph with volunteers or dear ones on the run is more enjoyable even if it makes us finish a minute after 5:30!
I normally prefer to set hourly targets and ensuring that they are met at the end of each hour:
Hour 1 – Target 8.5K – 9K
The early morning weather of the Hyderabad, the empty roads and importantly, flat roads, must help us to run better. The humidity is often a challenge and there will always be temptation to run faster. (Average speed – 7 minutes per KM)
Hour 2 – Target 16.5K – 17K
The biggest challenge in the second hour is that the full marathon runners run into the half-marathon crowd. The road is expected to be completely blocked by the “walkers” and we need to find ways to run through them without disturbing them. If you are getting frustrated by the slow runners, do remember you were amongst them, not long ago!
Hour 3 – Target 24.5K – 25K
It is here where you start feeling the ‘hills’ of Hyderabad. For all the “elevation profiles” shared, I don’t think it would matter much impact in this stretch. If you are feeling it, it would be best to slow down and target the 6:00 Hour cut-off.
Hour 4 – Target 32K – 32.5K
This is the phase leading to the proverbial ‘wall’ of marathon. Keeping some “minutes” in hand will be useful at this phase. Walks will start featuring more in our routine.
Hour 5 – Target 39K – 39.5K
Actually, not many really knows what happens here. Let’s leave it for the race day!
The final few Kms
The exuberance of finishing will take you all the way to the finish. The last few Kms are possibly the best stretch of the route under the tree covered avenues of the HCU and the road leading to the stadium. As you enter the stadium, the early finishers of marathon and finishers of Half-marathon will be on their way back home. Some may possibly cheer and some others will give you the typical non-runners look of ‘why are you doing this?’ Ignore! This is your race and you alone is the winner!
Run-Walk is for me the way to run a marathon or any distance for runners. It is a myth that it slows our running or one cannot achieve their ‘personal bests’ and so on. The key for an efficient run-walk is consistency of application. I normally choose a 4:1 split and maintain it from the 9th minute onwards (the first walk break is avoided as it will cause disturbance to other runners). If we find ourselves having sufficient time, we may slow down to 3:1 and on the hills, we may opt to shuffle between running and walking for a short duration.
Another feature of pacers is that they are responsible to motivate. Now, that’s the challenge I am willing to be up for! If some wants motivation, just record the video and keep! It is difficult to emulate this ‘dude’.