Race pacing is something I have always wanted to have a go at. I’ve paced numerous times at Parkrun, been a guide runner at 10k races and unofficially paced friends at half marathons before, but I’ve always been too scared to take the step and carry the pacing flag. That is until East London Half Marathon.
When I saw that the race was looking for pacers I decided to take the plunge and despite being fairly novice was given the opportunity to be one of the 2h10m pacers. In the weeks leading up to the race I felt increasingly nervous, but we had a great #RIOTSQUAD group whatsapp so I felt like I already knew the other pacers, and I loved the supportive atmosphere. I did some practice runs to get used to the pace and kept fairly quiet that I was pacing as I didn’t want to feel any pressure. When the pacers were announced a few days before the event it all felt very real! And slightly scary too.
I think the biggest pressure you feel is the weight of peoples’ expectations. Runners around you might be relying on you to get them that PB, or keep them in check on that training run and I dreaded the thought of letting them down. On the morning I actually felt more nervous than I did the last time I ran a marathon.
Luckily I was paired up with Darren who imparted a lot of pacing wisdom, listened to me jabbering away for most of the way round and brought two watches (maybe I now have an excuse to buy that extra garmin ha). After a quick warmup on the stage and some chilly waiting around in the start pens we were off! We soon settled into the pace, looking to stick as close to 6:10 mins per km. The course itself was great for runners but the twists and turns sent my GPS haywire. We kept an eye on the time, the mile markers and made sure we got a minute in the bag in case the course was long.
The wind made carrying the flag interesting at a few points, especially when it got tangled in my ponytail! Loads of people have asked me about the flag and you kind of forget you’re wearing it, so much so I clipped a few trees and whacked the odd lamppost. Its just like wearing a running backpack. I lost a tiny bit of time on one km as I was battling with some intense headwinds.
One hilarious thing I noticed was how all the pacers waved at each other on the way round. It’s a bit like how bus drivers wave at each other, and in this sense the looping course was a great learning curve because you could judge where other pacers were in relation to you.
All was plain sailing until 12miles when the marker sign suggested that the course was going to come up longer than we had anticipated. We rallied the 2.10 pack that had formed around us and together began to pick up the pace, we had to get the group back for the time they had worked hard for, as regardless of if the race is long or not the finish time is still the overall goal. On the final straight everyone really turned it up another notch, we were screaming at them to go and they gave it their all. Its so inspiring seeing people finding that extra gear and flying past you to the finish. I felt so proud of each and every one of them, they had worked so so hard the whole way round, the course hadn’t been easy and they fully deserved the times they achieved. It was weird hanging back and not engaging in the sprint finish myself, but I was determined to stay at a steady pace and make sure everyone got home.
We came over the line in 2:10:23 for a distance of 21.32km- thankfully within the 30 seconds each way you’re typically allowed. At first I beat myself up for not bringing everyone in under the time, but we had a real battle with the GPS and the extra 200m had thrown us a tad- it’s certainly something to bear in mind for next time and for anyone pacing my best advice would be get time in the bag early on when everyone is fresh.
I thoroughly enjoyed pacing and I’m so glad I took the plunge. Getting to run with others was so much fun and gave a whole new perspective to racing. I’m so happy we were able to help the runners get the times they deserved. Pacing is definitely something I am keen to do in the future!
Thank you to Runthrough for having us. As always the team put on a great event and it was very special to pace the first ever East London Half Marathon. Thanks Runarchy Riotsquad for all their support and for making me part of the family, and thanks Darren for being the best co-pilot!