Sunday, May 06, 2012

Marker Troubles

There once was a runner from Kerry
Who ran with a group oh so merry
They were all very keen
To break 3:15
But at the end some of them looked quite weary

(ok, I won't give up the daytime job to become a poet just yet)

I know I said I was not very excited about the race, but once I had made it to Limerick on Saturday and experienced the buzz of the expo, I got caught up in the general excitement.

I wasn't too worried about being bumped up to the 3:15 pace group. That's almost exactly the pace I've just run for 39 miles in Connemara and I knew I would be able to do it without any problems. My main concern was the time it would take to recover afterwards - I cannot afford to sacrifice too much training time right now.

The pacers were pretty much the usual suspects. We had our own little room to get ready in (we felt like elites with that special treatment) and gathered at the start about 10 minutes before the gun went off.

I was pacing with Paul who had come 5th come fifth in Connemara 5 weeks ago, only beaten by some extraordinary runners, and knew that he would be a great help. We started out with a fairly big group, as it always happens when you're pacing.

I didn't feel too great in the early couple of miles; the breakfast was still in my stomach and the quads felt a bit heavy, but once I warmed up those problems all disappeared by themselves. The course consists more or less of three loops from the city centre, a bit like a clover. The first loop goes towards the East. There is an out-and-back section between miles 6 and 8 and it was great to see all the other runners on the course, first the elites and then Mick Rice's 3:00 pace group, and then the other pacers with their groups, the slower the bigger. Plenty of hellos were exchanges in either direction.

A working Garmin is invaluable for pacing, but you still need to know what you're doing. A 3:15 marathon is 7:26 pace. However, your actual distance will be longer than the measured marathon course because you don't cut the tangent for all corners and you invariably end up weaving around the road when overtaking other runners or for water stops, and you have to take that into account. It means running 3-4 seconds per mile faster than what it says on the Garmin. Plus, we wanted to come home half a minute early, that's another second per mile. In short, we would like to see about 7:21 pace on the Garmin all the way through.

Our biggest problem became clear early on, and it was a problem we had anticipated because we had been warned by people who had paced it last year. The mile markers were completely out of place, some of them ridiculously so. At one point, possibly mile 6, we were about 40 seconds too slow according to the miles markers but well ahead according to our Garmins. As much as you want to go with your Garmin, when you're being told conflicting information time and again you start doubting yourself and we decided to run a tiny bit faster, just in case, because it's better to be a minute early than a minute late.

There was plenty of chatter in our group early on but it gradually subsided as the miles went by. Paul and me were probably the chattiest of the lot because we were clearly operating well below our respective limits. I did notice everyone becoming particularly quiet when we gradually caught up with a female runner around mile 11 and I wondered if the lads were too busy staring at her, but the group remained just as quiet after we had overtaken her so I probably did the lads a disservice there with my suspicions.

At halfway we were back almost at the start, and a timer confirmed that we were over a minute ahead of time as we crossed the mat in 1:36:30, but neither of the previous mile markers had been able to confirm that with any degree of certainty. The second loop brought us south of the city. It was by far the loneliest stretch of the course as we left the urban area behind and entered the country side. To be honest, it was my least favourite part of the course, out of character with the rest of the race and it felt very much like a "let's find some miles to make up the distance" kind of thing. We slowed down a little bit and within a few miles the nagging doubts returned as we were very, very close to projected 3:15 pace according to the markers again.

We caught another lady, Deirdre Finn, at about mile 20 (she came 4th in the end) who I know from Sixmilebridge, but she wasn't able to hang on with us. We still had most of our group with us as we started the third and final loop, this time across the river and heading westwards, but unfortunately they melted away like wax in the sun on the drags up towards Thomond Park. Limerick is a very flat marathon and none of the climbs is either long or steep, but if you're already at the edge it does not take much to throw you off. Around mile 23 my shouts of "well done lads" turned into "well done ... lad" as only a single runner was still with us, but luckily another runner managed to claw his way back to us on a downhill stretch.

We tried to encourage runners to stick with us as we passed them, but not a single one took us up on the offer. We had the same two guys with us for the final miles, and every time I looked behind there was a huge gap with nobody even close.

I was surprised by how well I felt and how easy a 3:15 marathon now is to me, but I was happy to be close to the finish all the same. We had been going for a long time.

Pacer paraphernalia. Balloon, sign, pace band, Garmin
We managed to bully our 2 pacees into a sprint finish and hung back a little bit. We knew we were a bit fast but there was nobody, and I really mean nobody, behind us and there was absolutely no point hanging around just to have a time closer to the target pace, so we ended up crossing the line in 3:13:45, about a minute faster than what would have been optimal. I don't think we burnt off any of our group due to those 2 seconds per mile faster than planned pace and we did manage to bring 2 guys all the way around the course, which is not all that bad for a pacing group as fast as 3:15. A few runners thanked us afterwards, including some who did not make the 3:15, as they still felt we had provided plenty of help for 20+ miles.

We would have been more on time with correct mile markers, I'm sure. It wasn't a perfect job, but I think we did pretty well. Personally I really enjoyed it; the race had gotten some bad reviews 2 years ago but they clearly took the feedback to heart and this year it was really well organised and I can recommend it to anyone interested in another city marathon.

Let's see how quickly I can recover. Bring on Kildare.
5 May
8.2 miles, 1:03:10, 7:42 pace, HR 150
6 May
26.2 miles, 3:13:45, 7:21 pace, HR 153
   Limerick Marathon, 3:15 pacer
Weekly Mileage: 85+


  1. having markers out of place isn't on. as a marathon it has a bad rep from a lot of other runners

    good pacing there thomas and keep on truckin. enjoy kildare ;-)

  2. Good job Thomas!

    Just a note: Garmin pace also looks high because of GPS noise. if you turn on your watch and just leave it sitting it will record a bunch of distance dithering around. That happens running too and makes it over estimate distance on top of not running tangents.

    I have found the under tree cover and/or heavy clouds the GPS noise also goes up. So a pace band is your friend for sorting out what is happening and not being fooled 8)


  3. Nice job Thomas (with the pacing, not the poetry). I'm sure you'll recover well from that one.

  4. enjoy the lazy 3.30 in kildare!!!... paul (3.15)

  5. Great job and well done! Your pacing was spot on! We find marker problems often here and I thought it was only in Africa, but apparently not... I'm quite used to it and just ignore it.