Monday, October 29, 2012

Easy Does It

October bank holiday Monday can only mean one thing, the marathon is back in town. Like the last two years I was donning my pacing gear in the morning, rather than prepare to run it all-out. Unlike the last two year, I had gotten bumped up into the 3:15 pace group.

I wasn't worried about the pace, I have paced 3:15 before and during a couple of test runs last week the effort had felt remarkably easy.

For once I was glad that the marathon was on the Monday because Sunday had been a miserable wet and windy day. The conditions on Monday, on the other hand, were absolutely perfect. Cool, no rain and very little wind made for a slightly chilly time waiting for the start but it was perfect once we started moving.

What was slightly less than perfect was me not pushing the start button of the Garmin as we crossed the line. I can't remember if I forgot to press it or if it just did not register, fact is that I ended up starting my timer several seconds late (I guessed about 15), and since I was supposed to keep a very close eye on the clock, this wasn't ideal. Right after the start there was plenty of congestion, partially because of the usual idiots starting right at the front and then jogging at snails pace, but also because of a very tight right corner where we almost came to a stop. However, this proved to be the last time of the day where things didn't quite work out as planned.

There were three pacers for 3:15, apart from myself there was Greg who had paced 3:30 with us last year and Ray who I ran with in Connemara for the first 30 miles and who had just come second in the Dingle Ultra. The 3:15 pacees were in good hands.

Greg took off a bit too fast for my liking; maybe he tried to quickly make up the time we had lost at the slow start. Ray and myself were starting in a more measured way; we would make up the time gradually over the next few miles.

The course climbs slightly on its way to Phoenix Park, but you don't even notice it because your legs are so fresh. There was the usual mad scramble for water at the first water stop, something I stayed well clear of, even if it meant I would have to wait another three miles for my first drink. Because of the cool temperatures it wasn't critical.

We had almost caught up with Greg when there was trouble at the second aid station. I think someone slipped and fell and with all those runners heading for the same table it almost caused a pile-up. Greg escaped unscathed, but seemed to take it as a sign to take off again and within half a mile he was once more a good bit ahead of us. One or two runners made a comment about his uneven pacing, but they were being unfair, overall he kept a very steady pace. I heard that he kept his pacees entertained with plenty of jokes, which went down very well - something I'm not comfortable doing when I'm pacing. I just run. (It gives the runners a choice of which type of pacer they want to run with, I suppose).

I was well into my stride by now but kept having troubles with my backpack. They tried a new system, instead of balloons we were carrying backpacks with big, coloured flags sticking out. The were very light, but no matter what I tried the pack kept bouncing on my shoulders and the straps were rubbing against my neck. I was having visions of two bright red marks either side, as if I had been attacked by Dracula, which would have been fitting for Halloween, I suppose. Every time I tried to fasten the straps a bit more it was better for a short time, but within a quarter mile I was invariably feeling uncomfortable again.

The downhill mile from Phoenix Park ensured we got a few seconds ahead of 3:15 pace, and we kept a little cushion over the next few miles. I thought a few extra seconds would be handy for Crumlin Road. Last year that had been a real trouble spot with very bad congestion, verging on being dangerous and we had lost some time there. I was quite surprised to see that they had changed the layout this year, we had the entire road to ourselves instead of having cars whisk by on the other side of the line of cones, and it made a massive difference, a problematic spot had instantly transformed into a much more comfortable mile or two. Of course there was still the usual headwind to contend with. That seems to be a law of nature on that stretch of road.

We reached the halfway point in good time, with about half a minute of cushion, which I felt very comfortable with. The pacees around us seemed happy enough as well.

The next few miles just seemed to fly by. I felt very comfortable with the effort, staying on pace happened entirely on autopilot and we were cruising along. Admittedly, not everyone felt quite as happy, it was at this point that we gradually started overtaking people as they started getting into trouble, but for most of it I kept recognising the runners around me.

There are no big hills in Dublin and all the climbs are very gradual, but I know from experience that even the small climbs can feel a lot tougher with more and more miles in the legs. The last climb of the day leads up to Fosters Avenue and was marked with a big "Heartbreak Hill" poster (though Boston's famous hill is a lot worse). A few years ago I was indeed heart broken when my dream of a sub-3 marathon fell apart here, but that's old history now. Today I hardly noticed it and reached the top almost before I knew it. There really is a massive difference between racing a marathon and pacing it. The distance might be the same, but that's it.

The legs might have felt fine but my neck was anything but comfortable and by now the straps were proving distinctly painful. I was ever so slightly tempted to take off the contraption and throw it into a ditch, but having carried it all day, I might as well finish the job.

The last 5 miles in Dublin are actually very runner-friendly. There are a couple of miles with a very nice downhill grade that ensure that you can keep on pace with less effort than before, and the last three miles are packed with spectators that provide an at times almost Boston-like experience (ok, maybe not quite). That's if you're feeling good, that is. If you're struggling, the final miles of any marathon can be rather painful, something I know only too well.

Today was not a day for struggles, though. I think the great weather conditions ensured that a far greater percentage of runners had a good day. Usually pacing groups fall apart on these miles; sometimes you hoover up runners that had been ahead of you and some of them manage to hang on, which can mean that you cross the finish line with an entirely new set of pacees than the one you had shared most of the race with, but today I kept seeing many of the same faces right until the end.

I really enjoyed those final miles, and I told my runners to do the same as this was the glory stretch with the fantastic support from the sidelines, even if not all of their faces spoke of enjoyment. We cruised to the end, soaking up the atmosphere and closing in on the finish. Somehow all three of us pacers ended up in very close proximity as we entered the final stretch. Our pacees broke into a sprint finish as we tried to entice others, who were struggling a bit, to come to the line with us.

Because of my early mishap with the Garmin I wasn't entirely sure what my exact time was as I crossed the line but reckoned it must be close to 3:14. Indeed the (unofficial) time I got was 3:14:13. As our brief had been to come home between half and one minute ahead of target, I call this a success.

There was a big number of runners coming up to us afterwards and thanking us for our efforts, which is always great and quite possibly the most rewarding part of pacing a marathon. People are genuinely grateful and it makes for a very satisfying end of a long day.

This was great fun! Can't wait to do it again
29 Oct
2012 Dublin City Marathon, 3:15 pacer
   3:14:13, 7:24 pace, HR 156


  1. Well done Thomas and all the pacers

  2. Ah, so it was the 3:15 group. Your tweet had me confused. I'd say you did the perfect job. Greg was like the 1:40 pacers in Melbourne but not as bad ;-)

  3. Well done. I gave you a shout on the 14 mile mark, but I don't think you'd have recognised me even if your glasses weren't misted up :)

  4. well done thomas and the pacemakers. dublin is def on my list. maybe next year.

  5. Great pacing job - that's impressive. I would have just chucked the backpack away and carried one of the flags. Even if you only held it up high every 30 seconds or so, that would have been sufficient, I think. And most pacees are right behind you anyway, aren't they?

    I saw a video of two sections of the early going, where the Irish guy (I'm American, "lad" does not come naturally) was way out ahead of the Kenyans. There were NO spectators, so glad to learn that you had lots of support later on.

  6. What's the difference in recovery time between pacing and racing a marathon?

    1. It depends. I went for a run the morning after and didn't feel any soreness. That would not have happened after a race. I'll just keep on training normally. After a race I would be looking at a few recovery weeks followed by rebuilding from scratch instead.

  7. Another great job in pacing and a nice long run for training purposes ;-)

    Looking at the HR in the 3:!5 marathon's you've paced this year:

    May Limerick 153
    June Cork 160
    October Dublin 156

    I am curious if the training markers before these races maps to your HR in the race. I am also curious how comfortable you felt in each case and recovered afterwards. What I am trying to tease out is how good a marker the average HR has been to how coped with each race and how it maps to training HR.

    Again fantastic job, while I'm probably around 3:15 shape, but I've never actually run it yet in a marathon, putting in three performances at an "easy" level of effort is good going.

  8. It was my first marathon, so I wasn't one of your pacees obviously, my chip time was 03:52:30. But you helped me a lot with your blog in the last couple of months. I got plenty of inspiration from your writings. Thanks a million!

  9. started with the 3.30 pacers and just finished about 20/30 seconds behind you,was very impressed and heartened by your actions at the line..turning around and encouraging everyone else coming home..speaks volumes about you as a person

  10. Well done on a great pacing job (again) Thomas. Great report to read too, if pacing was rewarded in money rather than smiles you'd be a rich man.

    There's a need for a "head down, get the job done" Mr. Reliable in each pace group, and you fill that role admirably. Hopefully you'll get to do the sub3 pace gig next year!

    -Paul J

    PS. Brief is actually <30 seconds, so there's always room for improvement ;)

  11. Another great pacing event, by all accounts. I am impressed at the training you have done since too. I still haven't met you in person, needing to queue as I do before every race, but some day ... I loved the Dublin marathon, only my second, but so different and so much easier than my first. No drama in those final miles, just steady moving through. The inner voice to stop was but a whisper, which did not come 'til mile 24 and was easily ignored. Granted the crowd really helps. I cannot believe how quickly the DOMS left during the week (and that with 15 minutes faster PB). I say this, not to boast, but just because I am in awe at the human body right now. I accept that we all reach different speeds and strength, but with discipline and consistency our bodies do respond and can be changed. What was an epic struggle last year, was steady performance this year. If asked what helped, I would say your blog, the book Advanced Marathon Running and Marathon Talk podcast. Thanks Thomas! Happy training for SixMile Bridge.

  12. Hi Thomas

    I've been reading your blog for a few months now and enjoy it very much.

    I have a question regarding DCM 2012 (my first marathon). During the taper I decided on my goal time and resultant pace per mile, and on the day stuck to this up until 4-5 miles. I then realised however that my Garmin was getting me to the miles quicker than my legs were! So I had to revise my pace - from 8.45 down to 8.38 or so in order to reach my goal time. At the end of the race my Garmin read 26.57 miles!

    I checked your pace and time and you appear to have run a much shorter 26.24 or so.

    Do you think my Garmin was out, or were you sticking to one side of the road, just next to the pavement, or is there something else I'm missing?

    That 5-7 seconds per mile didn't really hurt, but mentally it was a bit of a knock and I would have liked to have been prepared for this.

    Would you advise people to factor in the extra distance to their pacing in future, or am I just doing something wrong?

    Many thanks