Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Germans And An Englishman

The weather forecast had started to get rather ominous the week before the marathon with a massive storm predicted, and it got worse every time they updated the forecast - until Thursday or Friday when it started to get a little better again every time. It's still fair to say that we expected a rather tough day at the office when most of the pacers met up the evening before. The joke about doing a Mary Poppins came up more than once.

Therefore Monday morning came as a nice surprise with the rain already gone and the wind much calmer than expected. I was rather cold before the start but once we got going the conditions were pretty good.

There were three 3:10 pacers; apart from me there was Torben from Hamburg and Martin Rea, a former winner of the Connemara Ultra and rather accomplished runner, and a certain race director gave our group the title mentioned in the headline - 1 out of 3 ain't bad, I suppose.

Running a (sub) 3:10 marathon is about 7:15 pace. Because a Garmin almost invariably measures long, you need to run about 4 second per mile faster in reality and since we wanted to come home slightly under 3:10 that was another second. 7:10 on the Garmin was the target pace.

In my recent training runs I had troubles getting up to speed over the first mile, but with the congestion that comes with a big city marathon that was not an issue. We hit the first mile slightly slower than 7:30, which was to be expected. The second mile was pretty much on pace and over the next 3 or 4 miles we made up the difference. By the time we exited Phoenix Park we were bang on time.

At that point I was maybe 20 meters behind my fellow pacers, but I noticed that they were running a bit faster than goal pace. They were too far ahead to give them a shout and eventually I decided to fall back a bit and remain on actual target pace, even if it meant that the 3:10 pacing group got slightly split up. There was some doubt in my mind if I was doing the right thing but I have paced plenty of times before and decided to trust my own experience.

The spirit amongst the runners surrounding me was very good. The water stations tended to be a bit congested but elsewhere it was mostly fine; it got fairly bad with the 3:30 and 4:00 pace groups, I think, though.

Crumlin road is a tough part of the course, slightly uphill and always against a headwind, but despite earlier worries it was no worse than any other year. My own part of the 3:10 group crossed the halfway line half a minute ahead of time, pretty much where I wanted them to be. The other pacers were almost exactly half a minute ahead of us, so the gap wasn't as big as it might have seemed. It might have grown by a few more seconds until mile 15 or 16 but then started to shrink again. Since I certainly had not sped up, the others must have slowed down slightly, but we are really only talking about 2 or 3 seconds per mile and I doubt any of the pacees noticed any real difference.

My part of the 3:10 pace group - photo by Lindie Naughton

The group of runners surrounding me remained remarkably stable, usually the pacing group more or less falls apart after mile 20 but a remarkable number of runners managed to stick with me. Mile 20 to 23 are slightly downhill but then it is 3 flat miles to the finish and that's where most of the carnage happens. We caught a lot of runners/walkers on that stretch and the pace difference between us and them was at times huge. I suppose most of them were crash victims of the 3:00 bus - I've been there myself, of course.

By that time we had almost caught up to the other part of the 3:10 pace group, entirely without having to increase the pace. One of the pacers, Torben, got into trouble here and fell behind. That's why there are 3 pacers by group I suppose, and he was not the only pacer in trouble today, but overall the pacing was at the usual high standard.

There is a video of that shows the 3:10 group close to the end as well - we get into it 2:40 into the video.

The conditions kept the worst till last, there was a really strong headwind between miles 24 and 25, and anyone struggling to keep up would have been in real trouble here. We were a little bit ahead of schedule, which turned out to be a good thing I suppose because it meant we did not have to kill ourselves and/or burn off the pacees to remain on target.

As we were nearing the finish I did my usual thing at the end of a pacing job and ran backwards at times, trying to encourage anyone behind me to push ahead and get the best time possible, which usually works remarkably well and just about everyone behind me managed a sprint and finished just ahead of me. I crossed the line in 3:09:45 (DCM's time) which is just about perfect, even if I say so myself.

Before the marathon I had been a bit nervous about pacing 3:10, the fastest time I have ever paced, especially since I was still recovering from Connemara and my own stupidity. Running 7:10 pace in training had felt manageable but tough enough after a few miles, so I was really surprised by how comfortable I felt throughout the marathon. It was not until the last 1 or 2 miles that the legs started sending some fatigue signals, and even then it was not bad at all.

Having the pacing group split up by half a minute was not planned but actually worked out very well. I did notice a sizeable number of runners who had started dropping off the pace behind the first group and were starting to become dispirited only to have me catch up several minutes later and realising that all was not lost yet. A few of them managed to hang to me, when otherwise they would have dropped off completely. While it is hard to work out the optimum method of pacing a group, we may just have stumbled upon a great way to maximise success.

Well done to all the pacees who stuck with us from the start to the finish, so well done to Liam and Stephen and Rolando and Robbie and all the others, congratulations. I'm still reeling from a massive bear hug from one particularly happy runner who had just managed to break 3:10 for the first time in 14 attempts, and it's fair to say that the real joy and gratitude of the runners makes pacing a really rewarding experience.

I even managed to get onto the telly, the winner just happened to be interviewed as I was finishing in the background and with that butterfly wing on my back I was rather easy to spot. A few minutes later, who would be shouting my name but Rik Vercoe, the winner of the 10in10 in Sixmilebridge back in July, who had just run his first ever sub-3 marathon after running 32 marathons in a row (and some people have the cheek to suggest that I am mad). He got a big hug as well, obviously.

It was a great day, as ever. The Dublin marathon really is special. I can't wait to do it again.

28 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:09:45, 7:14 pace, HR 160
   pacing the 3:10 group


  1. good on yer thomas (and the other pacers) and congrats to your group. might be over for this in 2014

  2. I'd love to run the Dublin marathon, such a great city! I really like that butterfly wing on your back, it is much better than holding a sign, which is most common around here! I could never understand how a pacer is able to hold a sign for 26.2 miles... Great job, Thomas, and I'm so happy for all the runners too, who achieve their goals, because of you!

  3. Great job. I still find it tough to get my head around that you can bang out a 3:10 marathon. 'tis some level of fitness ! Jojo

  4. I can still remember vividly yourself running sideways in the last 100 meters or so encouraging us to just give it all ang go for it. That was a super! I can't thank you enough Thomas. Still over the moon. Until next time my friend.... Rolando :-)

  5. Well done (as usual) Thomas, another great pacing job. We will certainly consider the more "strung-out" strategy for next year, it helps with congestion as well as spreading the load. Your name is already the first one pencilled in for 2014 ;)

  6. Hey Thomas , really enjoyed running 23.2 miles with you Monday ! John