Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Easy Shift

I had plenty of guilty feelings as I stood at the start of the Cork City marathon. I have been pacing it for the last 3 years, always doing the 3:15 pace group. In fact, back in 2011 Jo had given me my first ever 3:15 pacing gig when I was still nervous about doing that pace band and her confidence in me had been very re-assuring. However, 2 weeks ago, somewhere around mile 35 in Staplestown, it dawned on me that I would not have the legs to run that pace so soon after a 50 miler and I sent her an email. As a result, the one 3:15 pacer was entirely on his own while the 3:30 group was oversubscribed with 3 guys, and it was clearly my fault.
The Cork City marathon pacers
The least I could do was to at least do a good job at the 3:30 group. Pacing in Cork is always made trickier than expected by the funny Garmin readings. I don't know if it's because we are losing the satellite signal when we go through the tunnel but my Garmin always read at least 26.5 miles at the end. We had to keep a close eye on the official mile markers (thank God they are accurate!) and run a little bit faster on the Garmin than expected. Luckily, running 3:30 makes the maths trivial, 8-minute miles are all that's required and I was confident I would be able to work that out.

Still easy at 2.5 miles
I acquired a new friend because Aishling from Ennis was in a very chatty mood and we soon were BFFs. However after a few miles she must have decided that I wasn't a good enough friend (or maybe just not fast enough) and she moved a bit further ahead (she eventually finished in 3:27, well done)

The 3:30 pacers, and it's busy. Photo by Doug Minihane
Whatever you do when you talk about running, don't start whining to me. Distance running is a sport for people who get their head down and get things done rather than whinge and whine about it, and anyone complaining that the Cork course is tough will get short shrift, including the one runner who started whinging and whining to me at some point during the race. Sorry, the Agony Aunt was elsewhere today.

Water, water everywhere. Photo by Doug Minihane
Another runner who was with us that day was my friend Marty, who I had been in contact with for several years and who I first met in person here in Cork, at the start of the 2010 marathon. We happen to support the same football team. He promised to teach me some of the new songs (I haven't been to Manchester in a very long time) and I was looking forward to belting out "Who the f*ck are Man United" at mile 20, but around mile 17 or 18 he was gone. I was worried he might have run into trouble, but as it turns out he had felt too good to stay with us slow coaches and finished 5 minutes ahead of us.

"We're 30 seconds ahead!" Photo by Doug Minihane
At mile 15 the half marathon route merged with the full marathon and it got really busy for a while. Initially the half marathon runners around us were running a tad faster than our pace but that soon settled, and for the last few miles our group consisted of runners from both distances.

It was quite warm, though nowhere near as hot as some people claimed. It threatened to heat up on several occasions when the sun shone directly onto us but for the majority of time it was cloudy and much more manageable. The organisers were very well prepared and put on plenty of extra water stops, for most of the route we got water at almost every mile, which made a very big difference.
1.5 miles to go. Photo by Peter Mooney

As is inevitable we lost a lot of runners from our group on the hilly section between miles 17 and 20 but most runners who made it that far seemed to be able to stay with us. However, I noticed in the results that I moved from 282nd at halfway to 201st at the finish, which I found both very surprising and rather shocking.

At the end we urged everyone to move ahead and get the best possible time, which a few managed to do. We still had about eight marathon runners with us, plus a sizeable number of half runners. I checked behind me and decided that the gap to the next runner was too great for him to still break 3:30 and the pacers crossed the finish in one line (think Arsenal 1990 defensive line). Turns out I had underestimated one runner's determination and a strong sprint finish got him home just in time, though with chip time he actually had a much bigger cushion.

The plan had been to finish in 3:29:30 and we did it in 3:29:28, which is rather precise pacing, even if I say so myself.

3 pacers finished in unison

Splits. Note the positions!
The Garmin had measured a whopping 26.66 miles at the end; a good thing we did not have to rely on those measurements (and I am not even for a second claiming that the course is mis-measured). Unfortunately my HRM started misbehaving during the second half, which makes it hard to read any meaningful amounts of data, but I think the HR drift was minimal.

While I still felt guilty about not pacing 3:15, I got the bonus of still feeling very fresh at the finish. The legs felt like they could have gone around a second time without bother, not that I was about to test that theory. I was a lot stiffer after driving home to Kerry but a few hours of working in the garden actually improved things significantly and got some bonus points from Niamh.

I really enjoyed every minute of it. I can't wait to do it again. And hopefully next time I won't cry off at such a late stage.

2 Jun
Cork City Marathon, 3:30 pacer
3:29:28, 7:59 pace, HR ~141


  1. 26.66 is a pretty serious reading on the Garmin. A number of people who ran the course also got similar readings on their Garmin's. Anyway good job on pacing again. Good to say hello around mile 16.5!!!!

  2. I look forward to you pacing me on a marathon some day in the future when you start to slow down and hopefully I will start to speed up :-) Keep up the good work and keep writing .

  3. thanks to you and the other pacers for pacing me to 25km. i enjoyed the company. re the city songs you'll have to come to manchester. i hear some corkonians friends of yours and mine are likely to come over for the manchester marathon in april 2015. city will have a game that weekend too.... you only need to book a flight... :)

  4. Nice going Thomas. Shame about the HR monitor playing up but that's a pretty low HR for a 3:30 marathon. How did the 3:15 pacer get on?

    1. Thanks, Ewen. The 3:15 pacer did a perfectly good job all on his own.

  5. Great pacing work once again, even if it was 15 minutes slower than it should have been.

    No doubt doing the 3:30 pacing will be better for your recovery and training stimulus. I guess a 3:30 marathon is as probably as easy for you as a 4:00 marathon would be for me. You weekly mileage is way more than mine so I can't complain ;-)