Monday, June 04, 2018

Pacing Cork

It's been a while since I last paced a marathon but I was reasonably sure I would be able to remember how it works. Since I had run the Clare Burren Challenge last weekend I had opted for the easier 3:30 slot and there were three of us, me together with Mark and Dipak, though Dipak arrived a bit late, got stuck in the crowd before the start and was always a bit behind us, so for all intents and purposes it was just me and Mark for the vast majority, with Dipak having his own group just behind us.

Niamh had been able to join me in the hotel, which had gone down very well, apparently that is the only perk of being married to a runner. Wait, what?

Anyway, at the earlier-than-usual time of 8:30 we were off on our way. It was already fairly warm and that would only get worse. I knew full well that a lot of runners would be struggling today. I hoped I wouldn't be one of them, though.

Right away I had to really reign myself in. 8-minute pace feels reasonably fast on a training run these days but with the race-day adrenaline working its magic it felt like crawling. However, I knew that the Cork marathon always measures a bit long on the GPS; I have seen it higher than 26.5 miles, so we had to run a few seconds faster per mile, and we also had to keep a close eye on the official mile markers, because they're the ones that count at the end, not the numbers on your watch.

Case in point, we passed the 2-mile marker at exactly 16:00, bang on pace. However, the average pace on my watch displayed 7:45, which was a bit worrying because that was definitely a bigger gap than anticipated. We were actually a couple of seconds behind at mile 3 with the average pace still faster than it should have been, really, something like 7:46 or 7:48. Since they are mounting the mile markers on lamp posts there is always the chance that they are a bit out of place, so we didn't make any drastic changes and just kept going at the same effort level.

Since the Cork marathon also incorporates a relay, we were passing a changeover point roughly every 5 miles. Some people focus on the negatives, being overtaken by a bunch of fresh runners every 5 mile, which is the wrong way of looking at it. See it as a positive, get a boost from the cheering crowds at the sidelines, and smile!

Between miles 7 and 8 the tunnel awaits. I actually had an argument (a friendly one) with someone the day before, because I think the climb out of the tunnel is the biggest one of the day; you just don't notice it much because your legs are still quite fresh at that point. The other guy disagreed and insisted there is a bigger climb in the second half Anyway, if you add the tunnel climb and the one immediately following at Mahon Point together, it's definitely the biggest climbing section of the race. On the plus side, once you're over that hump you get 2 miles of smooth downhill at a lovely gradient - and that's where we got a little bit too fast, getting a full minute ahead of time without even realising with a 7:30 and a 7:40 mile. Oops. I had made the same mistake last time I paced here. Having said that, with the hills waiting for us in the second half, being a minute ahead wasn't the worst thing to happen and we decided to keep it in the bank.

The next few miles are my favourite section, on the old railway line towards the Marina. Even when I'm in Cork I tend to go there for my training run (not done that for a couple of years, though). We passed the halfway mark about 80 seconds ahead of time, definitely a bit faster than I would have thought was ideal, but that's what it was.

Photo thanks to Cork Athletics
We merged with the half marathon, which had started a little bit earlier. The 1:40 group, running just a little bit quicker than we were, passed us soon after the merge and for a mile it was really busy but once they had gone ahead it settled and then the half marathoners around us were basically doing the same pace as we were. One runner (hi Richard!) introduced himself to me and said he liked the blog (though he disagreed with my post-marathon recovery program), which prompted some jokes about having a celebrity pacer. Hey, if they can still laugh at mile 17 we're doing fine.

That's when the work started in earnest. There are a series of climbs from miles 18 to 21 and if you're already close to the edge they can easily break you (as I found out myself last year). By now it was really warm and the humidity was very high, which made for fairly brutal conditions for a marathon and the runners in our group suffered and one by one they started dropping. By the time we had broken the back of it at mile 21 there were only a handful of marathon runners left with us. We also acquired precious few runners who had been ahead of us earlier in the race and it was a rather small group that turned into the straight road for the final few miles. There was a slight breeze against us, which actually made it easier because it felt significantly cooler, and most of what was left of the initial 3:30 group actually started to pull ahead to gain a minute or two before the end.

There was a nice surprise for me when Niamh was standing beside the road, and soon after we passed Grellan as well. Mark must have been feeling the effort by now because he kept mentioning how tough the conditions were, though he clearly had enough in him to keep going. I still felt reasonably fresh myself, which was nice to know. Even with that marathon from last weekend my legs were still in good shape.

Photo thanks to Cork Athletics
Towards the end we were surrounded exclusively by half marathon runners, who must have
been on around 1:42 or 1:43 pace. I tried to find a marathon runner to specifically encourage him or her, but to no avail. It's not that unusual for the pacers to arrive at the finish without any pacees but at a reasonably big race like Cork that's quite rare. A few runners of our group had managed to pull ahead on the last few miles, very well done to them. The rest suffered a bit too much in the tough conditions - that's a hazard at marathons, nothing you can do about it.

Right at the end Dipak caught up with us and we crossed the finishing line together, in 3:29:31 gun time, close enough to feel it was a job reasonably well done, especially as it had not been the easiest of days. There was not much left to do except congratulate the runners around us, marvel at Gary O'Hanlon's fantastic win (I had met him briefly at breakfast in the morning and at his warm-up) and go home. Marathon number 102 was in the bag - more importantly, it was the last really long training run in this cycle. It's about time to get into taper mode.
3 Jun
Cork City marathon, 3:30 pacer
3:29:24, 7:58 pace, HR 146
4 Jun
4 miles, 34:00, 8:40 pace, HR 134

1 comment:

  1. Hi Thomas, great to meet you after following your blog for 6-7 years. It was the perfect storm - the half meeting the full at a certain point coupled with you pacing 3:30 so I could run with you! I even photo-bombed one of your blog images!

    Anyway, all the best for the ultra - I have a feeling this one is going to go well - good luck!