Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Another One In The Bag

As Ewen pointed out the other day, this was my sixth pacing marathon in a row, though I did race a couple of ultras during that time. This is not entirely by coincidence; I find pacing a marathon to be an excellent training run. Experience has told me that I tend to run too fast when I try and use a proper race for training purposes, but when I'm pacing speeding up is not an option and therefore suits my purposes very well.

It's still a marathon though, and you can't take them lightly. I went into the race with a couple of problems. I've had problems with the skin on my right foot for a couple of weeks. I think it's dermatitis and the day before the race it became really painful when the skin started blistering. Don't worry, I won't subject you to photos. I had a second problem as well, and that was purely down to my own idiocy. I can never resist a good breakfast, and despite feeling fairly full after a bowl of cereal, a bowl of fruit with yoghurt and a couple of slices of toast, that chocolate chip muffin kept calling my name and eventually I gave in. That was 90 minutes before the start and I could still feel it in my stomach by the time we set off. I really should have known better.

My pacing buddy was Tony Brennan. We have paced before and I have utter confidence in his abilities, but he had hurt his back a week before and had tried to swap for an easier pace band without luck. As a result we started our pacing gig with question marks over both of our heads, but of course we didn't mention it to our pacees.

Tony set off at a pace I thought was about 5 seconds per mile too fast, at least that's what my Garmin kept telling me. He had a rather big bunch around him. For the first few miles I hung back by about 10 steps, with another group of runners around me. Cork is a bigger marathon than Limerick and we were always going to have more runners around us than at that race, but it was inevitable that plenty of guys were starting at a pace that was way ahead of their true fitness level.

By comparing the time and pace at the mile markers with the Garmin's display it eventually dawned on me that we would have to give a bit more extra than the usual 5 seconds to make up for the Garmin's measurement errors. Tony's pace had been correct all along.

The only time I fell behind a bit further was the climb out of the tunnel around mile 8. I thought Tony was pushing just a bit too hard for what was one of the biggest climbs of the day and took it a bit easier, which left me playing catch up for the next 2 miles, but at mile 10 we were all together again.

There was a great buzz at all the relay changeover stations and at the half marathon start, and Tony has just the right knack to get the spectators cheering particularly loud. It never failed to give everyone in the group a big lift, and that includes the pacers.

The weather forecast had been rather mixed but at the start there was not a cloud in the sky and it soon became rather warm. It regretted the fact that the pacer uniforms were t-shirts rather then sleeveless singlets, not that I could do anything about it. My foot kept bothering me for the first 5 miles until the endorphins kicked in properly and was fine from then on. My stomach, on the other hand, felt distinctly uncomfortable. I played with the idea of trying to get rid of the contents, but a) did not think I would be able to make myself do so and b) felt that the sight of one of the pacers throwing up at the roadside would not exactly instill confidence in our charges, so I kept going instead, taking the discomfort as deserved punishment for my gluttony.

By halfway we were about 30 seconds ahead of time, just where we wanted to be. The group had settled down to maybe a dozen runners, most of them looking reasonably comfortable. It was at that point that my stomach finally settled down and some clouds started appearing at the sky, dropping the temperatures down to much more comfortable levels. I finally started to feel good, and it was from that point onwards that I really enjoyed the race.

I chatted to a few of our pacees, they all had their own stories and their own motivations for running marathons. Plenty were locals with family and friends providing support from the sidelines, some had run marathons only a few weeks ago (or even one week ago in one case) and the mood was pretty good.

Miles 15 - 20 are the most challenging in Cork; it is a rather flat marathon in general but there are a few undulations in those miles and the runners who were just about hanging on to this point clearly started suffering and some started to drop off. We were about 40 seconds to the good, meaning that we could take it just that little bit easier on the climbs, and we implored out charges to hang on for as long as they could.

Apparently I ran past Brendan at mile 18 while he was walking off a cramp, but have to admit that I never even noticed him. I guess he paid the same price most of us have paid in our first marathon; it's a learning experience, and he has plenty of room for improvement.

After mile 20 or 21, the hills are a thing of the past and in theory you can cruise home from here on. The main problem was the easterly wind, which we would have to battle head on for the final 4 miles, especially on the Straight Road between miles 22 and 24. We passed plenty of runners along that stretch, most of whom had no inclinations of hanging on to us.

I checked around me with about 4 miles to go and we still had a dozen or so runners with us. For a while I was hoping that we would have a really big group with us at the end for a change. I checked again when we reached the end of the straight road, and sadly we were down to half that number. Two guys took up Tony's call to push ahead and get a better time (well, one had left a mile earlier), the rest were hanging on. With a mile to go I tried again, telling them to go ahead if they could, but the answer was "I can't". I was a little bit worried about the time lost fighting the headwind at the straight road but once we reached Mardyke it was much more sheltered and not really an issue any more.

When I was pacing Limerick 4 weeks ago, I had started feeling tired with a couple of miles to go. While there was never any doubt that I would be able to finish the pacing in time, I was happy enough to see the finish line. I was in much better shape in Cork. I felt like I could have kept going forever.

There was a great turnout of spectators at the end and the final stretch on Patrick Street was really the glory stretch. All four guys who had managed to stay with us made it across the line under 3:15, and the two who had successfully pushed ahead made it half a dozen satisfied customers. The thanks you get immediately after crossing the line are always very worthwhile. It won't have been my last pacing gig.

Race photos by Doug Minihane, Iain Shaw, Darren SpringNoel Kelleher and Gearoid O'Laoi.

4 Jun
2012 Cork City Marathon, 3:15 pacer
   3:14:27, 7:25 pace, HR 159


  1. great pacing there thomas. u are racking very good quality mileage these days

  2. more good karma banked. great work once again

  3. Another professionally executed pacing job; well done. I definitely need to get into pacing, it sounds like it's rewarding and fun. I hope that if I can lay to rest the bad ghosts of 2011 later this year I can look for pacing opportunities in 2013.

  4. Another steady pacing job in the bag Thomas. Tony offerd me the 3:15 gig but 3:30 was enough for me on the day - and if I had to drop out, i'd never hear (read) the end of it ;-)

    1. Yes, Tony mentioned that. And yes, I'm still tempted to give John D some stick every time I see him ;-)

  5. Well done Thomas, great report as always.

    Mr Slow.

  6. Nice job Thomas. Looks like you had a good day for it. Where's the rain?

    I can see how you're getting a good training effect (as well as helping the pacees) with this type of marathon. Having to run at a very even pace all the way & a little easier pace than a raced marathon. I recall Derek Clayton ran a 'training marathon' in around 2:20 not long before his world record 2:08:34.

    How was your HR compared to the sub-3? Do you think you're in the same sort of shape?

  7. Shorter than normal (the report). I suppose when it is a job of work the internal demons don't come to the surface so much and it just a case of 'getting on with it'.

    well done

  8. You make the 3:15 look so easy now, amazing! You are running very well.

  9. No mention of your contribution to the Irish Times piece? Don't be so modest Thomas!
    You do know that the other contributor (Vinny Mulvey) is a multiple track and cross country All-Ireland champion? You're in rather elite company.


    1. I wasn't gonna mention it in a race report, that's all. I know who Vinny Mulvey is, and yes, I don't usually get mentioned in the same sentence as him ;-)

    2. Good read Thomas. Nice to be able to run a marathon with that control.