I ended up pacing the 3:30 group at yesterday's Cork City Marathon, a job which I shared with Tony. Apologies to anyone looking for me at the 3:45 start - I assume Frank sorted you out. As there was only one balloon for each pacing group I ended up with a sheet of A4 paper pinned to my back with "3:30 pacer" printed on it (Tony had the balloon). Surprisingly this lasted all of 6 or 7 miles before disintegrating (I think it was hanging on by a thread for a few miles before that - still I had a small but loyal following). Tony being more of the entertainer had a bigger following, but by mile 26.2 that had dwindled to less than a handful.
Back to the start
Being pacers, an important job, we got the elite treatment - none of this queueing up on Saturday or Sunday to collect our timing chips and bibs - all we had to do was turn up at Mahers Sports Shop (100 yards from the start) to collect our goodie bags, balloons/kit etc between 8 and half past. Our gear bags would then be transferred by magic to a room in the Victoria Hotel where we could shower and change after the race - I didn't fully appreciate this when packing my gear bag before leaving home, which explains why I was using a hairdryer to dry my shoes after the race - did I mention that it was raining!!!
As Frank, who was originally scheduled to pace 4:15, had also been asked to fill the vacant 3:45 slot I reverted back to the 3:30 slot which I had been scheduled to pace with Tony - thinking that this would attract a bigger following and therefore require more pacers (well that and the fact that all my training was at or close to the 8 minute miling 3:30 pacing required - and the mental maths is easier - 8, 16, 24........2:00, 2:08,..........3:04, 3:12 etc. Found out afterwards that Frank is running less than a year and this is already his 12th marathon (my 9th after 4+ years running by comparison) - methinks he is looking to join a certain club.
We got in position about 20 minutes before the start and chatted to a few runners - Tony was instantly recognisable as he had previously paced the Limerick and Dublin City marathons. It became apparent that there are a number of runners out there that like to run with pacers for various reasons. Once the gun sounded it took us about 1 minute to cross the timing mat, from where I started the Garmin.
During the first mile I notice that my units were set to kilometers as opposed to miles. I had changed it for the previous day's bike ride and forgotten to change it back and now couldn't remember how to - so I quickly changed to 5 min km mode which was still accurate enough to take me between mile markers where I would compare distance against overall time.
As my goal was to keep to an even pace throughout I am not going to give the usual blow by blow account of my mile splits. To be quite honest I felt different during this race as I was concentrating on a different target and while it was raining throughout it did not bother me and the only time I really noticed the wind was when it was driving horizontal rain in from Lough Mahon between miles 12 and 13.
I got talking to a few guys which passed the time away -
- The Triathlete Dentist who completed Ironman Barcelona last Year (Later I discovered his name is Billy, who came in ahead of me in triathlons last year - but not by that much - 19 seconds in the Bo Peep Tri - he passed me on the bike - if only I had known yesterday)
- The guy running in the Vibrams who reckoned that this was going to be the first marathon in Ireland wearing them - and to think that I considered wearing them for the marathon but decided against as my recent training in them has be minimal.
- The guy who did 3:30 on the button in the Paris Marathon and was hoping to improve (unfortunately not this time).
Give the poor conditions I wore a compression top/shorts/socks and a woolly hat, although I was carrying more water as a result. I thought I would enjoy the only dry part of the run through the 600m Jack Lynch tunnel at mile 7/8 but was glad to feel the refreshing breeze and cooling rain when I came out the other side. I kept about 100 yards ahead of Tony who, as Mr Motivator, had a larger following (well that and the fact that he had the balloon). At every mile marker he'd shout out something like " 4 seconds under target C'mon the 3:30's" which drew big cheers. As the race wore on the number cheering reduced.
The worst section by far was the new part of the course between miles 12 and 13 along the Lough Mahon walkway from Blackrock Castle to The Mahon pedestrian bridge where the wind coming in off the harbour was driving horizontal rain that stung exposed skin.
Mile 12 Blackrock Castle Pat, in the blue shirt behind me and the bearded guy in the red shirt stayed with me to the end - you can just make out Tony and his balloon at the back.
We passed over the 13 mile timing mat with 1:45:01 on the clock - don't know why it wasn't at the exact halfway point. Pat, who was running with me compared stopwatch times with me, discovered he started 15 or 16 seconds ahead of me and was worried that he was off target pace. I assured him that I would be aiming to come at least 30 seconds under target.
The mid section of the race passed off pretty uneventful. There was still a pretty large group between myself and Tony (30 seconds apart) - at some stage however I noticed that some of the guys I had been chatting to earlier were no longer around.
Between miles 18 and 20 I noticed fatigue setting in, my calves getting tight and found that I had to work harder to maintain pace. What kept me going was knowing that those running with me were working even harder than I was and all I had to do was maintain a steady pace for them. I miscalculated the remaining time when announcing that we had 30 minutes left to run from the top of the last incline on the Model Farm Road, when in fact we were 40 minutes out from the finish line. I should have kept quite as my earlier announcement that there was only a hour to go was met with a reply "that doesn't really help".
Pat and a few more guys were still with me turning onto the Straight Road at the 23 mile mark. However once we hit Mile 24 whatever advance 3:30 group there was broke up, with Pat and the guy in the red t-shirt pushing ahead. At this stage I had come on the shoulder of Donnacha, a fellow club runner, who had told me at the 2 mile mark he was aiming for somewhere between 3:30 and 3:45, yet he had stayed ahead of me since then. So seeing me was all the motivation he needed to up his pace and remain on his "Plan A" goal of 3:30.
I told him I was ahead of target by 30 to 50 seconds and that if he kept pace he'd get there with some to spare. On we ran in silence matching stride for stride knowing that it was mental resolve and nothing else that would get us over the line, no need for verbal communication (Pat was 10 to 15 yards ahead) - onto the Mardyke - stride for stride - past the 25 mile mark - out onto the North Mall - stride for stride - along the North Quays to Patricks Bridge - stride for stride - across Patricks Bridge and into the home straight - Donnacha took off - I momentarily hung back as I was supposed to be even pacing but there was no one to pace so when I heard the finish line announcer say "3:30.....only 25 seconds left......so and so's going to make it" I tore off after Donnacha and we both sprinted for the line coming in at 3:29:56 clock time (3:28:51 chip for me). Tony was not far behind herding the last few over the line before crossing himself with 10 seconds to spare (chip time).
What surprised me was how much the 3:30 group had dwindled since I had last seen it at mile 24. Mile 24 seems to be the critical point when things begin to come apart, whereby those with something in reserve push on and those who have hung on till then fall away. I heard a similar story about the 3:00 pacing group.
On crossing the line I was thanked by Pat, Donnacha and the guy in the red shirt which was all the feedback I needed to know that someone had benefited from my pacing and my effort wasn't in vain. Certainly 3:30 pacing is at the limit of my comfort zone and anything faster would have been a bit too uncomfortable and certainly too risky.
Three of us in all from the club (Denis L, John D and myself) carried out pacing duties, for which we went to a secret training camp back in April. Mick Rice, who also attended the training camp, was pacing the 3:00 group.
Job done - pushing for home.