Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Tough Day At The Office

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.



  1. Good pacing, looks like you enjoyed the experience much more than Thomas. Congratulations, and well done for helping the 3:30's... someone will be talking about "our leader" for years to come.

  2. Shame about the balloon!
    i reckon you should have been given a gigantic neon flashing sandwich board to fix onto your back, with the words 'Chase Me' writen on it :]
    Nice pacing.
    Maybe next time Thomas can pay you to get him under 3 hours!

  3. Thanks very much for the pacing duties. I managed to stay in your vicinity up to Musgrave park where it all started to take it'd toll and I'd to slow down a bit. Still finished in 3.35 so thanks very much for your help.

  4. Interestingly Tom E, who was also pacing, attended that secret training camp as well. Denis L Eagle AC

  5. Thanks a million for the brilliant pacing. Don't think I'd have come under 3.30 without your assistance.
    Especially at hills/mile markers when you’d mention we have xx seconds of margin & for shielding the wind around mahon walkway;I found saved valuable energy, although it would have helped if you were a bit wider for the shielding :-). I was hanging in there for a few miles at certain stages but thankfully at the end I had the strength to push home so thanks for your help.

  6. And you did all that clean shaven!

    I've always wanted to be a pacer since being paced and really enjoying it.

    It must be satisfying but a little stressful too I'd imagine.

  7. well done grellan and the people who you helped on the day. you bunch caught me around mile 14 and i stayed with you til about mile 16-17. i wondered who was making all that racket:)

  8. Thanks a million Grellan, I much prefer your version of the story, while the facts are 100% accurate, my memory of it was much more painful :-))
    I was under pressure at the 24 mile mark, my pace had slowed over the previous few miles and I was down to about 8.30-8.45 min mi maybe. The legs just didn't want to go any faster. When you said you were just ahead of target I thought this is my last chance. I tried my best to stick with you but it was definitely the toughest thing I've ever done. Your words of encouragement '..dig deep..' carried me home and will stay with me for many races to come. My quads were screaming and I could feel the tingle of cramp setting in but luckily it stayed away. A few times I fell a step behind and thought I was gone but managed to step it up again. As you say there was no need for verbal communication...more like no ability on my behalf, :-) all my concentration was on the next step, almost afraid to lift my head off the road. After we crossed Patricks bridge and you unselfishly told me go ahead I thought the line would never come. I could here the MC comment on so and so beating 3.30 but I couldn't see the finish and thought I was going to miss it, then he announces 20 seconds to go and I just sprinted, finally crossing the line in 3:29:56, certainly not good for one's health!!
    A great day out, thanks again for your good work, much appreciated!
    Donnacha Lehane, Eagle AC

  9. Very interesting story. Well done, I don't think I'd have the courage to do that myself (too much responsibility).

  10. Nice job Grellan. As Bob says, it's a job that carries a lot of responsibility. More pressure than running one's own race and not having to worry about holding a perfect pace. I like the last-minute sprint to break 3:30 - well done!

  11. Hi Grellan, I'm the bearded guy who was wearing the red t-shirt. Thanks to your help, I achieved a new PB (chip time) of 3.27.17 (an improvement of seven minutes on Dublin 2009). Cheers again - if you hadn't decided to push that little bit ahead of 3.30 pace, I probably would have been conservative and come in a few minutes slower. My aim is to achieve a Boston Qualifying time in the future, so it's a psychological boost to have a new PB that's in the 3.20 somethings - appreciation, AG
    (ps. I'll be starting a new blog once I decide on my next marathon - probably Dublin 2010, although maybe Galway City Marathon at the end of August...I'll check in on yours every now & again for inspiration)

  12. Cheers Michael, the buzz was great.

    Rick, don't know if the baloons are all that great as they tended to blow all over the place - perhaps the neon sign would be better.

    Barry, glad to be of some assistance - still you hung on pretty well and did not fade much - some guys who crossed the halfway mark with us finished in over 4 hours - there must have been plenty of suffering there.

    Denis, you're absolutely right, I forgot about Tom E - my excuse is that it was after 1 in the morning when I wrote the last paragraph. See you Saturday?

    Pat, you did a fantastic job. I noticed that you were struggling at times and was worried that you would drop off - but fair play you hung in there when the going got tough and really pulled it out of the hat over the last 2 miles.

    Scott - not a facial hair in sight. Just think what I could acieved with your smig (for international readers - a goatee beard - Smig is the Irish word for "chin")and a pair of arm warmers!

    Cheers Marty - I was very quite honest - still can't believe we shared the road for a few miles and have only ever met on the intertubes.

    Donnacha, coming in the straight road at mile 23.5 I could see you ahead and knew you were fading as your distinctive Eagle singlet got closer and closer. What really impressed me was your ability to latch onto my pace at a stage in the race when all your body wanted to do was slow down and stop. You certainly dug deep over those last 2 miles and showed your mental resolve in pushing against the rising tide of pain. Those last few miles are always where time goals are won or (invariably) lost. Well done and delighted to be part of it.

    Bob/Ewen, I didn't really think about the responsibility until I felt under pressure myself around mile 20 and knew i'd have to work harder - however as there were two of us pacing 3:30 I had some comfort in the knowledge that I was covered. Had I been on my own then perhaps the pressure would have greater.

    AG, well done on your PB not a bad achievement at all given that Monday's race was tougher than Dunlin'09 (where I got my current PB). You certainly looked strong when you went past me at mile 24. Sorry I didn't get your name and chat more on the day. It's feels great to beat a significant time barrier like 3:30 and as you say getting into the 3:20's is a psychological boost towards that all important Boston Qualification. Best of luck with your Blog - send me the link when you're set up.