I had just returned from a wonderful pacer duty as I write this post and I think I can still feel that “runner’s high.” Did not set any new personal best. Did not take home that enviable Run United 1 Finisher’s Medal. But I feel great! Here’s my story.
The story began not so long ago when I, together with select others, received an invite to be one of this year’s Run United official pacers. This was coming off the well-received pacers from the Run United Enervon HP Recovery Run (a.k.a. Recovery Run) late last year. As I looked at the options, I got fixated with volunteering for the 21K, but was very hesitant because I had only recently returned to long distance running. As I pondered hard and long, the slots started getting filled and before I knew it, all the slots for 21K was taken! At the back of my mind it was a bit of a relief as I won’t be pressured to run a 21K—on an even pace! The rest was history and I volunteered to pace in the 10K for a 60-minute finish.
Fast forward to the early morning of race day. I did not know if I really slept—maybe I was anxious, or excited, or both—but it felt like I just closed my eyes for a few hours. Being a pacer for me is serious business—there may be runners who will be counting on you to help them achieve their target finish times—so you really have to finish in your designated time. This is made more difficult by the fact that you should do it in as even pace as possible. My recent runs gave me the confidence that I’ll be able to deliver that 60-minute 10K, but I was a bit concerned that my leg muscles had not recovered yet from my most recent 16K long run Friday before the race (which was around the same pace as my 10K duty). Anyway, I was really glad that I’m not doing 21K this morning (although half of me was a bit envious of those who will be earning their 21K Finisher’s Medals at the end of the race).
Our call time was an hour ahead of our respective gun starts. It’s barely just enough to get settled, be briefed on some last minute reminders, and have our bibs and balloons attached. Like last year’s Recovery Run, we pacers were wearing extra-large bibs on our backs indicating our target (maximum) finish times with matching colorful balloons reflecting the same for easy identification. This time around though we were not wearing any timing chips and we were positioned several meters ahead of the starting line (since it would be a challenge to fit us pacers into the huge crowd of runners!). One thing that I appreciated though was how much value Unilab Active Health has placed on us pacers—we were presented in front of the crowd and introduced one by one! We even had our photos flashed on the screen! Definitely a first for me!
Despite being ahead of the starting line, we pacers followed the gun start so as the crowd of runners starting running, we too started moving. And a few seconds later, the elites started zooming past us—a pretty rare experience to see the ruckus that happen during these early stages of the race. It was a bit scary too since we were running much slower than they are (as we keep to our designated pace). Then came the speedsters and eventually, the runners that are on our pace.
Our pace group was initially clumped together but we started spreading out a bit as the race progressed so as not to form a “barricade” on the road. And despite not being really planned, our distribution, looking back, was quite ideal as we tend to “cover” more runners aiming to finish their 10K in 60 minutes (at the maximum). The one at the very front was a bit ahead of the 6:00/km pace to compensate for the stops at hydration stations and to ensure a sub-60 minute finish while the ones at the end tries to encourage more runners to exceed themselves and attempt the 60-minute finish time. I was second in line keeping a close proximity with the leader so that together we have more visual prominence and so that we appear more as dotted lines of pacers.
Keeping an even pace throughout the race is quite challenging if you do it by gut feel or even manually with a watch because not every kilometer is marked (or maybe I just didn’t notice some) so I’m quite thankful for the advent of GPS watches. It’s only through this that I was able to adjust my speed as needed throughout the race. Despite that though, sometimes it’s easy to be pulled by fast runners or be a bit slow after passing through a hydration station.
Unlike in the Recovery Run though where we had “recruits” running beside and behind us, there weren’t really any that I can consciously see joining our pace group. There were those that come every now and then, but none that stuck with us from start to finish. That’s okay though as we were there as their option to be their guide to finish in 60-minutes. Well, practically a sub-60 minute 10K—a “golden” number for many runners.
Being near the front and having my GPS watch I was consciously monitoring our pace if we were going too fast or too slow for our target time. To be honest, we were aiming for something around 58 minutes to finish to ensure that everyone who runs with us gets to finish their races before 60 minutes (compensating for possible slowdown on the hydration stations as well). As we approached the last U-turn, we knew that we were on our target of 58 minutes, but to motivate more runners to push more and finish even before that we were constantly shouting (as we run towards the finish) that a “sub-60” was almost upon them. And meters just ahead of the finish line, we stalled (in an ideal spot where we won’t be blocking the way) to shout that a “sub-60” was upon them. Eventually our pace group was assembled and we’re all like crazies shouting in front of the finish line! To see the look on their faces when they realize that they’re going to finish their 10K in less than 60 minutes—priceless!
And of course, we won’t forget our official pacer duties and together we crossed the finish line in around 59 minutes and 50 seconds something. Mission accomplished!
I may not have earned a Finisher’s Medal today, but the experience that I had today is a reward in itself. Hopefully you found us useful in your race today!
To all the finishers in the first leg of this year’s Run United, Congratulations! See you on the second leg and I hope you did exceeded yourself today! You may view the official 2015 Run United 1 race results here.
Special thanks to my co-pacers for an excellent pacing, Bards “BananaRunning” for the reminders and all, and all the people behind Run United 1!