Looking for a new challenge? Try being a pacer: Notes from a pacer and pacee

Pacer: Rachel

Rachel and Cathy 2018.jpg

I love Brighton Half marathon and sign up every year. I figure it will motivate me to train well through the winter. I haven’t actually raced it for two years due to illness, and in fact, I haven’t run that distance either for two years. During training this year I realised that I had forgotten 13.1 miles is actually a long way! Training went OK, and I kept injury-free. Cathy mentioned she was hoping to get round in less than 2 hours for the first time, and I offered to help pace her. Or maybe I told her I would pace her. I’m normally around the 1 hour 50 mark, so felt confident I could help Cathy with her goal. It actually felt good to take pressure off myself to try and achieve my own PB- the only thing I had to concentrate on was making sure we both got round in 1:59 or less.

I formulated a plan. Having seen Cathy at a ParkRun recently, I knew she tended to start too fast, and then fade towards the end (which we all tend to do). My plan was to, therefore, start slightly slower than she wanted to run it, and then slowly increase the speed. I planned for us to start at 5:40/Km, which would bring us home in 1:59, but if Cathy felt good I’d try to get us to 5:30/Km.

Brighton blessed us with beautiful if slightly chilly racing conditions. TopTip: Disposable hand warmers inside your gloves. We started out slightly faster than I was planning- this is usual for races as you feel great after your taper AND you are surrounded by a mass of fast running people, so you go into wild stallion/mare mode and keep up. I reined us in a little and then we settled into a nice steady pace. I used a lot of internal and external cues with Cathy. Getting her to tune into how she felt was our first step- Comfortably uncomfortable was the goal. It’s a pace that means you’re running hard, but not so hard that you’re going to suffer later on. You should be able to keep going. Save uncomfortably uncomfortable for your ParkRun PB! We then locked into our 5:30/Km pace- once you have that comfortably uncomfortable speed, it’s really important to mentally ‘lock-it-in” and stop thinking about it.

We saw lots of BriTri supporters through the course, which really boosted us, and the miles kept being ticked off at our metronomic pace. Getting to mile 9 and things started to get tough for both of us. Clearly, I wasn’t about to mention my niggly hip and calf! I used some external distractors, which Mike Porteous taught me. The "sense-ational" running technique: every few minutes you concentrate on one of your 5 senses. What you can see (blue sky, sun, yippee!), what you can hear (cheering, clapping, awesome drumming band), what you can smell (ahh, the sea!), what you can feel (my comfy new runners, forget the hip niggle!) and finally what you are going to eat when you finish (roast+pint).

We hit Hove Promenade, and unfortunately the last 5 Km was into the Beast from the East headwind. Cathy tucked in to draft behind me, and I tried picking up the pace to 5:20/Km. A little chirp from behind me: “You’re getting faster! I can’t go any faster!” “No, I’m not! Stay with me!”  Nevertheless, I knew we were well on target for our goal, and cruised down the final stretch to cross the line in a formidable 1:55:56.

Cathy was obviously elated, and so was I. It was a really enjoyable race, and taking the pressure off myself to achieve was really interesting. Clearly, I still had pressure on myself to ensure we got in under 2 hours, but this was a different pressure. It really felt like a team effort and was still challenging in its own way. I really enjoyed the planning, and to see the plan executed perfectly was really rewarding. The pint and the roast afterwards were the best. So, if you fancy a different but hugely rewarding challenge, try pacing someone to a new race PB. It might teach you a lot about your own pacing strategy.

Pacee: Cathy

I was fortunate to have Rachel as my pacer for the Brighton half marathon.  I have been trying to finish a half marathon in under two hours for the last couple of years, the closest being 2 hours and 45 SECONDS.  Conveniently, I forgot my Garmin watch on the day, so was reliant on Rachel for timings.  I knew I needed to do approximately 9-minute miles, but usually running in min/km I didn’t know how much that was, so I basically left the clock-watching completely to her.  
I think the most notable thing for me was that we started at a very measured pace and kept that going.  Having Rachel there distracted me from looking at how many people were overtaking me in the beginning (Rachel’s note: we then proceeded to overtake loads of people through the rest of the race which gave Cathy a real boost). I have a tendency, as a lot of athletes do, to go out too hard then get knackered at about the halfway and lose pace.  My concentration has a tendency to wander (such as when watching seagulls or waving at people), and I slow down, but Rachel kept the pace steady over the whole 13.1 miles, except the last two miles when she increased the pace (thinking I wouldn’t notice but I did).
We ended up finishing in 1:55:56, which I am still chuffed about. It was a really valuable lesson in how to keep a steady pace for the whole race and stay focused on the race I was running.  I don’t think I would have managed it as successfully myself, so am very grateful to Rachel for helping me crack the two-hour demon!