Monday, 17 October 2016

Pacing the Melbourne Half Marathon 2016

It’s interesting writing this, as I’m not sure what to talk about. My previous couple of events/race reports have had stuff gone wrong or something interesting has happened but not this one, which is probably a good thing.

Over the previous weekend I’ve done something that I haven’t ever done before. Be a half marathon pacer for the Melbourne Marathon Festival, and it was such good fun!
The MCG Saturday Afternoon
My pacing duties began on the Saturday with our pacing briefing, and I walked into there with no idea what to expect. I’ve never done a big city event of this distance before, so had never ran with a pacer before. I had received an email from Tim Crosbie outlining some of my duties, but I needed more information! So when we met as a group outside MCG gate 2, and then descended into the bowels of the MCG it was with trepidation of the unknown and excitement of what was to come. Oh yeah, and when I mean the bowels I mean it. I had no clue where Ben; our Pace Coordinator, was taking our group as we left Gate 2 but when we walked down and into a room with netting on the top, I finally figured out where we were. The AFL warm-up rooms. Walking into a room that I only ever saw on TV gave me goosebumps, and to realise that it was only open to elite athletes and pacers made me understand that I was joining something special.
The Pacing Briefing
The briefing was as detailed as it needed to be without waffling on, and it turns out that there was only one major thing I needed to remember, EVEN SPLITS TO GUN TIME. Pretty much everything else was secondary to that, so I walked out of there feeling confident that I would be able to successfully do my job tomorrow (along with a nice Asics pacing singlet and my pacing flag identifying what time I would be running on the Sunday). Immediately after that I decided to head up onto the MCG, and it was amazing standing on the exact same turf that so many amazing sports people have stood on over the years, and looking up into the stands rather than looking down onto the field. So amazing. Words can’t describe it, I don’t think even running around the ‘G on the Sunday compared to that moment, as this was a view reserved only to us pacers and, later, the elites (when they had their meeting). I made a quick video of the pacing rooms and you can follow the link here; Pacing rooms

Later on that night was my running group’s (Sale and District Runners) pre-marathon dinner at ‘The Spaghetti Tree’ and was a good chance to catch up, discuss racing strategies, share other racing stories, and of course, get some last minute carbs. Then to bed nice and early, ready for ‘pace day’.
Carb Loading!!
Ready for the Big Day!

As part of our role we had to arrive at the pacing rooms at least an hour before the race started, but I arrived at 6.30am as I had to try and figure out how on earth I was going to be carrying my flag. I knew it was going to be attached to my Fuel Belt, but how. In between a bottle and it’s carrier? Tape it to the bottle, or directly to the back of the belt itself? In the end that's what I did, which made it stick out on a funny angle out the back, not ideal and we joked about how many ‘points’ I would get if I poked out someone’s eye. At 7.30am it was ‘go’ time and all the Half Mara pacers left the MCG to head out to the start line. There were 2 other 1.40 pacers with me and we decided to spread out amongst the start line as much as possible just so everyone who wanted to run that time could find us and start with us. That was when I got asked a whole bunch of questions about what the plan was and I repeated my mantra, ‘RUN EVEN SPLITS TO GUN TIME’, which in this case was about 4.40min/km. Except that wasn’t entirely true, it took about 30 seconds to cross the start line which meant that I had to run slightly faster than that pace over the course of the first 9km’s to make up that time. Albert Park was definitely the most ‘exciting’ part of the race, the runners had to battle a tough headwind and I lost a bit of my flag. As we turned into the wind the already precariously placed flag blew straight out behind me, rather than above me, making it useless. This led me to rip it out of the sticky tape attached to my Fuel Belt and carried it in my hand, but nobody can see it when it’s in my hand so I tried to stick it down the back of my singlet, where the stick promptly snapped in half and I was left to carry half the flag anyways. Oh well.

Apart from that there really isn’t much more to talk about, no issues with my stomach, no blisters, no bonking, splits were fairly even and I’m not really sure how many people I helped as most of my ‘bus’ was behind me. I think I dropped a few at the second-last aid station unfortunately, but getting into MCG and yelling, ‘if you can beat me you can beat 1.40’ and seeing the people around me digging that bit deeper to pass me was something special. I crossed line in an official gun time of 1.39.28, with an average pace of 4.41 min/km, which was well within my 60-second buffer. Job done. Well, at least it would be for any other event, but it wasn’t quite over yet. I had a few different people come up to me, whom I didn’t see at all during my run, who said thank-you and told me they used me as a pace setter so they didn’t start out to fast, or when they were struggling to keep going they saw my bright yellow singlet and dug that bit deeper so they wouldn’t let me pass them, and those lucky few; who on a really tough windy day, used me to get a PB. These stories all made realise how special it was to be a pacer and I felt privileged to be one on that day. Well done everyone!
I was super happy with how my splits turned out!


  1. I understand the EVEN SPLITS TO GUN TIME but its very hard for many runners to get to the front - I did not cross start line till 4.50.

  2. Thanks for your post and pacing also.

    1. Thanks Jamsiewaimsy! I understand your frustration. I did the 10km a few years ago and that also happened to me. Maybe something to suggest to the organising committee is to have different sorts of pacer, one to gun time, the other to 'net time' and get the person who runs to 'net time' start further back in the field.
      But even us pacers aren't immune to starting to far back in the field, I know the 1.30 pacer started to far back in the starting line and was unable to get his 'gun time' because of this.


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