Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Dublin marathon pace-runner: October 2010
On 25 October 2010, I took to the streets of Dublin as a pace-maker for the Dublin Marathon. The conditions were perfect: no wind, blue sky, and approximately 8 degrees. I was not yet recovered from Berlin Marathon, so it was too soon to race. But I had previously agreed to help out as a pacer for the Dublin marathon organiser. I had plenty of mates running, and was keen to get out on the course with them in any capacity.
My job was to set the pace for a 2 hour 59 minute marathon (6:52 minute miles, or 4:16 min/km) all the way from start to finish. The idea is that runners who are aiming to break three hours for the marathon, can use me as a pacing guide throughout the race (in the absense of a pacer, many people tend to start marathons too fast). I'm also there to encourage people along the way. I had a massive red helium balloon (over a metre in diametre) tied to my wrist, and a sign in my other hand reading 3:00.
Pacing a marathon is the best possible way to witness all of the emotional and physical highs and lows of a marathon. As a pace runner, you can be immersed in the intensity of the challenge, with all the sportsmanship and camaraderie that goes with it. But unlike the other marathon competitors, you can fully appreciate the buzz of the event without being distracted by your own pain and suffering. The most rewarding moment off all for a pacer is reaching the finish line. It is exhilarating to see first-hand the sense of euphoria and exhaustion that fellow runners experience upon nailing a marathon.
All was going to plan for me until the 8 mile mark, when my oversized red balloon was defeated by overhanging foliage in a wooded section of Phoenix Park. The ‘BOOM’ that resonated through the trees was awarded with a jovial round of applause from the three hour bunch, who were apparently still energetic at this early stage in the race. Fortunately I also had a hand-held sign that would now become our most valuable signaling prop. Unfortunately, the sign was fairly modest in proportions compared with the balloon. It dawned on me that performing my pacing duties effectively for the remaining 18 miles was going to involve elevating the sign above my head - like so:
By the half-marathon mark, both of my arms were wrecked, and I started noticing smiley kids holding bunches of small helium balloons. If only I could secure one: I could tie it to my wrist as a replacement balloon, and then turn my focus completely back to nailing the 6:52 mile splits. But I didn’t have time to stop and negotiate with a spectator for the release of a balloon, so my only option was to poach one from an unsuspecting small child. I considered this for several miles, before dismissing the idea on the basis that doing so would not being in the spirit of the event.
As the somewhat diminished three-hour pack approached the finish line at Merrion Square with 2 hours 59 minutes on the clock, it struck me as being rather ironic that my arms felt like they were about to drop off. In some ways, dead arms were a welcome distraction from the aching legs. I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of pride for the lads who had stuck with us throughout the morning, and had achieved their goals.
This was a great day out in Dublin. We proceeded to follow up the running marathon with a marathon pub crawl session around Dublin throughout the afternoon and evening.