This morning I had the immense honour of being an official pacer at the Robin Hood Half Marathon! Living just a few miles away from the start, the Robin Hood is my biggest local race, so it’s always been close to my heart. I have never been a pacer at a race event before, just a few parkruns, so I was really nervous!
I was pacing a time of 2:30:00, which I ran comfortably last year with some friends (you can read last years blog here) – but I was marathon fit then, and I’m definitely not now! That’s the frustrating thing with running. You can hit a certain time or distance and think “Yep, I’ve got that nailed”, but it is totally dependent on your fitness. As it got closer I began to feel a lot less confident, as it’s been a struggle to fit training in around work. It’s a big responsibility being a pacer, lots of people are relying on you to have a good run, with no lead legs or toilet disasters! I didn’t just want to hit the time, I wanted to have spare energy (and breath!) to cheer the 2:30 crew round.
The night before I lay in bed full of nerves, hearing buckets of rain emptying itself over Nottingham, debating whether it was possible to attach an umbrella to my flag. Probably a good thing I didn’t as I nearly took out the other pacers in the tent, bending down to tie my trainers. I also got stuck in some scaffolding and a tree. Once I had successfully been extracted from my various predicaments, the sun had broken through and the weather was race-perfect.
The nerves started to disappear once I was installed in my pen. So many people came up to say that they were going to be running with me (or hoping not to be caught up!) and I started to feel really excited.
The atmosphere at the start line was immense. As we crossed the line, I hit start on my Garmin, and we were off. It was really tough not to head off too quickly when everyone was cheering us on, but we kept a steady pace and before we knew it the first half a mile was down. It was great chatting to the rest of the 2:30 gang and finding out their goals – some were running their first ever half, with lots of others hoping to go sub-2:30 for the first time.
The first mile and a bit passed with lots of chatting and excitement. It’s a special thing running such a big event around your home roads, and I couldn’t believe how many people I recognised in the crowds and the race. The only problem was I found I kept speeding up every time someone gave us a cheer! As we hit the second mile, the hills began.
It’s a tough course to pace, as miles 2-6 have a lot of “undulations” (giant hills). I wasn’t sure whether to continue an even pace, or hold back knowing we’d make it up on the downhill. I decided for my group, it was probably better to hold back on the hilly sections, but that the key would be communicating that to everyone. So, I talked everyone round the hills with the game plan, and we found that we made up the time without even noticing on the downhills.
The hills were super tough but the support was fabulous though, and the 2:30 team always got a big cheer. However, it was a huge relief to hit half-way mark. I knew the pacing from here would be much more straightforward. By this stage I had got to know lots of runners – including which to encourage, and which to shout at from behind to keep going! We managed to keep the rain away to give us a good few miles under our belt, but the showers caught us in the end. I was glad I’d smothered myself in Bodyglide – rain chafe is no laughing matter!
We had a bit of a high once we knew we were in the second half, but by mile 8 this started to fade and it was noticeably quieter on the course. I always find miles 8-10 the worst. You’ve come a long old way, but it’s still a long way to go. It was heads-down-keep-going, and I felt my legs start to get stiffer and more tired too. But we stuck together as a team and made it to the 10th mile marker with cheers off “only a parkrun to go”!
One of the things I found really tough about the pacing experience was having to stick to the pace, whatever other people are doing. There were several people that had been with me the whole way that started to drop away, and that was really hard. You wouldn’t leave a friend at this stage of a race. But I knew I had to, and just hoped that they’d all come flying past me at the end!
Until this point, I’d found that the mile markers had lined up well with my Garmin and I’d purposefully packed a spare minute in the bag to give us flexibility at the end. But I suddenly realised I’d clocked 10 over a minute before the official marker. As we had that spare minute anyway, I tried not to panic. But by the 11 marker, I was to be a whole minute behind. It’s a tough decision, but you have to trust the official markers over your personal GPS. So I made the decision to up the pace, as gradually as I could.
As we’d already started to lose some of our crew, it was hard having to step up the pace at the point that you know people are already really pushing. I found those last two miles really emotional. The race changes completely at this stage, and you watch as runners either fill with energy to attack the finish or start to really struggle. This bit of the race comes from within, and it doesn’t always feel like you can do much to help.
However, the crowds by this stage were fabulous, so I did my best to raise huge cheers and shouting for Team 2:30 as we pushed on. You couldn’t write a blog about the Robin Hood without mentioning the force of nature that is the Notts Women Runners. The race was littered with purple ladies, both running and supporting, but their cheering station at Mile 11 was like nothing else. Thank you purple ladies, you were immense.
Running down the final stretch was incredibly emotional. You don’t know what it means to each runner, but you know it means something big to every single one. As a crew, we’d done a great job of sticking together, but it was wonderful watching everyone finish their own race as an individual.
By the time I crossed the line I’d practically lost my voice cheering. But when I got there, there were so many familiar faces – with massive medals around their necks. I love the fact that within just 13.1 miles, running can fill up with enough joy and confidence to fling your sweaty self around someone who was a stranger a few hours ago.
I stood on the line for as long as I was allowed, cheering through all the other runners. I was really sad not to finish with every single one of them, but it was amazing to see them finish. I crossed the line in an official time of 2:29:38 which I was really happy with. It was a tough job, and it’s certainly a huge relief that I got there without any disasters. But mostly, it was the most enormous privilege. Knowing you’ve played a part (however small) in another runner’s journey is simply amazing.
We spent two hours at the end, congratulating everyone. But as we walked home in the rain incredible runners were still coming through. Many of them were being supported by Race Angels, who were running back and forth to finish with anyone who needed their encouragement. Those final scenes summed up the day for me.
So to everyone I met today – I want to send you all the biggest thank you. I was a bag of nerves when I woke up this morning, and now (after a bowl of pasta in the bath), I’m absolutely filled up with happiness. Running has brought so much to so many of our lives.