To-date, I have run 6 half marathon races, and run the distance of 21.1km (and beyond) several times during training. However, this was my first time pacing this distance (and pacing any event for that matter!), and something I was really looking forward to. My current PB for a half is 1:23:39, so I was pleased to be pacing for the 1:40 group at the Richmond Half Marathon.
In typical fashion, Sunday morning trains were a little slow. Despite taking the first train in, my journey to the lovely Richmond Park still took over 90 minutes. I hurried and made my way to the Xempo tent, where other pacers were already getting set-up. My race pack was waiting for me there, as well as a light-weight running vest/back pack, along with an Xempo branded “1:40” blue flag. Set-up was fairly quick, and within a matter of minutes we were all ready to go!
Although I was confident to be able to run the half in under 1hr 40min, I was still under some degree of pressure, as I really wanted to do a good job pacing. Other people were depending on me and I obviously didn’t want to let them down! I queued up in the start pens in what seemed to be a suitable place for 1:40 finishers to be (asking other runners around me their expected time helped to determine this!). After having a chat with a few runners, we were off, promptly at 9am as planned!
The first 2km was fairly slow, with quite a bit of congestion. The runners then thinned out a little, and the paced slightly quickened. I tried my best to stick to a 4:42/km steady pace, and feel that I did a good job with it, although the run did slow down at narrow places, meaning I had to (gradually!) increase the pace slightly at certain points to ensure a consistently paced run throughout.
The atmosphere was incredible and very enjoyable. Crowds and volunteers alike were shouting out words of encouragement to the runners (as well as the pacers, which was nice!). Hearing the words, “good job pacers!” was really motivating. I kept a strong form, talking to runners as they passed by. I would look around at runners and also try to communicate words of encouragement to them, but at the same time trying not to distract them from their run. I really love the scenic views of running through Richmond along the Thames tow path and green parks, which was highly nostalgic of the Richmond Running Festival route. The mixed surface does mean that a PB may not be as easy as a road race, but the very flat route does help to even the odds.
I eventually finished the race with a chip time of 1:39:20, and a gun time of 1:39:53, which I feel was a perfect compromise between the two, allowing runners who may have started slightly before or after me to achieve a sub-1:40 half marathon. My pace was more-or-less steady, and given the narrow walks and congestion in places, still managed a steady paced run. I should also add that running with a big flag attached to my back was also more comfortable than I had expected, and only required some minor navigation through low branching trees and tunnels.
Post-race, both myself and the other 1:40 pacer, Tony Trundley, stood at the finish line for a short time, watching the runners come in. It felt great when runners came over and had a chat with us, informing us about their new PBs. I love hearing about peoples running accomplishments, and to have played a part in helping them achieve their goal is a truly rewarding feeling.
To finish off a great run, we all received an epic goody bag containing a technical running T-shirt, multi-purpose scarf/snood, along with many edible organic items. The race village after was also buzzing, with runners still coming in, food stands and tents with other activities. There was also the anticipation of the kids running event to follow, along with the invitation-only elite mens mile.
I made my way back to the Xempo tent to have a quick stretch and complimentary massage, as well as return my running vest and flag pole (not before having a few photos clicked!). After I changed into some warm clothes, it was also nice to catch-up with Mark Parkinson, who graciously gave me a nice treat regarding a certain running event next week! (more on that to come later…)
All-in-all, I really enjoyed my first pacing event and am really excited to do it all again in the future. A special thanks to Dan Afshar, the main man in-charge of organising the pacing for Xempo. I hope everyone at Richmond had a great day as I did. I am most definitely keen to return next year; either pacing or racing!