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Cambridge Half Marathon
Sunday 28th February 2016
Dave Mail

As we filed into the starting pens, we could hear the announcer telling the runners about the pacers “Trust them, they’re experienced, they’re accurate, follow them and they’ll get you round”. A runner next to me joked “No pressure on you then” which set the tone for the rest of the morning.

Despite the entry limit being increased from 4,000 to 7,000 runners this year (although only 5,308 finished), we were running freely and as we approached the end of Maid’s Causeway I mentioned that to someone next to me. Just a few yards later we came to a walk as the race turned through a tight narrow bend onto Elizabeth Way. “You spoke too soon!” she said. I had, as you shall read further on.

The first mile was 9:47, so my fellow pacer and I were well behind pace for the 1:59:59 chip time that we had been requested to run which requires 9:09mm average pace, but my pacing schedule accounted for that probability so I wasn’t concerned, and although we had to weave past runners during the next mile we made up some of the lost time. As well as my Garmin to give me a guide of my current pace, I wore a watch on which I pressed the lap button at each mile marker and referred to my hand held chart which showed me what time I should take to get to each mile.

I take the view that I am representing the club and the event, so as well as pacing, I feel beholden to enhance participants’ experiences, which I do by chatting to them and giving them a guided tour all at the same time. As well as hopefully lightening their mood, it takes their minds off the running.

We were now running through the historic centre of Cambridge so I started to shout out about interesting places. In previous years, fellow runners have not been that interested in my snippets of history and fact (looks of “who’s that madman shouting at us?”), but on Sunday quite a few were vocally appreciative so I kept shouting out. One even joked that we were passing through lots of very interesting places which I wasn’t mentioning, so I admitted that I needed to let my voice recover between shout-outs plus in some places it was so noisy I wouldn’t have been heard. Someone else was impressed that I could run and shout out a guided tour at the same time!

After passing the original Addenbrooke’s Hospital we continued uneventfully to Trumpington, where at 5 miles I called out to my fellow pacer that we were spot on schedule, and a little cheer went up from the surrounding runners! We went up the slope through Granchester, and I refrained from reciting poetry from any of its famous poets (I don’t know any poetry anyway), although I pointed out Byron’s Pool and the church that “Stands the Church clock at ten to three?” refers to in one poem.

I’m enjoying this, thanks to the interaction with the other runners who are chatting with us. I think I’ve got a smile most of the time. Then we were out onto the Coton Road before turning along Barton Road which even after just over 7 miles was congested so we had difficulty passing some slowing runners and we fell some seconds behind pace. There was lots of encouragement for we pacers from spectators, and we were buoyed by the comments from nearby runners thanking us for keeping them going. This is why I enjoy pacing, to help others. I shouted out to anyone around me that I was impressed by their consistent pace since a lot of them had been near us for several miles.

Back into Cambridge and more snippets fell out of my mouth. Passing Queens’ College, I explained why it is Queens’ not Queen’s (I know some dispute the spelling and the origin, but mine is the version I prefer), and as we turned onto the Backs I pointed out the “backs of the colleges”, so a nearby runner jovially asked if I was a punt guide in my spare time.

Over Garrett Hostel Bridge, after which I encouraged runners not to slow down through “Pisspot Lane”, and we made up some time, only to turn into Chesterton Road which was very crowded and we lost a little time again. This was 2 hours pace and the crowd hadn’t thinned out! Still plenty of chatting between us and the runners, which makes it much pleasanter for everyone, taking their minds off the running. An improved 12th mile and we were back on track, and as we went over Elizabeth Bridge, I pointed out to the runners that Midsummer Common and the finish were in sight along the river. Someone asked if we would be doing a sprint finish, “No, even pace, but you’re welcome to pass us”.

Into the home straight, and my fellow pacer and I exhorted nearby runners to make their last effort and quite a few responded to go past us. My colleague and I finished in 1:59:54 without slowing down or speeding up in the home straight to manipulate our times as I’ve seen some other pacers do. 5 seconds too fast! My fellow pacer (first time pacing at this event) asked if we would be told off, so I reassured her no, we were fine.

In the finish area, a large number of runners came up to us to thank us for our efforts helping them to get under two hours, and congratulated us on doing it so accurately. That makes it all so worthwhile.



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