When I entered this race I thought I'd be doing it for fun, but then I heard that this was a relatively flat race and so would actually be quite a fast one. It could perhaps be a good chance to attempt a sub-90 again for the first time since before the pandemic. However, about a month before race day Carmen let me know they needed a 1:45 pacer, and as she would be pacing 2:15 at this race I figured I may as well. I'd originally been down to pace a race in November, but had needed to back out of that one, so this would be replacing that now.
I’d already had a few practice runs at 1:45 pace earlier in the year, but the week before I did 10 miles just to make sure I could still do it. It went well, maybe slightly too fast at times when I wasn’t keeping an eye on my pace, but I felt confident I could do it today. I just hoped it wouldn’t be too wet out there today as apparently it often is for this race. When I woke up I could hear the wind howling in the dark, and raindrops were running down the windows of the kitchen as I made myself some breakfast. My first time running with a pacing flag really was going to be a challenge.
When we were ready, the weather outside didn’t seem quite as bad as it had been during the 20 minute drive to Festival Fields. Unlike previous years, this was the car park and start/end point for the race after some last minute changes. Apparently they’d not been able to get the road closures needed to do the normal route, so this route along the sea front had been hastily put together from what some were saying.
It wasn’t clear whether we were supposed to pay for parking there or not, but one of the people directing traffic suggested we didn’t have to, so we didn’t. We then made our way across the swampy, water-logged car park to the information tent where we picked up our race packs and pacing flags. I switched over to wearing the 1:45 pacer tee, and found that out of the wind, this with my base layer was enough. The flag isn’t too difficult to put together either, but that could be because I’ve seen Carmen do it before.
The toilet situation before the race wasn’t too bad - plenty of them, and relatively fast moving queues, but I noticed the paper had gone by 08:30 so could have been a problem for anyone needing it. Whether they sorted this later, I can’t say.
After a group photo of the pacers, I positioned myself approximately right for people wanting to do 1:45, and met James, the other 1:45 pacer. Of the two of us, it’d be just me wearing a flag as he’d found the other was missing part of the pole. That was probably a good thing as if the wind proved too strong, at least one of us wouldn’t need to stop to drop off the backpack.
As soon as the race started I tried to settle into the right pace as quickly as possible, and kept an eye on my pace as I ran up the hill away from the start, onto the coastal path. There’s a bit of weaving too and from the coast when you need to pass some buildings, and one of us or both of us, would yell ‘POST!’ every few minutes when some came up. Me and the other pacer worked together to make sure our pace was around what it needed to be consistently - he’d thought ahead and stashed some gels in my backpack in case any runners joining us needed some in the later stages. So far the flag didn’t seem too bad to wear, and the wind wasn’t catching it that much.
As I we got closer to the first turnaround point, I could see oncoming runners on the other side of the path so we now needed to make sure that those with us were keeping left as well. It did mean we wouldn’t get a brilliant racing line around these bits, but I didn’t think it’d make a massive difference. At the first turnaround point I slowed down for the turn as it was a bit sandy and didn’t want to slip if with my balance being slight off due to a massive flag being attached to my back. This being my first experience of this, I didn’t want to risk it.
On the return journey was the first time I managed to catch the flag on a bush and felt myself get pulled back slightly as it caught on it. I saw Carmen coming in the opposite direction too. It felt like a good, positive start to the pacing. When my watch beeped for 3 miles, the marker was a good 200 metres ahead of me. I figured as is often the case, it was just where they were able to place the marker close by. Just in case, I made a conscious effort to keep as close to the racing line as I could - it wouldn’t be perfect though when there’s runners going in both directions, but would need to take that into account by making sure there’s a slightly bigger buffer by the end just in case.
When I got to 5 miles the gap between me and the marker was significant. In fact, whilst I could see several race photographers lining the hill in front of me, I couldn’t see the mile marker until I was passed them. It was easily half a kilometre ahead of me. This being my first time pacing it was difficult to know what to do. Was the marker quite a distance off where it should have been? Or had I needed to weave far more than I’d realised? The truth was probably somewhere between the two.
James, the other 1:45 pacer, felt we were spot-on time wise as we were a few seconds under for each mile we were doing. I did realise that if we kept it up we’d be over a minute ahead of time by the time we reached 13.11 miles, but, how much of that would we need as a buffer? If we were about 0.1 miles over distance then we’d probably need most of that minute. We were now passing the start and continuing heading west along the sea front. Parts of this did remind me of the Swansea route, but I guess considering the proximity it shouldn’t have been too surprising.
Whilst I felt good, some of the small hills did feel like hard work being blown around a little by the flag. For one of them in fact it felt like I was working really hard to run into it and maintain that 08:00/mi pace. We were still consistently pacing 5-10 seconds faster than needed, and for the most part we were a good few hundred metres from each marker as my watch beeped. I think perhaps we could have risked slowing down a little this far into it, having accounted for going over the distance slightly, but we continued on.
We could see another point where runners were now heading towards us again on the other side of the path, but we continued following the coast and eventually turned to head inland, and then went around a couple of roundabouts and a water station before going up over a bridge and down to another roundabout that was out turnaround point.
“Is the course measuring long for you?” the 1:50 pacers asked us as we saw them as we were crossing back over the bridge.
“About half a mile! I mean - half a kilometre,” James called back. They seemed to agree with him they were over by about the same.
The climb back up that bridge was hard work and I did think about how nice it’d be to walk, but I thought to myself that this pace is much easier than I’d normally be running at, why am I thinking like that? I knew I wouldn’t and couldn’t walk though as there were people relying on us to pace them to the finish. I kept going, knowing it was less than 5K to go, and that despite what my head was telling me, my legs knew I could easily do this.
Once I’d run to the top of the climb over the bridge I soon forgot how that had felt and just carried on. We’d lost a couple more of the group that was with us during the climb, but some had powered on and were now thankfully ahead of us.
For this final stretch of under 5K the sun came out for the briefest of times, but didn’t last long at all. Minutes at best. That was a welcome difference to Swansea Half - I could imagine if we’d had this wind, and that heat, it’d have been a very tough day to pace correctly.
Before we knew it, there was only 1 mile to go, and this started to disappear quickly. Towards the end of it another runner overtook me and said I was going a bit quick. I looked at my watch, “Nope, it says 8:20/mi so a little too slow if anything”. He didn’t comment, and carried on running. When I got to the final corner I could see I was going to be just over a minute too quick so in compensating for the extra distance I’d compensated a little too much.
I slowed down even more for this last straight, and at times even turned around so I could see the oncoming runners and cheer them to the finish line. By the time I crossed myself I was around 40 seconds too quick. One of the organisers was quick to say the same, and I felt awful I’d let the runners down that had wanted sub-1:45. Sure, anyone who’d kept up with us had, but we’d have pushed them a little harder than we should have. Having been told this as soon as I'd finished it made me feel like I didn't want to pace again, but a little later on I realised I shouldn't let that stop me.
Hopefully next time I pace a race, if there is a next time, I’ll do a better job of it.