One of the great things about running is the sheer diversity of people you’ll see. It’s an incredibly inclusive sport which caters for everyone. Here are some of the types of people that seem to show up at every event. All examples given are genuine ones I have seen at events…
Are you one of these? Do you spot the same types, or have any additions to the list? Let me know in the comments.
The veteran club runner.
Wears: Short shorts and a club vest. Probably no Garmin, definitely no headphones.
Skinny as a rake, long legs emphasised by the shortness of his shorts, this older gentleman is a serious runner who trains properly and is here to represent his club. He does half-marathons practically every weekend during the peak season, and has done this particular event so many times he’s close friends with the course director. He’s more than twice your age and is much, much, much faster than you.
The inexplicably inappropriately dressed guy.
Wears: tracksuit trousers, baggy cotton t-shirt, vans. Carries an iphone in one hand which he listens to through earbuds that keep falling out. Possibly has a 2-litre bottle of evian with a screw-top in the other hand.
Probably late teens or early twenties, there’s always someone who’s shown up in totally inappropriate kit. At first you wonder if he’s even supposed to be there but, sure enough, he’s wearing a race number and running along with you. Does he not know that you need proper trainers and technical gear for a marathon or does he just not care? Is he so good that it doesn’t matter? You lose sight of him after a while and never see him again. You probably almost definitely surely came in a couple of hours ahead of him but can’t shake the nagging thought that maybe he beat you…
The person doing something ridiculously grueling for charity.
Wears: Full firefighting gear including air cylinder (seen at Portsmouth marathon), heavy animal costume with apparently no space to breathe or see through.
The rhino costumes etc are ubiquitous at the London Marathon and other big events. Even more impressive are soldiers running with heavy packs, firemen in full kit, etc. Generally you’re running past them thinking ‘wow, I thought I was having a bad day’ but occasionally they’ll run past you, leaving you thinking ‘wow, I really am having a bad day…’
I have nothing but admiration for people who take on these kinds of challenges. They draw a lot of attention to their cause, especially at the big well-supported events, and it takes a totally different level of training to complete a marathon wearing all that kind of additional kit. Even just running in boots and trousers is a massively different experience to trainers and shorts; add a jacket, backpack, helmet, bulky costume, or whatever else it might be, and it just gets exponentially harder.
The charity runners
Wears: A vest or tshirt emblazoned with their chosen charity. Sometimes they’ll have a photo of a friend of family member in whose honour they are running, which is particularly moving.
These guys are always inspiring. They’re often (but not always) first-time runners and not hugely fast, but the event is more than just a run to them, it’s the culmination of months of planning, training and fundraising, and it can be an emotional day if it’s a big milestone for them or they’re running in the memory of someone close to them. They often bring with them crowds of supporters, whether friends or from the charity they are running for, which adds to the positive atmosphere of the day. Despite my controversial views about the stranglehold that charities have over the London Marathon, I have nothing but admiration for the runners themselves who, unlike me, aren’t there because it’s genuinely their favourite thing to do on a Sunday morning…
Wears: A flag!
Most big races will have pacers, usually targeting either a round time, like a 4-hr marathon, or a particular pace. The reason for the oddly non-round time of 3.56 in the photo above is that it is a 9 min mile pace, which is a favourite pace for runners as it is a nice round pace that will bring them in just under the popular target time of 4hrs.
At their simplest, pacers are just there to help guide runners to a particular time. They should be running well within their own limits, so that they can easily maintain the steady pace for the whole run. This gives runners something to focus on if they either don’t have a GPS watch, don’t like running with a watch, or don’t want to have to be constantly focusing on a watch to maintain their pace (which is understandable). Actually another good reason for running with a pacer is that having a real human to run with both prevents you from running off too fast when you’re fresh, and helps to motivate you to keep up when you’re starting to flag (excuse the pun), so it can be a good move if you are pushing for a time that you think you will find tough to run with the pacer, as long as you don’t mind running in a group. And that’s the other thing with pacers, they often end up as little group leaders, responsible for managing other people’s races to an extent. Do they slow down a little through aid stations, for example, and then make the time up again during the course of the mile? At the slower paces in particular a good pacer may be in a position to motivate and encourage a large group of novice runners through a difficult run, and that makes it a far more interesting and important role than simply running a race with a flag on your back.
I’ve always wanted to try being a pacer and have tried signing up for a couple of sites but have never managed to get a job as one. If anyone has any tips or knows what I’m doing wrong then let me know!
The guy with all the gels
Wears: A race belt with a dozen gels, four or five packets of chews and two little plastic squeezy bottles. Possibly even an ultra-running vest for when they need that extra space for a couple of their own water-bottles and a dozen more gels.
There always seems to be someone ahead of me on the start line with a belt absolutely full of nutrition. For a marathon it’s understandable, but I notice it particularly at half-marathons where, in my personal opinion (which you are welcome to take me to task for below) gels are barely necessary, and one or two at most are probably a nice-to-have. Perhaps it’s the fact that their race belt has space for ten gu pouches, two little plastic bottles of Hammer Gel and a couple of packets of jelly babies that makes them think they have to take all that stuff, perhaps it’s nervousness at the prospect of running out of energy, or perhaps it’s because it’s always worked for them and they don’t like the idea of now ditching the belt. Whatever it is, my advice to any runner is; yes, absolutely, plan your nutrition and take what you need, but don’t overload yourself. You will be more comfortable and therefore faster by not having a race belt full of unnecessary crap, especially for shorter races where you honestly aren’t going to require it.
And if you need an ultra-running vest for a half-marathon with water stops every few miles then, sorry, but you’re doing something wrong.