On Sunday I ran as the 2hr pacer in the ‘New Swindon Half Marathon’. I believe it’s new in that the course is new, but I never ran the old one so I’m not sure.
My run was obviously fairly easy – 2hrs isn’t a challenging time for me so I was able to just bimble round and try to focus on keeping a consistent pace.
Actually keeping the correct pace is always a challenge. At almost every other run I have done, my Garmin gradually starts measuring short of the actual miles, which is unsurprising as I’m unlikely to be running exactly the measured course. The result is that you can’t just rely on your Garmin’s pace, but also have to ensure you are on track based on the actual miles marked on the course. That is why for this run I took an ordinary watch with a stopwatch function as well as my garmin, allowing me to keep track of overall time and splits against the ‘real’ distance.
However, it was even harder than usual at Swindon because the miles were varying from long relative to my garmin (as expected) to significantly short relative to my garmin (which is harder to explain, since it ought to be impossible to run a quicker route without outright cheating, which I assure you I didn’t…!). This meant I was constantly varying from worrying I was going to slowly to worrying I was going too fast. In the end I came in about 3 minutes under which is actually pretty decent.
Personally, I thought the final distance was a little short – I had it as 13.01 miles. However one single Garmin measurement can’t be relied on so I’m not questioning the accuracy of the course. Besides, there was also a point at which there was a sharp switchback where you ran around a cone and directly back on yourself. As most GPSs aren’t continually tracking, but registering a single point every fraction of a second and then linking them together, it is exactly this sort of thing that could potentially cause a course to appear a little short on the Garmin, as the Garmin track might effectively ‘cut the corner’ very slightly.
Anyway, more importantly, the pacing experience was absolutely lovely. When I paced before I had the 2hr10 slot and felt that very few people were actually using me to pace. The 2hr slot on the other hand is a big milestone and lots of people seemed to be running with me and aiming for a first time sub-2hr. I chatted to some of them and encouraged them when I could, and was really thrilled to see a lot of them run off ahead of me at the end. I got a lot of ‘thank-yous’ at the end, and a hug off one particular runner who had run with me the whole way and managed to get his first ever sub-2hr, on his birthday no less.
While obviously it’s the runners that do the hard work and the pacer can’t really take any credit, I know some people found it useful to run with me, and this particular runner I was able to offer some support and encouragement to because I knew he was running with me the whole way.
As an aside, a number of people asked me late in the race ‘are you on track’ and I had to say back ‘yes, as long as you started with me!’
Hopefully it’s obvious to people but as the slower pacers may cross the start line well after the gun, running with one at the end of the race will only get you the target time if you crossed the start line at the same time as them, which is why it’s worth finding your pacer in the start pen and sticking close.
Also, for me personally, I was cautious about directly encouraging people around me if I wasn’t sure if they were running with me or not. If someone seemed to be alongside me for a bit I’d often ask how they were doing, and many then said ‘oh, just trying to stick with you’ so then I could keep an eye on them and try to encourage them a bit. My point is that if you are running with a pacer it may be worth identifying yourself early in the race because you’ll probably then find they are more chatty and supportive! That might just be me though, I’m not great with just shouting encouragement at strangers…
I found the race well-organised and pleasant to run, never too crowded on the course and with some really good support for a fairly small local event. It seemed as if a lot of the runners were members of local running clubs and maybe even worked at local businesses, as there seemed to be an unusual number of people who knew each other. That made for a nice, friendly atmosphere that I enjoyed.
The course isn’t particularly inspiring or pretty, being mostly on roads around Swindon, but it is easy to run on, road or pavement the whole way, and very flat apart from one small hill at the end.
Aid stations were good – I think there were four in total, evenly spaced out, and they had water in bottles, which I always prefer to cups as it means you can run with it a little way and drink it slowly, and it’s far easier to drink from on the move than a cup. They also had gels, which I don’t really require for a half marathon but it can be useful having them out there to save carrying, and jelly babies which are always nice for a little sugar kick in the second half…
The start village was decent with plenty of food options, although the finish was pretty crowded with a long queue to get medals and goody bags. The goody bag was decent, incidentally, with a gel and both a technical t-shirt and a cheap but perfectly wearable wooly hat that I will probably actually use on future races, if only as a throwaway for a very cold start one day.
A final point was about the traffic. The race seemed to shut down much of Swindon and cause long delays for a lot of drivers, which was reflected in some angry twitter comments that I saw afterwards. I recognise how irritating it must have been to be stuck in the traffic but to be honest my sympathy is limited – signs were out three weeks in advance and there was plenty of information online. Events like this will always conflict with the desire of drivers to be able to get where they want when they want with miminal delay, and if one day of the year the drivers lose out then that seems like not that big of a deal. Local press reported that the organisers will ‘look at the road closures’ for next year but personally I would urge them not to worry too much, and urge drivers to get over themselves and exercise a little patience.