Mumbai Marathon: Going P(l)aces
The January 19 Mumbai Marathon has a number of pacesetters in the open category, helping people achieve their time goals
As the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon enters another decade, with the eleventh edition of the event on Sunday, it is adding fresh tweaks and newer facets, making it more professional for amateur runners too. One of those aspects is the inclusion of pacesetters or pacemakers at the event. While pacesetters are common in world class events, not only marathons but distance racing too, here we have pacesetters in the ‘open’ or ‘non-elite’ category, helping nervous novices or recreational runners to achieve their goals.
The only woman pacer in the full marathon (42.195 km) event is Elizabeth or Lizzie Chapman, who is pacing at an impressive 4 hrs 15 minutes for the full marathon. Says Lizzie, who is based in Mumbai but spends much of her time travelling around India, “This is my first time at pacing. I have run many marathons and half marathons and I am normally quite competitive but have had a tough year physically, so thought it would be good to be less competitive and help others achieve their goals by pacing instead.”
Lizzie, who was born in London and moved to Mumbai 2.5 years ago, has a marathon best of 3 hrs and 16 minutes though she is pacing at 4.15 this time. “I am trying to persuade the marathon organisers to let me lead a sub-4 hour bus as most marathon runners dream of beating 4 hours!” she says. Incidentally a ‘bus’ simply means a group when one is talking about pacing it is not literally a bus.
Lizzie who has 16 people signed up following her, says, “There are mostly men. I would absolutely love to see more women running in the 42-km.” She adds, “Women actually generally perform better over long distances.” Man or woman, Lizzie’s message to those attempting the 42-km for the first time, is, “Anyone who can run 10km, can run a marathon if they have the right mental attitude. A marathon is all about mental strength and determination.
You have to want to do it. I have a few tricks to help me keep going. One is to deliberately try to ‘enjoy’ pain. I tell myself pain is my body’s way of telling me I am working hard, and turn it into a positive energy. I also try to constantly remember ‘pain is temporary, pride is forever’. It is important to remember what an amazing feat it is, that you are in one of the very small minority of people who have the courage and determination to do something this tough. Be proud!”
That rousing sentiment is echoed by pacer Arsalan Shaikh who is pacing the 42 km race at 4:30 or 4 hrs and 30 mins. Says Arsalan, “My plan is to do 6 mins 20s (per kilometre) on average and go at a steady pace. At the 21-km mark, we will take a 20-sec walking break, and then we will not stop.” Arsalan says that though one of the buzzwords of the marathon is “hydration” it is important not to “over hydrate”. In the end, he says, “For 42-km first-timers I want to tell them, just enjoy the race, do not think too much about timing, and concentrate on finishing it. It is after 35 km that things start becoming really tough, but you can complete it.”
Mumbai banker Ravi Kandpal, who is also pacing 42 km at 4 hrs 30m, (4.30) too believes that first time 42-km runners must “savour” the experience of their first ever marathon. “Do not think too much about the timing,” he advises while saying that it is important to visualise the “race beforehand, know every turn you are supposed to take, and your mind has to be geared and very focused.
People usually hit the wall (feel like giving up or get very tired, in marathon parlance) around the 34-35-km mark which is where you cross Mela (the now defunct restaurant) and are coming towards Mahalaxmi, so it is important to think of this as just a passing phase,” explains Kandpal. The ultramarathoner (he has run a 50-km in Bangalore) adds, “Lots of people start running downhill fast once they cross the Peddar Rd slope. They have to be careful because they might strain their legs doing that.”
Kiranmai KBS is pacing for the half-marathon (21 km) at 2 hrs and 30 mins. She is part of Hyderabad Runners, the most active running group of the city. “I aim to make as many runners as I can complete the half by 2:30m,” says Kiranmai. This teacher will be at the Mumbai Marathon for the first time, though she has done eight half-marathons at other venues. Kiranmai says, “There is one incline on the Babulnath slope, that’s the only challenge for the half-marathon group and that too, at 14.5 km, where walk and run will be the strategy.” It is mind over miles for Kiranmai who says, “Keep focused and stick to the plan. Confidence makes all the difference.”
High five is what Michael Francis, pacesetter for the 42-km wants to hear at the end of 5 hours, which is what is he pacing at. Michael, runs a marathoner’s club in Pune and offers free coaching to runners has signed up to pace, says, “I wanted to contribute to the marathon by helping others who struggle to finish.” Michael is going to help the group by “chanting, singing, using distractions so we do not know we have passed the 15 km mark or 21 km mark, as we run.”
Michael has some tips when self-doubts start to assail runners. “I tell people to dedicate the marathon to a loved one family or a friend, to help one forget about the pain. So, when you come to the point of cursing and telling yourself you’re crazy to do this, think about that person and it will help to keep you going.” Michael says, “It is at the 35-km mark that you really start hurting. Yet, thinking about a loved one when tears are stinging your eyes will motivate you and make you forget about the pain.”
The coach also advises people to reach out for water and something to eat while on the course. “Fuel yourself with raisins and dates, maybe once every 45 minutes. Drink at every water station.” Once the sun comes up, Michael says that the water should not just slide down your throat but over your head too. “Douse your head with water to cool off,” he says and adds that it is post the 30-km mark that “many people start feeling the pressure”.
Pacesetters are experienced runners, having generally run faster times than the ones they are pacing at. From race tips and tactical planning, to simply driving people on, the pacesetters put their goals on the backburner, cheering and steering other runners towards that lung-searing finish, especially when they think they are running on empty.
When a cross-section of pacesetters were asked at what stage runners could think that they have beaten their inner demons and that formidable distance, they all said at Chowpatty. Some said near the Aquarium, others stated near the Wilson College. So, the minute the stunning, Gothic architecture of Wilson College comes into view, you know you have the race in the bag. Elementary, my dear Watson. Or, elementary, my dear Wilson.
What is a pacemaker or a pacesetter?
A pacemaker or pacesetter (sometimes colloquially called a rabbit) is a runner who leads a middle or long distance running event for the first section to ensure a fast time. At the top level, pacemakers are frequently employed by race organisers for world record attempts with specific instructions for lap times. Some athletes have become essentially professional pacemakers.
Pacemaking gained much usage after Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway successfully paced Roger Bannister to break the four-minute mile for the first time in 1954. This though is at world level. At an amateur level, a pacemaker or pacesetter may simply help a group of marathoners achieve their time goals or get to the finish line within a stipulated time.
Pacesetters say it like it is
>> Savour the experience of your first marathon.
>> If you are debuting at the 42.195 distance, do not worry about time, just try to finish the race.
>> Stay hydrated, but also be careful not to over-hydrate.
>> Douse your head with water, if the sun comes up.
>> Stay strong, focused and committed but also have fun on the way.
>> You can dedicate your race to a loved one for extra motivation.
>> You may start hurting at 34-35 km, where runners traditionally ‘hit the wall’; tell yourself you just have a few kilometres to go.