When we speak of running, we usually dwell on the exhilaration, the consequent high and sense of accomplishment. In reality, the journey is tedious and lonely, but with much grace and reward involved. The experience can be relished once you pay your dues – in sweat and miles.
The marathon is not a blind run to the finish. It is a calibrated journey to meet a time goal by staying on course, carefully maintaining a target time per kilometre. That’s where pacing comes – it’s the task of relieving the runner of this mental labour so s/he can focus on just running on autopilot, while the pacer does the calculations and sets the course, as it were.
I’ve been pacing for about four years – half marathons, specifically. But this year, I opted to pace a much faster full marathon runner for the more challenging latter half of the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). I joined him at the twenty-third kilometre as planned. He told me the time he had clocked during the first half marathon, after which I got down to calculating the time he had to spare and the exact pace he needed to meet the time goal.
I was grateful for this opportunity to run in a league faster than mine. Each curve on that course then, was a great learning curve for me, even as I helped another runner meet his goal. Here are some of the thoughts I reflected on from this experience:
Miracles don’t happen on race day.
The Indian Army has an adage, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” Our performance is not a function of the moment right then, but a function of the cumulative efforts of the weeks, months and years put into the practice. This runner’s performance on that day was a culmination of the miles he’d put into the training.
To move up, you have to up your league.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I was now pacing a runner who was one of the top 5 percent of the amateur runners, running in the TMM. I picked up a lot of nuance from these superior runners. For them slowing down and fading are a reality, but quitting is not an option. They don’t get fazed by challenges – they instead use them as a solid foundation to base their growth on.
The importance of self-talk.
The latter half of the race, populated only by uber skilled runners, is almost a meditative zone. All successful people, whether on the track or off it, have similar habits – one of them is the constant reaffirmation towards the goal. How your journey progresses is greatly improved by the reinforcement you give y.ourself through the self-talk.
The significance of the buddy system.
The new TMM format has an interesting feature when giving out its rewards. Each finisher medal splits into two – one for the runner and for the inspiration behind the race. There is equal weightage given to the efforts of the one who aids you through the journey. As a pacer, this is what I was endeavouring to do for the runner. I was the positive self-talk when his internal monologue tuned out to give way to the impending fade – when your body gives in to the physical exertion. Your success or failure is also determined by the quality of the support you receive at this point.
Looking forward to earned rewards.
I had promised this runner that I’d give him 40 seconds to recoup over the notoriously treacherous Peddar Road Flyover part of the race. And as per my calculations, I was able to give him the gift of this time. I was grateful for the fact that I was able to keep my word in this wonderful partnership I’d formed with the runner. His trudging through the initial part seemed worth it, when he was able to loosen up and relax during those significant seconds.
Oh and by the way, despite those 40 seconds, we made it to the finish line in 3:44:45 – which was precisely on target. It was not a miracle. It was carefully calculated timing and pace put together by a runner and pacer.
I’ve observed that these lessons learnt from the course – this time from pacing, not for my own goal – can be applied to all facets of life. From positive self-talk to quality support systems, these tenets help everywhere – whether I am in a race or in my studio.