It’s no secret that I love parkrun: I ran my 50th a couple of months ago and one of my goals for this year is to reach my 100th run (helped immensely with the boost of extra parkruns at New Year!). As well as running, I do try to volunteer at my local parkrun regularly, as I’m acutely aware that it just wouldn’t happen without the support of volunteers. When I was injured this time last year, I was down there with a stopwatch in my hand practically every week and when I’m taking time off after a goal race, I help out in whatever way is needed. But this weekend I thought I’d try something new: pacing.
I’m not sure if all parkruns operate this in the same way, but Perth parkrun has a pacer run on the first Saturday of every month. It has now become a volunteer role to run as a pacer, probably at a pace well within your capabilities, to try and complete the course in a particular time. This helps runners of all abilities to set a new PB or improve their current times. Steve volunteered in this role throughout 2016 and I often said that I should give it a go, but never quite got around to it. The start of a brand new year seemed like an ideal time to put myself forward, so when a call went out for more pacers, I volunteered to run at 28 minute pace.
One thing to note is that I have NEVER been a pacer before, and I know that a lot of people are put off the idea as they’re worried they won’t get the pace right. I tried not to let this worry me as having observed previous paced runs, I knew that more often than not the pacers were a little too quick (better than being too slow I suppose!). Since this is a run not a race and nobody is a “professional pacer”, no one is likely to complain as it’s made clear that the pacers are going to try and run at that pace. So I looked up a pace calculator, reset my watch to kilometres (so I would get more lap alerts!) and crossed my fingers.
We arrived a little earlier so we could get organised before the run (like with other volunteer roles, we had to report to the run director). When the paced runs first started, the pacers were given a laminated sign with their goal time on it and this was pinned to their backs. The downside to this was that it was too was too easy to forget about it and go home with the sign. Steve is now synonymous with 26 minutes as that sign lived in our house for months! Now, we have yellow vests like the other volunteers wear, which have a time printed on the back so we can be clearly spotted among the runners.
I donned my 28 minute vest and lined up with the other pacers as part of the run briefing. None of us were sure if anybody would be using us to help pace as there were lots of first timers (unbelievably, 10,000 people registered on the parkrun website in just ONE DAY earlier in the week – must be all those resolutions – and we had around 40 first timers in our field of 259, our biggest turnout ever after the inaugural run!). But just because someone isn’t running alongside you it doesn’t mean you’re not helping them to reach a goal time, so I intended to stick as close as possible to my pace, regardless.
When the run started I tried to concentrate on holding back and not dashing off at my usual pace. I had tried a short jog beforehand to try and get used to what the right pace would feel like, but it’s still tricky to lock into it and not naturally fall into the pace you usually run. The calculator I had used came back with 5:36 per kilometre (or about 9:01 per mile) so when the first lap split showed 5:35, I was pretty happy!
Throughout the first couple of kilometres I enjoyed chatting with other runners who passed by or who were running alongside me. It’s a completely different experience to be taking it easy and not running hard, although this is all relative as plenty of people around me were running hard and I felt a little guilty that my breathing was pretty easy!
I managed to stay on an even pace through kilometres two and three, but at a pace of 5:30 so I had speeded up a bit. I thought that would be ok as the grass section was rather muddy so I anticipated a slower fourth kilometre (it clocked in at 5:37 so on balance I thought I was only about 10 seconds too fast).
But this is probably where it went a little wrong. Once back on the path, I usually try to speed up again for the last part of the run, particularly the last kilometre or so (which includes a brief downhill portion). I did try to keep my pace in check, but apart from my natural instincts to “race”, the GPS signal wasn’t updating enough and I was convinced I was running too slowly so ended up speeding up too much for a final kilometre of 5:20, crossing the line in 27:34. Oops!
Still, it wasn’t a total bust as while I was standing in the funnel waiting to have my barcode scanned a woman turned to me and said thank you. I must have looked a bit puzzled as I knew she hadn’t been running with me, indeed I only came across her in the second half of the run. It turned out she had a PB of just over 28 minutes, so when I passed her it gave her the motivation to dig deep and run hard to the finish for a massive new PB of less than 27:30. Amazing work! I later discovered that another runner I knew had kept me in her sights to get a new PB also, so although the pacing didn’t go entirely to plan, I still made a difference for people, and that’s the most important thing.
I found this to be a really enjoyable experience as it taught me a lot about how to pace myself better and is something I can work on in future. I’ll definitely volunteer as a pacer again and am looking forward to helping more people to reach a goal. If you have the chance to do the same, then I would definitely recommend it.
Have you ever paced someone else in a run or race?
Have you benefitted from the help of a pacer, official or otherwise?
Parkrunners – what’s your favourite volunteer role?