Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2012
Pacing the 3:00 hour Bus
“Skeptical” was my answer when Tanvir asked if I was interested in pacing for 3:00 hour Bus. 2:10 or something was the finish time on my mind, so it was tough finding reasons to go this slow. I’ve had good amount of running for my own, running for someone else as a pacer, was something I had never done before. With some thoughts, permutations and combinations, a decision was made; I was pacing for 3:00 hour bus with the master of pacing ‘Venkatraman Pichumani’. Savio De’souza, Sanjay Jindal and Surender Singh were pacing for quick 2:00 hour with Anurag Chaturvedi and Tanvir Kazmi, who decided to pace a comfortable 2:30 hour bus.
The response of possible strategy was good. (click to access) Most runners found it pretty comfortable as it was a delicately planned colloid of running and walking, though my training was not as per the strategy planned. Thinking in shoes of a first time half marathon runner was a challenge. Hence, accepted. Moreover, Bhati Lakes 100 being just 5 days away from the ADHM, it made no sense to push too much this close to your main event. While everyone was talking of warm weather during second half of the run, the thing that was hitting me the most was holding the pace back after 40 minutes from the start.
All the pacers had a brief meeting a day before the marathon to discuss the pacing strategy and correlate it with real time scenarios when they collected their respective flags. Venkat and Savio had their own vital inputs as they were the veteran pacers with more marathons as a pacer than all of my runs combined. So, a nice learning curve it was going to be. The nervous energy was building up as leading pack of nearly 3500 runners required a lot of courage, especially when the weather was warm and most of them had little knowledge of self assessment and endurance running. Mind over body is good, but a runner has to understand the difference that lies in this thin line. My job was to pace keeping them in the safer limits of that thin line while making them home in time. Meanwhile, during the meeting I got a chance to catch up with Rakesh Mehta and Pushkaraj Kore, the Pune runners, along with a few more from Mumbai.
After yet another sleepless night, I was at the start well in time. I was occupied by some stretching and people coming in saying “I will run with you, watch for me.” After programming my phone with intervals as per the strategy, I crossed the start line 6 minutes after the start, seconds ahead of enclosure C. Getting the flag tucked on the back was a concern initially, thanks to Tanvir and Palash, I got that sorted with little effort.
I started with walking so that runners can take some lead and interested passengers can spot me with the flag. Interestingly, most of them were too busy overtaking each other that they might have left the bus unnoticed. Soon, I started to run with the planned 4:1 strategy.
“Hey, Gaurav” Someone shouted, suddenly. I wasn’t expecting anyone as all the runners I knew of, were already blazing the track and must’ve been two kilometers ahead of me. I looked among the runners and there was no known face in the crowd. It took me a while to realize that the voice was familiar and feminine. I looked around in the crowd and suddenly spotted one of my good pals, Monika Dawar, in the spectators clicking pictures on a heavenly morning. A great photographer, as she is, was on the roll on a hot day clicking pictures to present an unseen view of the marathon. It must’ve been awesome. So, it was already a pleasant surprise to start with. I waved at her with a roar, got a picture clicked and went off.
As soon as I passed the first kilometer, the first passenger joined in. And then the second and then third and soon we were running in a group of ten spread across five meters distance. As per the strategy, the start was always supposed to be slow. Many more joined the bus, but they were doubting if we could finish the half marathon in 3 hours with this speed. Fair call; I allowed them to fly off the bus and asked them to join in back whenever they feel like.
With every passing kilometer, mercury was gaining height and runners could feel the little heat now. Drenched from head to toe, most of them complained about the rescheduling of the marathon in odd and hot September instead of November. I silently supported them, but then that was not on my agenda. “It’s the test of your grits guys. This a flat track and only weather is there to challenge. You’re stronger. Believe yourself” I told them as we crossed the fifth kilometer mark. We were behind the time, but still we had more than 2 hours to make up for it. As per the strategy, the smart pace plan got shifted to 3:1 run-walk ratio. This means, as body was warmed up, running would be slightly faster and walking pace would stay as 10:30 minute pace. From 8:14 pace, the pace was shifted to 8:04 and then 7:56 as we approached the half way mark. Most runners were finding comfort with this gradual shift of gears as one minute walking breaks were providing time enough to drink, catch breath, relax muscles and get back to running. We took each stride as a separate run to nail.
Initially, the plan was to not to stop at drink stations. Grab a bottle, keep it handy and use during the walking breaks in order to keep up with the plan. After 10 km, as speed was slightly more and weather was getting warmer, we decided to walk at every drink station, without considering much what the clock said. We had three minutes buffer in our belt. Hydration at that instant was more important. Cool sponges, gatorade, oranges kept the check on body temperature, fluids and salt intake.
After 13 km the gears were shifted again. The 3:1 ratio was getting slightly tough for runners to handle, so another change was needed. We reduced the running speed and then later on increased the walk time as well. The idea was to catch up with the clock without keeping the comforts on sake. 2.5:1 run-walk strategy was working perfectly now as the pace was again reduced to 8:14 and 8:20. During this course, runners kept joining in and leaving us off. A few of them, who trusted, did stay along and rest kept the check on me from far. “I’m the guy to fear off the most today. If I’m ahead of you, you know you’re doomed” I said to push the runners who were falling back now.
Suddenly from nowhere a voice came
“Are you a three hour pacer? What time will you finish in?”. This time it was masculine voice that had the nerves of restlessness.
“Yes, I’m. As my flag suggests, finish time will be 3 hours gun time.”
“Oh sh*t! @%&$#” Some heavenly words he mumbled to himself expressing the disgust on himself as he was overtaken by 3 hour bus. I asked him to follow as he would still be able to be a sub-3 hour finisher if he finishes a few minutes after me as I was pacing for gun time. He expressed gratitude and I had one more passenger. During all this time, I was accompanied by another veteran runner, a friend of Venkat, but I missed his name. We were continuously talking of our past experiences and resemblance the day had with that of a typical second half of Mumbai Marathon.
As we reached kilometer no. 15, I realized Venkat was closing in and bus was right in time, as per the chart. I was slowing down just a little, before I could ask the runners to give their all in the last leg of 2-3 km. But, runners were feeling the heat. Body was cramping, they were perspiring more than ever and a few had developed mild stomach cramps due to over-drinking in pursuit of keeping themselves cool. The picture was clear. They had wall waiting for them right in the front. Keeping mouth shut and going with a consistent pace was the last option they had. While I kept asking them if they were interested for a final burst; a few of the stronger men took off and rest followed.
Meanwhile, I caught up with Amit Sheth and Major DP Singh and ran a kilometer with those guys synchronizing our pace with them. But, as per the need of the hour, I overtook and kept going as per the plan. Soon, I caught up with Ashish Srivastav who was blazing through the track in first half, but now falling back due to heat and some niggle in his calves. Being there at the track was half a victory for him. I took him along and rest passenger followed. We were approaching 19th kilometer now and we still had 23 minutes under my belt. Venkat was visible from far and he was going through a consistent pace. He was playing the role of a sweeper, taking along all those who were little left behind –a much needed and matured effort.
With still good 20 minutes in our bank, Ashish and I decided to walk and kept cheering the runners to run ahead of us if they were chasing 3:00 hour clock. Great Delhi Runners did stop our way, but not much effort was required to dive deep through them. “Keep going. It’s your day. It’s your run. Set free and run the final mile” we were shouting in unison pushing the runners.
“Here comes the three hour bus. Run fast” shouted Venkat as he was approaching us running. Ashish, Venkat and I were now walking together with the passengers (who were still with the bus) and decided to finish in 180th minute. As we kept walking, talking, pushing others towards the finish we slowly ran the final 200 meters to finish the training run on a high.
With a roar of celebration, I hugged Venkat to congratulate him on yet another successful pacing mission while celebrating my debut as a pacer. Soon, the runners running with the bus joined us too. It was their moment of celebration. From enclosure C, they graduated to enclosure B for sixth edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. They kept coming in, with a lot of followers who had a sub-3 hour net time finish.
It feels great when someone unknown walks to you calling your name and hugs you with a heartfelt ‘Thanks’! The moment made me realize, it wasn’t just pacing for a bus rather a lot more than that. It was not just one, rather thousands more runners. Almost 5000 runners finished under 3 hours net time, a figure I can boast of, with proud. After collecting the medallion and some refreshments I joined other pacers for a little celebration and was occupied later on with meeting and greeting the old friends and new.
Despite being slow as snail with absolute no personal achievement in terms of running, this run would stay closest to my heart for long time where an unseen bond was formed. I know how it feels when you look at your support crew after finishing an ultramarathon, similar must’ve been the feeling that many of them possessed.
When I speak about positives of the day, weather was cool. Not as warm as expected or I’d have liked to run a 3 hour half marathon in. It was still in cooler vicinities. Great Delhi Runners were far more disciplined and were making way for slower half marathon runners to allow them to finish. The pacing strategy, that was devised with little thought, planning and training than required, worked spot on carrying majority of runners with the bus finish within the target time.
In terms of organization, the volunteers were less than required number handling the drink stations. Most of the aid centers with Oranges and Gatorade were somewhat unorganized displaying a sheer lack of professionalism still, despite being into eighth edition of this IAAF Gold Certified race. Sponges were not hygienic at all. Cool tunnels, as we argued a day before the race day, were a big fail as in Mumbai earlier this year. No race is perfect. But, learning from mistakes is what defines the growth you’ve had over past few years. Procam, unfortunately, still lagging on basics in pursuit of promoting the event on quantity rather than quality.
Overall, it was a well organized marathon, yet again providing us chance to meet a lot of friends, old and new and be a part of greatest celebration of friendship. Before I sign off “a real loud round of applauds” for all the runners who ran the half marathon and finished it in this heat, which was tough for most of runners to handle.
Coming up with next post regarding much awaited “Globeracers Bhati Lakes 100 mile Ultramarathon” on October 6-7th in the abandoned Bhati mines in Suraj Kund, Fariadabad, Haryana, India.
Photo Courtesy: Monica Dawar