March 21, 2018
Clubhouse member Henna Sisko Warner is a 40-year old mum of two, who started running about four years ago. She joined the TFTR community for support and ran her first half marathon in 2015, and her first full marathon in 2016. She was bitten by the long distance bug and now has a total of 19 marathons under my belt. Her long term running goal is to get to 100 marathons by her 50th birthday. She says “I may be short and fat but I know my little legs will carry me there”. Henna is one of the most inspirational women I know, and I am proud to call her my friend.
When runners talk about “pacing” and “pacers”, what does that make you think about? When I first started running, it was all an alien concept. People often talked about their running pace as displayed on their fancy GPS watches, but then I also heard talk of “pacers week” at parkrun. What on Earth was that about?
Over the last few years I have been to dozens of running events, dragged myself through marathon training, and set various time targets for myself. The single biggest thing I have learned is the importance of pacing myself, so that I don’t run too fast at the start of a long run (and therefore have some energy left at the end), AND so that I run fast enough to reach my target. I have tried two ways if doing this, with definite pros and cons.
Firstly, the GPS running watch. They get talked about almost universally as “Garmins”, but there are loads of other brands out there. All the watches work basically in the same way: using a satellite signal, they can give a pretty accurate display of your running speed, and they can tell you how far you’ve run from the moment you started. Usually they display loads of information and one that I find the most helpful is the “average pace” function. It can be really helpful if you’re on your own, as you can keep an eye on your watch to see if you’re likely to hit your target. However, I am rubbish at maths, especially when tired, so this method only works if you’ve worked out what the pace should be ahead of the run. Then you have to remember the number, which sometimes is also a bit of a challenge when tired.
The second method is using a person as your pacer. This was an idea that utterly terrified me when I was starting out. The thought of running with someone, of trying to keep up with a better runner (I saw everyone on the planet as a better runner than me), was horrifying. What if I was too rubbish? How would I be able to deal with being so exposed? What if I was expected to talk?! I could barely breathe, let alone talk at the same time as shuffling forwards. Nope. Pacers, human pacers, were not for the likes of me.
As time went on, I saw people pacing others at parkrun. My husband volunteered one week and helped someone set a new personal best time. I saw how happy they both were, and listened to the runner telling my husband that he couldn’t have achieved that on his own. This was around the time I had started to aim to get my own speed up a bit, so I risked marital upset and asked my husband to pace me, unofficially, at parkrun. It took four tries, but by ditching my watch and putting my trust into him, I finally got a sub-30 minute time. We went on to do a 10km, where I swore and moaned and cried all the way round, but managed to hang on, and set my first ever sub-60 minute time.
There is something primal about chasing someone. I think that running in a pack takes us back to prehistory, and fires up something hidden in our brains. When we are alone, the temptation to stop can be overwhelming, but in a group, or even a pair, we can keep going and going, much further and faster than we thought possible. Is it any wonder that pacers are used by elite athletes in long races? It works.
Last weekend I had the chance to be on the other side of the equation. I became a pacer myself, for the first time ever. My friend – the legendary, record-holding multi-marathoner Kat McVicar was attempting her first ever 100 mile endurance race. Yep – ONE HUNDRED MILES. For such an epic race, the runners need a crew of pacers, and each one just does a small section. I was due to accompany Kat for her last ten miles or so, depending on how it had gone. I figured that my marathon pace was just about fast enough to keep up with Kat’s pace when she had 90-odd miles in her legs. I imagined running alongside her, keeping an eye on my watch so that she didn’t have to.
In reality it was different. Due to adverse weather conditions the course was extremely muddy and Kat’s pace was a lot slower than she had expected. Instead of an hour or two of running, we spent four hours slowly walk/jogging together. It was more about keeping company than keeping pace. And that was all that was needed: different races need different paces. I felt like a proud mother, watching Kat cross the line.
Thanks Henna, keep going lovely….can;t wiat to help you celebrate your 100th Marathon.
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