I first took part in the Reigate half marathon in 2014, it’s Inaugural year. I found it to be a challenging yet rewarding course, and was impressed with the organisation in its first year. I had hoped to run this, one of my local events, every year. However, last year I managed to get Rugby World Cup tickets on the day of the event, and did not want to miss this once in a life time opportunity.
I was looking forward to running again in 2016, but then very pleased to have the opportunity to pace for this event. This was my first event of the Autumn season for Xempo, and I could not wait to kick off the season.
I have filled up my Autumn calendar with events, and last week saw me completing my first Ironman. Naturally I had considered the impact that the Ironman event would have on this event. I ensured I kept a bit back in the run, and concentrated on my recovery throughout the week. This was my first time pacing this event, but my 11th time pacing for Xempo, and there was no way I would fail to get everyone across the finish line in sub 1:40 (my preferred comfortable pacing time).
On arriving at Reigate I remembered the fantastic parking arrangements. Numerous of local business surrounding the start area had given up their car parks, so parking wishin close proximity was simple.
I made my way straight to the Xempo tent to meet fellow pacers, get ready, and be around to take questions from any nervous runners looking for PB’s. I always like a nice relaxed atmosphere at the start of races, and was able to get to the toilet without having to queue, and get myself and family ready.
I had dragged my wife and kids with me to this event as I often do, and knew that it was going to be hard work for my wife as I set off. So, I decided to run around with my boy first to try and burn off some of his energy, but fortunately there was a good set up in the event village to keep them entertained.
After getting myself ready I linked my TomTomrunner2 and made my way to the start line. I always like to get to the start line early to spend time talking to the runners around me. I hope that I can reassure those looking to run with me, so they are confident that I am going to deliver for them. I ask those around me how they are feeling, any looking to break 1:40 for the first time, and answer questions about how I will pace. Without fail I always mention that I run at an even pace as far as possible, that I communicate how we are doing, and if we are off for whatever reason we will close the gap slowly. I mentioned today that I would give us about a minute cushion early on to give allowance for the later hill at mile 12. I also don’t think I have ever paced without being asked my PB, it always gets gasps of approval when I say it’s 1:23. Today I ran with Pete Ward, and knew he was ready to deliver alongside me.
With an engaged group, full of people confident for a 1:40, we were off. I remembered this was a challenging course, but forgot how hard it started. As we left the park we immediately hit the first big hill, I was not sure if it was like this the whole course, so did not want to lose time this early. So, I powered us up the hill on pace. The downhill was fantastic, and it was impossible to keep everyone back, but I thought this was a great opportunity to give us the cushion for the end. I did not expect to do this, but because of the first downhill, and powering up it, we ended the first lap in 7:07, we had our 30 second cushion and we had done one of the hardest hills. I called out to everyone around and they were still there. I naturally took the front of the group and Pete eased back a little so we had a group between us. The next few miles were undulating to say the least, but it was a pleasant route, taking in some nice surroundings. There were plenty of people out on course to give us motivation, and there were water stations every 3 miles. The support of the locals was evident with so many holding bowls full of jelly babies for us.
It was great that mile after mile the same faces were around me, with a few sticking close to break 1:40 for the first time. Usually during events people come and go, with a relative few staying so close, but I had atleast a dozen immediately next to me, with many just a little bit behind. By mile 9 Pete had dropped back about 20 seconds and I was running about 1 minute ahead of pace. This was intentional on my part as I knew the course was about to start getting even harder. Everyone around me was happy, and some of locals had been discussing how last year they failed to meet their target, even being a minute ahead at this point. We had been running nice and steady, and as we hit the hills I slowed our pace to make the hills feel a bit easier, dropping us to almost 8 minute miles, then running at 7:20 down the hills. Some of those around me kept looking back on the way down the hill as I was putting the breaks on. I had to keep reminding them that if they wanted to go and felt good then they should, but my job was to achieve 1:40, so I just enjoyed the gentle downhill, rather than racing down it.
The hills towards the end got harder and harder, but with the cushion I had built I slowed us down fractionally and kept a strong group. By mile 11 Pete had caught us up, and he said he had unfortunately lost a few, but looking back they were not too far, still holding on. Mile 11 was the start of the long slight incline, and some people were asking if this was the hill, but unfortunately I knew this was not it. We kept on running on target pace, averaging 7:35 at this point, I still had a minute to lose up the last hill, and give everyone around me the best chance to get their PB.
Then it hit us, mile 12 was supposed to be “short and sharp”, well it was certainly sharp, not so sure about the short part. As we climbed this hill we passed a few runners and I shouted out encouragement for them to join our group, and we certainly picked up a few runners. Although this was a rough hill, I eased us back to a slower pace because we had plenty in the bank, and we did not lose anyone. When we got to the top of the hill I was actually surprised it was over, so we all coasted down the hill towards the finish. As we approached the finish stretch I turned to spur on those behind, coming down the last 800 metres I knew we still had about 30 seconds to spare so I took this time to ensure I was there as a target. If people could see me they would know they had a target to achieve 1:40. The last thing I want is to disappear past the finish line early and them to lose hope thinking the target had passed. It is great at the end watching numerous people sprint past me on the way to their sub 1:40.
As with the rest of the course, the racemakers were lovely, and had a bit of banter with me. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked if pacers get a medal, but as I always say “I did the same race, so I hope so”. It’s funny, some people think that as you are a pacer this is easy. It was a hard course, and I do the same as everyone else. Sometimes it’s actually harder going slower, you have longer to run. I stopped at the finish for a bit, and had many come and thank me. It’s so great seeing so many people achieving a PB, especially on a challenging course like this.
This was a fantastic race, and one I will certainly be back to again. I hope to be pacing 1:40 for Xempo and Tomtom again next year, but if I am not, I will certainly be doing it by myself, but just a bit faster.
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