On the 15th October 2017 I took on the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon for #greatrun. This was the first time I have paced for the Great Run series, as dates haven’t worked until now. I have now paced 39 event, 17 this year. Today marked my 30th marathon, which is 36 towards the 100 Marathon Club which includes 4 x 100k and 2 x Ironman.
As always I laid my kit out before leaving for the event. I managed to match my CEP socks which is always a bonus. I made this a family trip, so took wife and two kids with me for a night in Birmingham. We ended up going to Drayton Manor, which I have never considered before. It was a great venue for the family and only 15 minutes away from our hotel.
One thing I realised is that I don’t have the stomach for fast rides. What is sad is I class all the rides in Thomas Land as fast rides. The art of getting away across the country to do events is to ensure your family have a good time, so we ate out in Pizza Express, and whilst I ran the marathon they all went to Cadbury World.
I woke up early so my wife could drive me to the start. I always like to be early, but needed to be there a bit earlier to allow them enough time to get back, have breakfast and then go to Cadbury. When I arrived I had to meet inside Alexandra Stadium, which was pretty cool.
I was asked if I had to wear the bunny ears. Everyone who knows me will know that I would want to anyway. Wearing my visor anyway, I barely noticed it. I watched the first wave of runners start, and then had a look at the winners medal, which they wouldn’t let me keep.
Before the event I wasn’t overly impressed with an hour gap between waves. Once explained to me it made far more sense. In short there is a two lap route in the marathon, and if there wasn’t an hour gap the front runners would get caught behind other runners in their second lap. So it makes complete sense, and wouldn’t work any other way, unless they changed the course. All I would say is don’t be over ambitious in this event, as if you started in the first wave and fell off the back you would end up running alone for the first lap. It’s all ok once you get on the second lap as the front of the second wave would be there.
There were about 1,000 runners on the first wave, about 6,000 on the second, and then we shared the finish line with the half marathon which didn’t start until the afternoon.
After this group photo we made our way to our correct start. We filled most of the 400 metre track, and it was pretty clear at the start that I had a big group joining my #sub4 #funbus.
We began fairly slow as with a narrow start. I had already briefed everyone around me reassuring that I would run a steady pace throughout. I wasn’t too worried about the slow start, and I certainly wasn’t going to run around people and lose my group. As expected it eased towards the end of the first mile so I could bring us to the right pace. For the first part of the event it was reasonably flat. There were lots of people out on the course, not intensely busy, but enough people to cheer you on. I also find that I have a slightly skewed view on crowd support as I fully immerse myself in my group of runners.
The mile markers for the first 3 miles were a little far, so I adjusted my pace slightly to ensure that I was on track with them. I always plan to do this, as although it means I’m running faster than my watch says, and often the markers even out, I don’t want to risk going too slow. After 5 miles I had gained about a 20 second cushion that I intended to keep until the end. I had been needing a wee from the start, and seeing somewhere to go I decided I would go. I could have probably made it until the end, but it was really uncomfortable. I was running with Ian Cox who is a regular pacer himself, so I gave him my flag and darted off. Please ignore strava, this mile was pretty perfect, but it shows me 30 seconds slow because of auto pause (I was weeing). I caught the group up pretty quickly, and resumed my role.
So the course wasn’t the most picturesque to be honest. But we did run through a beautiful park. This was not long before we started the first of two 9 mile laps. For an undulating course it really wasn’t too bad on the whole. But there were a couple of long inclines, which felt tougher on the second lap.
I didn’t push the hills, instead subtly slowed to stay with everyone around me. I find this much better to keep everyone motivated, and with me, especially as everyone wants to run faster on the downhill and it’s hard putting the breaks on.
It was great that I had a big strong group around me for the whole event. Most of the course was through residential and was uninspired. But the locals came out in force and we were regularly offered jelly babies. It was great that we were given water in sports bottles, and the stations were long preventing delays. It was a particularly hot and humid day so I would have liked to see more water on the course, and some electrolytes. But I did think it was well marshalled, and from what I saw everything ran smoothly.
Approaching mile 20 I passed the raccoon from the National Running Show. It was a hot day, so that must have been tough. I had a really good day, and I’m sure others did as well.
There was a lot of support and shouts for me and others around me, and I managed to get a few pictures from other people, so thank you all for sharing. As we approached the final 5-10k I started to find people struggling, which always happens. I moved to the inside to try and encourage people to keep going, and managed to get many to get going. It’s one thing to keep people going, but when you can motivate another to get going it’s really special to see. So we kept going and many stayed with me throughout.
As I said to everyone around me, we work so hard to get here, we run 23 mile and have just 5k to go. The thing is, when you have a target time in mind it is the final 5k that will determine if you reach your target. It is so hard to keep going, it’s easy to let your mind take over and give up. That’s why I spend the entire final 5k doing everything I can to bring people along. A hug, a tap on the back, and words of motivation. This is the most important bit as a pacer in my opinion, so I make sure I am as fresh as possible to give people confidence. The finish had a nasty hill, the worst in the whole course but most people kept with me.
I love this picture as it really captures what pacing is all about for me. I had a 20-30 second cushion at mile 25 and then I slowed towards the end just to make sure I didn’t leave any behind. It meant I left it tighter than normal, but I’m happy with 4:00:00 on the money, on both watches.
I am really happy with the finish and loved all the people waiting for a hug or a handshake. As I said before, I had a great time and would happily go back for more.
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