Monthly Archives: February 2015

Learning from Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2015

Hey! There’s a simple question for you at the end of this, don’t forget to scroll down and click on your choice!

Keeping track of pace, distance, time...

Keeping track of pace, distance, time…

After writing a few articles (1, 2, 3 and 4) on marathon race pacing prior to last month’s Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM 2015) I felt it made sense to follow up today with a short report on what transpired with pacers that race day. When I crossed the finish line as a 2-hour pacer for the half marathon and realized that I had done it 9 seconds faster than the band I had set myself (1:58:00-1:59:15) I was mortified. The solace I received was that absolutely no one seemed to complain about my being 9 seconds too early (1:57:51) and, instead, so many were grateful for my getting them across the finish line as promised.


SCMM-2015 Pacer Performance

However, yesterday I started to examine the completion times of the other pacers at the event and was horrified. Of the 29 pacers in the half and full marathons, a whopping 13 failed to finish within time. A failure rate of over 30%! This specific event is now done and dusted, but what can we learn from this for a better future? And, what are the parallel improvements that we can make in other aspects of our lives outside of running – outside of health and fitness and sports? Read on and make the connections.

What do you do when shit hits your pacing flag?
There are broadly two types of failure that happen – sudden failure and gradual failure. (Can you think about this in the context of your daily life? Health, relationships, business, career?)

Sudden Failure
This is when, despite all your preparation that makes allowances for weather, terrain, distance, pace, race anxiety affected sleep, carrying a flag, shouting out motivational talk etc. you have an injury (twist an ankle or cramp suddenly) mid race. Or, your distance and pace tracking device decides to go kaput at some point during the race. When the latter happens, if you can make do with someone else’s on-the-fly, that’s great. (Some pacers run with 2 separate tracking devices just to be doubly sure.) When it’s actual physical failure (e.g. a debilitating cramp) you probably have 2 choices. The first choice is to pass your flag onto someone who is willing to take on the responsibility, who might well be another pacer for the same time target coming up behind you. (Ensure that your bus continues to run ahead of that pacer though.)

Excellent Team Work by the 4:00 Pacers

Excellent Team Work by the 4:00 Pacers

One of the not-widely-reported heroic occurrences of the full marathon event was that the only 4:00 hour pacer passed on her pacing flag to a runner on her bus who then finished bang on target. The lady pacer in question, Elizabeth Chapman, was bed-ridden on the Friday before the race with a stomach bug, but stayed bang on target right until the point when she suddenly fainted at the 32km mark.  The fact that she handed over the responsibility to someone else who was willing to give up his race (he was capable of running much faster than 4:00) speaks volumes of her ability to achieve success in teams she runs in her professional life. Congratulations to her and the gentleman who goes by the name “Subbu”.

Your second option is to put down your flag indicating you are no longer a pacer for that target time and wish the racers on your bus good luck to the finish line. In either case, keep the runners on your bus aware of what is happening, they are relying on you, they deserve to know.

Gradual Failure
This happens when you are either not keeping track of your own pace as a pacer, or are unable to keep up with the target pace.  If you missed your target by a couple of minutes you probably fall into the former category – better focus next time please! Those who became increasingly slower and slower than the target pace and did nothing about it and cruised to the finish line late, I don’t think pacing is for you. If you did not lower your flag and misled runners on the course then that’s doubly awful – you should definitely not pace again – at least not the same race and target time. I’m sorry, but that’s the simple truth. I suggest you think of some other fruitful way of engaging with the running community that taps into your skills in a more reliable way.

Progressive failure apparent for this 5-hour pacer

Progressive failure apparent for this 5-hour pacer

Race Organizers
I mentioned clearly in my first post on race pacing a list of dos and don’ts for race organizers when selecting pacers. I suspect these were not followed precisely or the SCMM 2015 would not have had such a performance by the pacers. Let’s look forward to a zero-error pacer performance at the SCMM 2016 – with better planning and execution. After all, failing to prepare is preparing to fail!

And now, I’d like your (anonymous) opinion please?


Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.