Reporting on Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2016

Not a racer, not a pacer

Not a racer, not a pacer

Don’t shoot the messenger

I ran the Standard Chartered Mumbai (half) Marathon yesterday carrying fairly heavy audio-video recording equipment strapped around me, and a movie camera in my hand rather than a pacer flag. One of the official pacers, as I passed him, shouted to the racers running with him “There goes Puru, the guru of pacing”. I have the “guru” term in my nickname as somewhat of a light jest because it rhymes. A guru is ‘the one who brings you from darkness to light’ and whether you think I do that or not, I’m going to bring to light the performance of pacers in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2016 now. I am doing this in continuation of what I reported on a year ago – Learning from Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2015.

It is true that most people do not use a pacer, but whether you use one or not, you might like to see that the quality of pacers is not sub-standard, as that sets the tone for other things at the event too then!

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SCMM 2016 – Pacer Performance

Why this report update?

Most mass participation sporting events are about combining physical fitness with entertainment. In India with all its frustrations of corruption in so many walks of life, we often look at recreational running as a way to get away from things that we often seem to have little control over, towards something that we can have some control over that also leads to a better physical existence. So, when we race towards a time target with a pacer, we expect that promises will not be broken, just like that of politicians. We expect that we won’t get failure, just like that of electricity supply. We hope that we won’t fall short of our target like we might fall short of water in our homes. 8 pacers out of 13 failing to achieve their promised target for the full marathon is shocking – almost as bad as 2015!

It’s great that so many entities are able to use the financial profits from such events as an incentive to create and conduct these events. As customers of such service providers, we would like to get value for money in terms of the experience – often we don’t. In the same vein, it’s always good to report on the standards of pacers. I like to do this for my “home race”, the SCMM.

Questions to be answered

I have many friends among both the lists above and I hope that those who didn’t finish successfully will not take this report personally. I am sure they already feel quite rotten about what transpired. Perhaps they will step back and think about their performance objectively. In the cases where the same pacer has failed two years in a row, perhaps we should ask the race organizers “why was that person selected in the first place?”  Also, given that many accomplished fast runners with impeccable race pacing histories were not selected as pacers, what happened to the selection process this year? Why were fast race targets given to pacers whose personal bests were on flat routes and cold weathers and within seconds of their pacing target in hot, humid, non-flat Mumbai? Did they not understand what I said in my well-read guide to pacing?

I have told you why you need not run to be fit. But if you are going to run and have been promised a pacer, you deserve a successful pacer. I’m just saying…

Don’t shoot the messenger!

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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.

17 thoughts on “Reporting on Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2016

  1. Ravi Malhan

    You were never known to pull back your punches !
    Hard hitting .
    But then my father told me once ” Truth is like surgery. It hurts but it cures ! ”
    Hope this does.

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  2. Samar Shivdasani

    Interesting read Puru, however, help me understand why a 2 hr finish for a 2 hr bus should get an ouch! Technically it’s not a sub 2 bus but a 2 hr bus. As I’m sure you’re aware a general rule of thumb for a pacer is not more than a minute faster and not even a second later, but you have given a yaay! to folks who have finished much faster than their bus timing. I’m not trying to point fingers here but trying to ensure your views are truly objective and unbiased. Also last time you chose to go with a softer approach with a margin of error getting an oops! while this year you’ve gone with a binary approach penalizing folks right off the bat??

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      Dear Samar
      Thanks for your comment. You were superbly spot on last year, so I’m not sure what went wrong this year. My own band for a 2-hour bus is 1:58:00 to 1:59:30. The issue here is of sticking to some set rules. I don’t think the official stated rule by the organizers of 1:55:00 to 1:59:00 is a good one, as 1:55 is too fast for someone trying hard for a sub-2. But your 2:00:00 would lead to a non-sub-2 for those who were on your bus and finished a second behind you in the crowds. I finished 9 seconds faster than 1:58:00 last year and gave myself a Yaay. Erring on the side of slightly faster is more acceptable than erring on the slower side. I actually think I’ve been more lenient this year.
      It is entirely possible that everyone on your bus finished sub-2 and it was just you that was bang on 2:00:00 – what I know is that I would continue to pick you as a 2-hour pacer. I hope you will be one again next year.
      Cheers!
      Puru

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      1. mrjain

        Hey Samar and Purnendu,

        I have to say Samar was awesome! I was standing next to him in section D and decided I would try and stick with him during the race. I stayed with him and his bus from the start till the beginning of Pedder Road. Then I kicked it up a notch and ended up finishing at 1:58:31. I really hope Samar was the last person on the bus to finish.

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    2. windowtoindia75

      I completely agree with your point. If I were to ever run with a pacer, it would be for a target that is tougher than what I can achieve. Having a pacer who goes even faster than that already tough target is sure to get me tired out and affect my motivation. So as far as I am concerned, I would have been much happier with your 2 hr bus. (spoken as a simple slow runner who isn’t an expert on anything).
      Since I would obviously be seeing my watch as well, I would surely know that in the last km I can pump it up and thus try and come under the target I had set for myself. So going under a pacer time should pretty much be the runner’s prerogative….to me, a pacer should hit his time as accurately as possible. Going a minute or more than a minute faster than pace time in a half marathon, to me is a margin that is enough to take the mickey out of most people I know.

      Anyway, that’s my opinion which perhaps no one else shares, but hey, its mine and I support your pacing as probably being one of the best from the times listed above!

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    3. RB

      I absolutely agree with your point. As per Puru’s table I would say that 100% of the pacers failed. People pacing their bus in faster than 1 minute from target finish time don’t deserve a yay. In fact in most events in my neck of the woods they would be disbarred from pacing that event again. Perhaps Puru is becoming lenient with old age 😉 I kid…I kid. Thanks for shining the light once again.

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    4. purutheguru Post author

      Hi Samar!
      I’ve ignored the race organizers very slack bands and implemented my own for 2015 and 2016. I hope you prefer this approach.
      Regards
      Puru

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  3. Santosh Iyer

    Firstly, I was thrilled looking at this pic of the “dancing guru” clicked by my lovely wife on the race day. Thanks for putting it up 🙂

    Now on the pacing front, I have a couple of questions. As Samar mentioned above, the bus is not a “Sub X-hr” bus but it’s an X-hr bus. It always feels good to achieve rather beat your targets, hence finishing before the assigned bus time is great. I recall in ADHM last year one of my friends finished seconds before the 2 hr bus and was happy to have a sub 2 finish. Later realized that he missed it by 25 secs as the pacer “missed” it too.

    So, Q1: We all have heard/read of this 1 min “grace” either way. How relevant is this and does this hold? Or is it implied to be a “Sub X-hr” bus?

    There are times you follow the pacer without knowing the pacing plan (that’s where your bands come in) and are invariably lost midway coz the pacer picked up his pace only to go slower later (which you didn’t know and hence fell far back!). Also I have seen many pacers steering an empty bus to the finish..

    So Q2: As you rightly said at times pacing is for the joy of giving back…As a pacer, is it fine then to finish seconds/minutes post the assigned bus time because you were helping runners you were with for the last 2-5 hours in their final few minutes(when they needed it the most) and hence deliberately missed the timing?

    Looking forward to hear from you..Cheers!

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  4. Vivek Kubaji

    Hi Puru,

    This was an interesting read. However I see that you have not considered/mentioned the pacer’s plan and the communication of the same. From my experience of being paced (half marathon) there were two pacers for the time I wanted and both has posted their pacing plan. One had a even split and other had a aggressive first half and a relaxed second half. I chose the latter so that I can try to finisher one or two minutes earlier if I was strong at the end otherwise just finish with him. The pacer constantly keept a tab on things and was letting us know our status. At 12 kms we were about 30 seconds ahead. According to his plan he slowed down after 18 kms and before doing so he suggested two of us who were doing good to go ahead. I finished about 3.5 mins earlier and he was maybe a couple of minutes behind me. This worked for me and hope for the others in the bus as well.
    Essentially what I mean to say is the pacer should publish the plan for an event considering the route. And the pacee should check this before joining any bus. Also the pacer should be constantly checking and communicating his progress. If he is behind schedule then not communicating the same to the bus is just a crime.
    Two 2:00 busses may not be the same, they may have different strategies. I am not sure whether this was done in SCMM.

    Regards,
    Vivek

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  5. Bags hede

    I am still unconvinced about the roles of standard race pacers around achieving your personal best.
    I feel they may help in getting boredom out of the regular joe untrained runner.p
    When it comes to achieving a time, much of the work in getting to the goal is done in the many months before the race than on the raceday following a pacing bus.
    I tried to chase a 1.50 bus in hyd HM 2015 and failed. But in Mumbai 2016 I was ready for 1.50 and achieve d it. Though my target was 1.54 using the pacing strips.
    I had seen the 1.45 bus go past me at 4 km mark in Mumbai. But I knew what my body was prepared for and did not try to catch it though I was pretty surprised why it was so late at that point in the distance.
    My pacer was the puru the guru 1.54 pacing strips annotated with km avg paces.
    But realized that these were slower for my raceday. I switched to maintaining a fixed seconds faster pace than the required paces predicted by the puru strips. And then ended up with 1.49. But I dared not start my race with 1.49 strip, it would have killed me, I felt given the knowledge how I had trained.

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  6. Andy Dwister

    I am a novice and have done just one HM and one FM. Honestly, I don’t understand how I can run with someone else’s pace. Other than maybe fighting the boredom (by sticking with a Pacer and the bus being led), I am yet to understand the concept. The body feels comfortable (or not) at different stretches of the route.

    That said, I think Pacing (even for the most experienced) is a very difficult job to do.

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