Reporting on Pacing Failures at the IDBI 2016

Start…                          Middle…                          Finish!

Don’t shoot the messenger

Last month I ran and won my main race of the year, the BNP Endurathon 25.0, a 25km race with some pretty tough hills in muggy conditions. I did not stick to a pacing strategy because my goal there was to win along with only a soft pace target – I had a racing strategy. But let’s not care about my podium finish. When my goal is specifically to pace others in a race, it is no longer competitive strategy and game-theory that I employ – after all the mandate is to hit an acceptable time band for crossing the finish line. Come hell or high water! The race strategy is then simply a pacing strategy

to run the route at an appropriate pace at each of the many stages of the entire distance to ensure that the typical person who has trained appropriately crosses the finish line ahead of the target time”

So, to go too fast at times might lose certain participants, and to go too slow at specific stages of the race might force others to drop back later when the pace is increased too much in order to catch up. The money is in the detail and success is in the process. It was in that vein that I also created these free gifts for you, specifically for that race.

I should tell you that I do not like this part of my ‘self-inflicted job’ – being the messenger to you about pacing failures at races. After all, many of the pacers are my friends! The IDBI (Mumbai) 2016 of last Sunday was no different.

Previous Reports

I reported on the Failure of Pacers at the SCMM-2016 earlier this year, and about the Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2015 a year prior to that. For some background, my most widely read guide on being a pacer or choosing a pacer is worth going through if you haven’t already.

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!

The IDBI-2016 10km Race Pacers Report – Shocking Failure Rates!

IDBI-2016 10km Pacer Race Times

Of course this categorization of what is success and failure is my own, based on what I think a recreational runner doing a 10km race would find acceptable when targeting a finish time in the range 50-minutes to 90-minutes. Going slower than the finish time is definitely unacceptable, but you might argue that going faster than 1-min-15-sec is not too bad. However, I believe that someone struggling to complete his race in, say, 70-minutes, would find it incredibly difficult if pushed to a time faster than 68-min 45-sec. As a pacer, if you go inappropriately fast, you will lose runners who will drop back and then never catch up with their goal pace. A strategy with built-in dynamic balance is key. In any case, even if you were to relax the conditions, the failure rate is shocking! The actual times are also listed in the table for you to make your own judgement of pass/fail. I am just the messenger.

What I would like to point out is that I do not even think that a ‘yaay!’ is necessarily success if the pacer simply ran too fast for most of the distance and then slowed down deliberately close to the finish line to avoid being documented as a failure.

The IDBI-2016 Half Marathon Race Pacers Report – Shocking Failure Rates!

IDBI-2016 Half Marathon Pacer Race Times

The acceptable band, like in previous reports, starts 2-min 30-sec before the target time. For longer distances such as a full marathon, I have the same width of acceptance. As you can see from the table, the failure rate is shocking!

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. 7 pacers out of 12 failing to achieve their promised target for the half marathon is shocking!

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 decided to report on this aspect of the IDBI 2016 race because it is the main competitor in the race calendar for what has been my “home city’s race”, the SCMM held in January each year.

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 in a previous race, perhaps we should ask the race organizers “why was that person selected again to be a pacer?” What are we doing about Process for Performance?

I have told you why you need not run to be fit. But if you are going to run, and if you are going to race, 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.

9 comments

  1. These may be very harsh words, but ultimately truth prevails, and folks who are part of any pacing story should make sure they thoroughly understand pacer responsibilities and deliver the promised goods to runners who place their faith in the bus!

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  2. Puru – I have a few observations. Firstly, pacing is still a “honorary” activity thereby allowing the pacer to take cover under various excuses when he/she fails – fell ill, was carrying an injury, was tired, etc . Maybe race organisers should pay the pacers via cash or gift vouchers and hold them accountable for their performance with commensurate incentives/penalties. It should not be that the pacer does a hard race the previous week and then assumes that a slower time than their best can be “easily” managed.

    Secondly, many pacers like to encourage their bus members to finish on time, so they hold themselves back near the finish line encouraging those who have a chance to finish on time. Hence, it is possible their passengers (those who hung on until the end) finished on time although the pacers themselves may be a few seconds late.

    Thirdly, pacers should open up to critical scrutiny ( accolades/brickbats) by putting up their garmin/similar link to the run. A more balanced assessment can be made if we can see how the pacer handled the pace km by km. Maybe, the pacers at the IDBI HM can volunteer this info.

    Fourthly, I may be wrong but i feel not all buses are equally critical. For eg: the 5 hour bus in the Full Marathon is critical since that is the cut-off time for those wanting to do the comrades. A 5:15 bus to me is slightly less important from this perspective although all times are important to some runner or the other. One can likewise identify critical timing slots for 10K / HM. These critical slots will need more number of pacers than that for the others. For eg: let us assume SCMM is the target race for people for which they are keen to qualify. Let us also assume that HM is the event for which they are wanting to qualify. Both are reasonable assumptions. If one uses this year’s SCMM qualifying cut-offs for the HM (1st preference for each age group, men & women), the qualifying timings are spaced 5 mins apart between 2 hrs 05 min and 2 hrs 55 min for some age group or the other and for one gender or the other. 2 hrs 25 min, 2 hrs 30 min, 2 hrs 40 min and 2 hrs 50 min appear more than once. I would think there needs to be multiple pacers for these timings – primarily at the 2 hr 25 & 2 hr 30 min slots. Having pacers 5 mins apart too may be required in this situation. Those organisers conducting races which target qualifying for SCMM as their objective will need to fix their pacers accordingly. (atleast next year :))

    Over to you.

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    • Dear Srivatsan

      FIRST) Broadly agree! Currently, if pacers are lucky they get their race registration free and some special freebies. Some do it for the publicity (often negative, when they fail). But the primary compensation is experienced by everyone – getting other runners to their goals. I think if we don’t take THIS last part seriously… the nation itself has a huge problem on its hands! From primary teachers who aren’t benchmarked to CEOs who get away with unethical practices!

      SECOND) The job of a pacer to motivate is secondary. The primary job is to finish on schedule. If the strategy is to prance around near the end to motivate others… that can be done AFTER crossing the finish line ahead of target time. Frankly, if the job is being done well throughout the 42km, or even 10km… then such last-minute behaviour will not be needed.

      THIRD) Over time I have had a very tiny number of pacers approach me with their split details. To fail is one thing, we’ve all failed in positions of responsibility at some time in our lives… a dishonest cover-up is yet another! Just today I had someone who paced in Hyderabad yesterday send me their numbers voluntarily because they thought they had done a bad job. In fact they hadn’t! It wasn’t brilliant, but it was definitely a Yaay! not an Ouch! Ouch! Of course, I have no position of authority over any pacer. The race organizers who manage the pacers should be asking for this. I ask for this from those I mentor when they run – race or not!

      FOURTH) The current ‘uniform distribution’ of pacers is definitely sub-optimal. I am tired of pointing this out ever since my guide to pacing here https://purutheguru.me/2014/12/19/pacerguide/
      Given that there will be different motivations… and given that only a tiny percentage of runners use a pacer for the entire race, perhaps the best approach remains to distribute in line with the race-time distribution… But I do appreciate the interesting combinations you have suggested.

      Thanks you for your comments and suggestions…

      Puru

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      • Thanks Puru..I admire your sincerity, structured thinking, depth of analysis, eagerness to share combined with a frank style of communication…Expressing my gratitude for the same.

        You have addressed the issue in great detail and so i wont belabour the point. I think pacers in general are motivated and eager to help fellow runners reach their timing goals. However, i am only expressing that they may not have the capability to do a good job of the pacing. I remember unofficially pacing 3 friends to a sub 2 HM at Vasai Virar a few years back. The year before the route was 400 metres long. So i provided for that in my pacing plan. I had told my friends that irrespective of how they fare, I will be sticking to my race plan (a slightly slower first half and a slightly faster second half). As we were nearing 11 kms as per my Garmin, I spotted the official 10 km marker and congratulated myself for providing for the extra 400 metres. However, by the time, i reached the 20th km, the official km markers and the Garmin aligned once again in terms of distance. Net result, i finished my paced run in 1:58:30 (faster than intended), one friend finished a minute later and another finished 26 seconds past 2 hour and the third finished in 2:05. Just illustrating how complex the pacing job is. The effort that is needed to do a competent job is quite high and I am not sure the current system incentivises that sort of approach. Cheers.

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  3. Srivatsan… I have seen more than one case (2 years ago) of pacers being chosen/confirmed for SCMM who did not have a Garmin and had never used one! Great to hear that you think about your goals more seriously… the nation needs you 🙂

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  4. One additional thought. Considering that “chip time” is taken for qualifying/records etc. it should be recommended that pacers are distributed across the crowd rather than ALL at front line. I wanted to run with the pacer at this year’s HTHM but all pacers were up at front while i crossed the start line nearly 2 mins later. At Hiranandani Powai 10k the gap was worse ~5 min

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    • Oh! I’m shocked that pacers were kept up front. That’s terrible for the following reasons….
      a) the fastest runners are best off being kept in front (and typically participants know then am let them through)
      b) pacers will get more in their bus if they are chilling out in a wide space well behind the start rope boundary
      c) and thus be able to address their crowd
      d) and take them through safely into the running space
      But… the problem is that so many people become pacers for the fame/glory/publicity… and so want to be photographed. Now, all of that is fine… but if they then do NOT go back with their flags to start 30-60 seconds behind the front line… that’s just abominable, in my opinion.
      The last race I ran, the BNP 25.0 Endurathon, I pointed this out and was told it was ‘just for the photos’… but I can see photographic evidence that when the gun went off they were there at the start line with the fastest runners. I am NOT impressed!!

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