Back in May, I got an email from the Virgin Sport team that I have been chosen to be a pacer at the Virgin Sport British 10K presented by ASICS on 15th July 2018. I was very happy to accept this opportunity, see an event from a different perspective and help others meet their goals.
I was down to pace at 1 hour (or just slightly under 1 hour as it really should be), which I was pretty content about. My 10km PB/PR is 45:00, so 1 hour was within my capability, but I thought 50 minutes would be a bit of a stretch and have me fretting that I was going miss the time. I got a little pacing practice in the day before with a parkrun sandwich and managed a 29:20 and held around a 6 min/km pace for an hour.
I rolled in to Waterloo station on Sunday morning and headed from the British Academy to pick up my vest and flag. It was nice to have a seat to get ready and a proper toilet to use. The nerves were building and I needed to go a few times as a detached and reattached my flag to get in and out the doors. All the pacers had a picture and we wandered in the sunshine and the already raising temperatures to our start pens.
I wrote about my thoughts on Virgin Sport in last years post about the Hackney Half and was dubious of their intentions. At one of the pacer briefings that we had a couple of weeks before I was able to quiz a few of the Virgin Sport staff about that. It seems Richard Branson participated in a cycling event in South Africa and found when he returned to the UK that there were not similar events here, so set up Virgin Sport to produce inclusive entertaining athletic events. The aim is to break even financially, but keep inspiring people to move and enjoy an active lifestyle.
I was in Pen E with three other 1 hour pacers and we spread out with one at the front, middle and back of the pen. I selected the back and stood directing people and answering questions as I became a beacon of information with a flag on my back. I chatted to a few people and sent them forward in the pen, which soon backed up to me.
These big races do attract a range of people, which is one of the many good things about them. One guy that made me smile nearly did himself an aggravation as he swung his leg upon the barrier to stretch his hamstring then thought better of it. Following the obligatory warm up, we were soon wandering forward and crossed the line some 15- 20 minutes after the gun as people were sent off in waves.
I wasn’t sure which way to go with the pacing. Was I going to be super enthusiastic, blaring out kilometre splits or steady, focused and quietly get on with my job? Yep, I chose the later. I turned around to the group that have gathered around me that I would be going as steady as possible and if they were feeling good in the last km to go for it.
I crossed the line and took a look at what would be the first of hundreds at my watch, tried to relax and not go blazing off like an idiot as per usual. I’ve done this race a few times over the years and it’s been very busy. This was generally down to taking part it in a big group, arriving late and starting at the back then trying to plough through the crowds. This year there seems to be enough space as letting the starters out in waves, worked.
You generally think of Central London as a flat place, but to a runner, any slight incline seems like the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. Who knew Regent Street was a gradual incline. This came as a surprise and I held my pace, probably losing a few of the group behind me (who later caught up). My Garmin pacing feature was all over the place (other mentioned the same problem), possibly due to the surrounding buildings (I have noticed the same problem when in dense woodland) and I was not sure it was the hill or I had slowed severely. I held what I felt was the right pace and kept going.
In many of my other race recaps, I’ve talked a lot about PB/PRs. Whilst a PB is nice, it does have the potential to put a lot of pressure on you, stress you out and ruin your race day experience. Its also makes the run somewhat unpleasant if you’re busting a gut, especially in the heat. With the PR pressure off, I found I was really enjoying myself. I had time to check out London with closed roads – Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and the Strand. Look at the crowds and enjoy their support and take pleasure in running with others.
The kilometres clicked by quickly. Before I knew it, it was halfway. Then we were on the Embankment with the London Eye sitting on the other side of the Thames and Big Ben shrouded in scaffolding.
The sun was now high in the sky and in the temperature was hitting the high 20s (low 80 F). People were drenched in sweat and starting to struggle. I knew the home straight was not too far following the switch back across Westminster Bridge at around the 8km mark. I was still on track, even though I scared myself a few times with my poor timing arithmetic in my head.
Being on time is very important to me. As is not letting people down. I suppose the two go together. Being on time is a sign of respect. So I was taking my pacer duties seriously. I thought back to the Ealing Half where the pacers waved us in through the last 500m as we were well on target time and gave some much encouragement.
Following another switchback, we were heading around Parliament Square and on to Whitehall. I turned and encouraged those behind me to give it all they had for the last several hundred metres. Strangely, it was not quite obvious where the finish was, as a young guy asked me “Is that the finish?”
I crossed the line in 59:48. Not fricking bad. I realised how hot I was and was glad of a can of water (aluminium is highly recyclable. Well done Virgin for reducing plastic usage). I got some pats on the back and plenty of thumbs up and thank yous. Runners are so gracious. There are obviously a few people around you, who you realise are running with you, but there is also a far higher number 5 to 10 metres back that you don’t see or realise are there (until they come and say thanks). It was a great feeling to know you had helped someone’s race and possibly achieve their goal.
The British 10km is an impressively organised event and it was interesting to see the part of undertaking that it takes to put on an event of this size. Races in Central London are always special and will attract a large and mixed crowd. Virgin Sport put on great (if a bit pricey) events and they will learn more and more after each event. I’m really interested in what their next new event will be.
It was a privilege to be a pacer and be part of other people’s races. It’s nice to feel that you’re part of the race and it’s much more of an experience. It’s not just turning up, sticking your head down, and then head home. It was much more fun. I loved it and hope to do it again.