India’s biggest and most popular running event, the Tata Mumbai Marathon, is finally back on 15 January. As runners return to the event that kickstarted the running revolution in India, thousands will likely come to the start line with target times in sight. To help runners achieve their time goals in the 18th edition of the race, the organisers have enlisted the help of pacers. There will be twenty-five for the full marathon, ten for the half, and seven for the 10k race. We have already explained how running with a pacer can be useful if you are aiming to run faster, so here we shall explain how to pick a pacer who would be the right fit for you.
First things first, you will need to be practical. I have paced the half marathon at the Tata Mumbai Marathon four times. Every time, I have had to stop runners from trying for unreasonable times. There’s no point in trying to do a sub-two hour half marathon when you should be aiming for a pace that suits you. You may finish your half-marathon in two hours and thirty minutes, maybe even in three hours, and that’s fine.
The best shoes in the market can increase your speed performance by about 2-4% and the race day effect could improve you by a further 2-3%. When a 140-minute half marathoner tries to shave 20 minutes off their prevailing best run, they are trying to improve by more than 14%. Such drastic improvements are improbable.
Nashik-based Anirudh Athani, 48, has been running for 10 years. He has run the famed Comrades Ultra and other ultramarathons, including 100-mile races. Athani will be pacing at the Tata Mumbai Marathon for the third time this year. He says you need to first set yourself an achievable target time based on your training and abilities. Then, choose a pacer that’s closest to your target time. “Next, check the pacer’s experience in pacing in general, and the event in particular. If he has paced the event in question in the past, then it’s even better for you.” Mumbai-based Satish Gujaran, 59, who is also a pacer at this year’s Tata Mumbai Marathon, suggests you check the pacers’ personal best in the distance they are pacing. “It is also important to know how experienced a runner he is,” he says. Gujaran has run the Comrades Ultra eleven times and has been running for nineteen years now.
Communication is an integral part of a pacer’s job on race day. “Pacers might be fast and good runners but they need to inspire confidence in others regarding their guiding and motivational skills. Pacing is not about showing off that one is good enough to be invited to be pacer, but it is about giving back to the community by wanting to help other runners succeed,” says Athani.
Another question that you need to ask yourself is if you even need one. Perhaps you will need a pacer just for certain parts of the race. “Choose a pacer who simplifies the process for you,” says Kannan Sundararajan from Bengaluru. Sundararajan, 48 has run two Comrades, twenty full and multiple half marathons. He is also a pacer at the upcoming race.
All three are unanimous that you must talk to the pacer beforehand, multiple times, if need be, ask the pacers what their race strategy would be, and choose someone whose plan makes you feel comfortable following it. “Interact with the pacers and understand whether they will take walk breaks… lots of pacers and runners choose to walk on Peddar Road because of the climb. Will they stop for hydration and using the toilet? If so, do they have any specific advice for you?” says Athani.
While Gujaran says that ideally you should try to team up with a racer who you have run with before, for Athani, basic communication is more important. Sundararajan’s tip is the simplest. “Be either slightly ahead or slightly behind but not far away. Then you are either too fast or too slow and both could end in you missing your target.”
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.