Christmas Day arrived and South Manchester parkrun at Platt Fields, Fallowfield was where I ended up marking my 250th parkrun. It was a fantastic morning with family, running friends and cakes in attendance and it will live long in the memory.
South Manchester is my second most visited parkrun venue (fifteen visits) after Heaton. I first ventured there in 2013 after Rebecca, a workmate, took up running and Platt Fields was her most local parkrun. It’s disparagingly called ‘Flat Fields’ by a number of running pals that are used to more undulating routes due to it’s Netherlands-like flatness but I’m a fan of it. It’s definitely a PB course but just because it’s flat does not mean it’s easy. If you’re going for it ‘eyeballs out’ then there’s no place to hide. You just have to batter it from 0:01 to the finish line. I’ve tended to set fast benchmark times there in the past then my times elsewhere have risen to meet it.
Just prior to start Ian, a quicker Prestwich AC clubmate, approached me and enquired as to my target. I told him that I wanted sub 20 minutes but ideally in the 19:40s to give me an overall 5km PB. We started the run apart but after about 500m Ian sidled up beside me and took one look at his watch.
“Set off a bit quick there Mike.”
He was right, I had and it was clear then that Ian was going to be my personal pacer for the next eighteen or so minutes.
Pacing is a hard task whether doing it on an individual basis for someone or taking a bib, a flag or a balloon and being a designated pacer. It’s taking responsibility to run a time and keeping to that pace as others are depending on it. On an individual basis it’s about managing expectations of the one being paced also. Some want to go out a bit quick and ‘bank time’ others want to run at an even pace throughout. When Ian checked his watch he quickly calculated my pace against target and let me know accordingly. Had I carried on at that pace I’d have blown a gasket sooner rather than later. He did right.
I’ve paced quite a bit in the past and never take it lightly. In the recent Greater Manchester Half Marathon I was ‘a pacer for hire’, literally. A Prestwich ACer called Liz actually paid for my race number but on the proviso I paced a 1:50 time. As the race drew closer and based on her improved performance we revised that figure to 1:47 as a top end target with 1:50 being the acceptable fallback. We set off and as with many runners Liz blasted away quick with an adrenaline-filled enthusiasm. I gave her some latitude in the first kilometre due to the occasion but after that I started a slowing process. At one point I had to go in front of her and perform a blocking manoeuvre to slow her down. I felt bad stymying her pace but Liz had paid me to do a job and that was the sole focus. It was 1:47. I told her if she wanted to change that during the race it was up to her but I advised against it. In the end she crossed the line, on target, in 1:47:04 with some absolutely courageous running from her in the final 5km where we were absolutely drenched by a typically Mancunian downpour.
Previously when I’ve paced and someone has thanked me for ‘getting me a PB’ I’ve felt uncomfortable, borderline annoyed, but I just simply smiled and took the undue plaudits. Why am I uncomfortable? Because I don’t control their body movements, their breathing, their psychology nor do I put them on my shoulder and fireman’s lift them around. They’ve pushed themselves far beyond what is comfortable and done all the hard work, all I did was run to a time and shout a few words of encouragement. Having said all that though I can definitely understand the sentiment now having been on the other side. Having that person beside you to support and cajole can be a very valuable asset indeed.
All the way through the run on Christmas Day Ian was the consummate pacer. He was by my side and kept me to pace by the merest action of looking at his watch and not saying a thing. I knew we were alright by the sound of silence. At half way he told me we were doing good and to keep going, one leg in front of the other. The only place I faltered somewhat was at 4km, I always do. I feel that the run is nearly over but in actual fact there is still a canny distance left. I slowed a bit. Ian quickly spotted it and that’s where he gave me a gentle gee up.
“Come on! You’ve done the hard work Mike, you’ve got hills in your legs. This is nothing. Keep going!”
In the last 250m you emerge from the outer perimeter trail and it’s just a short run around the pond to the finish. The only things you have to worry about is hope you’ve got a final sprint left in you and not to slip on the goose and duck shite. I took one look at my watch and saw that I was on for a really good time and gave everything I had. I was determined not to leave anything out on the course, unlike the wildfowl. I crossed the line in 19:27, a 24 second personal best. A great Christmas present. Thanks Ian.