The Wipro Chennai Marathon (TWCM) is a fabulous annual running event attracting over 13000+ runners in various marathon categories.   December is a runner friendly month due to the best weather in Chennai.  I ran a half marathon on the TWCM’s first edition in 2012 but missed the 2013 edition.  Year 2014, I was privileged to be part of the 5 hr marathon pacing bus (called the Comrades bus, including Aravind andTanvir).  This year proves to be yet another lucky one for me to continue my role as a pacer (there will be additional talented pacers including Dharma, AshokTT Balaji for the 5 hr bus). I’m thankful to Praveen & Praveen, and Chennai Runners for providing this opportunity to be a pacer for the second consecutive time.

There are many factors contribute to the success or failure of a pacing bus. The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2015 is just a month away and I thought it will be a perfect time to compile several ideas around some connected topics and present to several runners who are aspiring to finish their dream Full Marathon in a specific time target.  

What is a pacing bus?
A pacing bus (oops…there is physical bus to look for :)) is a group of runners running at a specific pace till the finish line led by a bus driver (இந்த பஸ்ஸுல கண்டக்டர் எல்லாம் இல்ல!). The lead runner or the pacer usually carries a flag which bears the intended time to finish the race.

Who is a pacer in a Marathon pacing bus?

A pacer is usually an experienced runner who calls the shot (shouts, uses a whistle etc.,) and also plays a key role to motivate, cheer, encourage and help other runners in pacing bus to complete the marathon within a specified time target. The pace leader must be a good time manager and runs at a steady pace, also keeps track of the marathon day variations so that the group can achieve their goal of finishing the marathon within the goal time.

Other similar terms
A pacemaker or pace-setter (sometimes colloquially called a rabbit[1]) is a runner who leads a middle- or long distance running event for the first section to ensure a fast time and avoid excessive tactical racing. Pacemakers are frequently employed by race organizers for world record attempts with specific instructions for lap times. Some athletes have become essentially professional pacemakers. A competitor who chooses the tactic of leading in order to win is called a front-runner rather than a pacemaker.
– source: …more…Wikipedia
What are the benefits of running in a pacing group?

A pacing group is best suited for someone who gets motivated while running in a group setup.  Also suited for someone inexperienced or doesn’t have a racing plan and relying on running with someone experienced.  It is believed that there is a higher chance of achieving your target when you stick around the bus.

Alright, now you know what a pacing group is all about, how can you benefit from it?

  • ride a bus from the beginning to end (டிக்கட் வாங்கவேண்டாம்!) 
  • hop between buses, if you feel the bus is too fast or too slow
  • use a bus to take a short ride at a stretch where you need some extra push.  taking a bus could be crucial choice at the last few kilometers when your body needs an extra control through your mind and the mind needs some extra push.
  • chat with the other runners in the bus, interact with the bus driver, sing and shout to keep yourself and others energized throughout the run.  Who knows your next friendship is hiding somewhere in the bus
  • have fun 🙂

Will the pacer be responsible for my race finish?

Absolutely not.  Running a marathon is very individual and the pacer doesn’t guarantee you a finish.  You will still have to use your natural strengths, intrinsic motivation and tools (including GPS watch / heart rate monitor / pacing charts) if you are not comfortable in a pacing group setup.  But, few additional things to look for,

  • use your own pace to start – you know better about your body and how your respond, when you warm up, when you feel the fluid motion in your body
  • don’t get too carried away by the speed of a bus – if you feel the pace is too fast – drop back and catch up later
  • listen to your body – pacers are not going to finish your race, they are available as a support system, you have a choice to take advantage of them or even ignore them
  • don’t rely 100% on the pacing group – but do take good advantage of the pacing group – use the pacing bus as a marker and for motivation during the race

What will be the strategy followed by me / my bus ‪‎#TWCMKays5hrExpress‬?
My pacing bus will cross the finish line at 4:58+ hrs.  roughly finishing the race sub-5 hrs.  On an average we have to run 7:07 pace every kilometer.  Since its a full marathon 5 hr bus the pacing strategy will factor various factors, in short,

  • at the start – first few kilometers will be a slower than the average pace – just to ensure the bus pace doesn’t kill some of the slower starters.  In 2014, the start was smooth and it just took less than a minute to cross the start line mat.  I don’t see much of an issue with the crowd here.
  • fuel stations – this bus will not stop at all the fuel stations (read LSS-Limited Stop Service 🙂 – the fuel stops are part of the overall pacing strategy and will be evenly spaced out (don’t expect me to shout – வண்டி ஒரு பத்து நிமிஷம் நிக்கும், காப்பி டீ குடிக்கிரவங்க இறங்குகப்பா :)) ~30 secs allowance is given and the bus will keep moving after that.  Of course I’ll be hydrating too, I’ll slow down, grab water or electrolyte, and walk a little bit but will keep moving, the bus will not wait…
  • pacing – the bus will set on a cruise mode for the larger part of the race, second half of the race will be slightly slower, I’ll make adjustments to the pace to take of the elevation changes (flyovers), fuel stations, possible crowding situations.  I’ll also be employing run-walk-run at specific intervals to make allow the runners to recover, bring in the best experience, make the running less painful and more enjoyable
  • runners / passengers – anyone can join, no rules, there are higher chances of picking up a lot of passengers during the last 3-4 kms.  Also look for other 5 hrs pacers whom you can interact and run with.
  • crowd factor – the last 5 kms we are expected to plough through the 5k and 10k race runners walking / running through certain narrow Chennai road stretches.  We will lose some precious time but my pacing plan will have this as a factor too.
  • race time tracking – the bus time will keep the gun time as a reference and I’ll be using my GPS watch to track the progress.  I also will have a km by km pacing chart with me.  But, that’s only for my reference – if you are part of the bus – just focus on running and enjoy the overall experience
  • Refer to the TWCM website for the route map for this year 

Why should anyone be running in my bus?
I’ve been an athlete for most part of my life and the running bug deeply bit me in 2011. Over the last few years I’ve run >7000 kms, indulged so much into running and fitness, and running has become an inseparable part of life now.  I have experience different running events, half, full (PB 3:53 @ SCMM, 2016) and ultra marathons (my best experiences include Bangalore Ultra and the Comrades Marathon).  I’m a constant learner, a good motivator and a mentor to several aspiring runners.  I ultimately derive happiness in supporting others in achieving their goals.

On the marathon day, you can find me to be cheerful, shouting and calling your name to motivate you or even push you.  I’ll run shoulder to shoulder with you, pledge to be part of your running goal, share my experiences, share some running tips, help you in realizing your dream of running a Sub-5 marathon or even to provide the best running experience on that day.

Final few words,
The next few weeks are very crucial for your training and also for tapering.  Don’t do any new crazy exercises or unfamiliar running routines.  Injuries at this moment will take a long time to recover and it might even cost you the long awaited marathon dreams.  The pain is much enjoyed by running the marathon than sitting in the sidelines.

You can call me or even tweet or write to me or connect with me on Facebook if you need any preparation tips or even questions about the race day.  I would also encourage you to connect with the other pacers who are out there to support you.

Wish you a good luck for the preparations!!  Signing off for now!!

Facebook | Twitter | Kannan Sundarararajan

Optionally, you can connect with the pacers by posting your questions in the form below.  Your questions will be promptly answered.


I’m extremely thankful to all the capable pacers around the world who teach a lot of wonderful things about running and leadership. I certainly get runners-high whenever I finish a marathon but as a pacer I get multiple-runners-high by helping and guiding others to finish the race.

1. http://www.alsoranrunners.info/busses.htm
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacemaker_(running)
3. http://running.competitor.com/2013/09/training/the-pros-and-cons-of-following-a-pace-group_59107/2
4. http://www.livestrong.com/article/427304-what-is-a-pacer-for-running/

1 Comment

Do you really need to depend on a pacer to finish a marathon? - KaysFIT Academy · November 21, 2019 at 8:10 am

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