The Wipro Chennai Marathon: 5-hr pacing experience & post race report

31-Jan-2016 was a memorable day for me for two reasons.  First, this was my 10th officially timed Full Marathon  and second, this was my second consecutive year of pacing The Wipro Chennai Marathon.  

I was skeptical about the fact that 2 weeks before I ran my fastest marathon @ the SCMM 2016 and doing another marathon within 2 weeks.  Well, like any other marathons, I was just not very sure about what would happen on the race day, but I was very positive bout my fitness levels and also due to the last two weeks of good rest and recovery.

This event was very special also for the Chennai City which was reeling back to normalcy after the disastrous floods in December 2015 which nearly submerged the entire city.  The city has quietly recovered from the calamity and the Chennaites used this “perfect community event” to show their solidarity.  All the runners signed up for this ‘mega South Indian run’ looked forward to put their multiple weeks of training into action.

At the start

My friends Balaji and his wife Gayatri were kind enough to pick me from my hotel in T-Nagar and we reached the start line at around 3.30 AM.  It was great to see the lineup of all the runners and pacers alike.  There were thumping loud music, excitement and anxiety in the air which was mostly humid with a weak early morning breeze.  There were also many family members who were reluctantly waving their hands to send off their moms, dads, grand moms and grand dads and children for the 42.2 kms long trip (read it as a long distance war) 🙂 – There were also plenty of curious half marathon runners who were patiently waiting for the Full Marathon to start first to get to their start line for their run at 4.30 am.  I bet some of them were making vows to return back to the TWCM 2016 as a Full Marathon runner.

I was very happy to be part of a pacing group which also had promising Sub-4 full marathoner Balaji Tulasiraman and the famous Indian Ultra runner Ashok Daniel at the start line.  We decided to pace the marathon to our own plans with the a simple goal in mind to cheer, support and motivate maximum runners on the road; help the runners tagging with our bus to finish full marathon in sub 5 hrs.  My target was to complete the race in sub 4 hrs 58 mins.

All the pacers were distinctly dressed in their bright orange T-shirt and were given a large helium balloon with the bus timing written on it.  The pacers helped each other and after a little “design of experiments” to master how to tie and fasten the balloons to the shirt, we waited for the final countdown to begin.  I felt it was a cool idea to have 3 more balloons to get an ‘additional lift’ during the run – not sure if this is legally allowed :).

During the run 

After a slow start, my bus set off with a bunch of runners into a cruise mode.  Few runners joined after 10k, some in between and after half way mark and many others in the final few kilometers.  I happily engaged with the runners on the way, struck conversation with them, shared my running experiences, curiously asked questions about why they run, and enquired plans for the day etc., – a lot of energy, motivation and cheers were in the air as we were sweating and running.  The runners in my bus kept patting their back for crossing every single kilometer.  All of us decided to ignore the humidity and screw the sun as we were running.  On the way we encouraged other runners and also thanked the volunteers and many Chennai Police cops who were posted on duty along the route.  All of them who joined me early on promised to hold their running form till they reach the finish line.

The first half of the race was a continuous run except for the fuel breaks.  The fuel stops were limited and with a single minded focus the bus kept moving ahead merrily.   At the half way mark we were almost a 1 minute ahead of my pacing plan.

The second half the race plan had many Cheat and Treat breaks to walk, stretch, relax, recover and to continue running.   I was happy for not clashing with the 10k runners and getting into a traffic jam kind of situation after their start from the Napier bridge at 7 AM.  As we kept moving, somewhere closer to the 34 kms we had to plough through a large number of 21k & 10k runners and walkers alike.  It was getting extremely challenging to run as a group.   It was also becoming increasingly difficult to spot the Full Marathon runners since the entire city on that day, on that road, was painted in Blue with all the runners wearing the blue T’s.   I also nudged several young runners to keep me as a marker and stay ahead of the bus all the time. 

There was happiness and satisfaction after spotting the “500 meters more to go” and the 5 hr runners started sprinting towards the finish line.  I had few more minutes left as per my plan to the finish and waited in front of the Kasturba MRTS to gather more runners and giving them the final push till the finish line.
I was thanking the God to keep my throat in its best condition during the run to shout and cheer all through the marathon distance.  Thanks to the large strip of Strepsils and the concoction of hot water, lemon, honey and apple vinegar which I kept sipping during the last one week, I didn’t have to deal with a muted voice on that day.

I must mention this.  It was amazing to run with some of the specially challenged participants who were riding their hand driven tricycles.  I remember cheering and running along with one Venkat from Theni – who was spinning his tricycle and was getting on and off with our bus till the 35 kms.  I salute his determination.
About my pacing plan & the resultMy pacing plan had considerations for several factors,

  • learning from the last year’s pacing experience and my own observations from other pacers
  • target finish time set at 4 hrs 58 minutes with 10 fuel breaks ~30 secs at every station.
  • easy 2 kms run at the start of the race and settle down at the first half marathon pace
  • the weather – humidity predicted was ~90% &  temperature to be between 22-24 degrees till about 9 AM
  • slower second half 
    • included walking and running breaks in between (which I call them as Cheat and Treat breaks :))
    • crowd – half marathon and 10k runners
  • to keep the promises that I made to the Chennai runners and to myself to take care of them very well during the run, give the best racing experience and help achieve the goals of maximum possible runners and finally to follow the best advises that I have ever learnt regarding pacing  (read Chennai Marathon – 5 hr bus pacing bus)

Result of my 5 hr pacing bus

Actual race
10k1:07:331:6:500:0:43 faster
First Half2:22:272:22:020:0:25 faster
Second Half2:35:342:33:350:1:59 faster
Finish time4:58:014:55:370:2:24 faster

Receiving the finisher medal – congratulating and having a short chat with Saryu Jindal

Proud moment – picture with Balaji Tulasiraman, a good friend and fellow 5 hr pacer,

somewhere near Marina – Thanks to Weekend Studio for this memorable picture

Having a ‘Cheat & Treat time – see how cheerful all the runners were after the 36 kms.

Relax – and arms up in the air, and see the pain disappearing instantly

Learning from this experience
Being associated with the project management community I always enjoy mining for the wisdom through a little retrospection.  For me, this was another project well executed – it had a goal, a detailed plan for execution, issues to tackle, risks to overcome, factors to accommodate for the unknowns, motivated team (pacers and runners included) and the responsibility to steer the group successfully and cheerfully till the finish line.  This little pacing project was certainly a good learning experience for me for the second year too.

I decided to write my experience and learning through this blog and share with other pacers or other runners who would get an opportunity to pace a bus in the future.   I also would like to thank Balaji Tulasiraman and Ashok Daniel for covering and keeping the 5 hr runners in between us at the same time offering their best support to the runners.  I owe them a big thanks.

I only wish I could carry even more runners till the finish line and bring them a memorable experience every time I step in as a pacer.
Feedback received from few 5 hr runners

There is nothing better than receiving some pats at the end for doing a good job and it is best when acknowledged by the people who benefited by the efforts.  I was extremely delighted to find some of the runners posting their experiences and mentioning about how the 5 hr pacers were part of their race day success.  

Thank you guys!!!
Feedback to the organizersIt is an herculean task to plan a marathon race right in the middle of a busy city like Chennai.  I would like to congratulate the Chennai Runners and the TWCM organizers for putting together a fabulous show.  They can count me in to come back and pace the 5 hr bus for the TWCM 2016 event.

There were many great things that I had witnessed and have summed up few of them,Positives

  • it was amazing to see a city which was entirely under water a month before, bouncing back and demonstrating the togetherness in participating in one of the largest South Indian marathon events and the #spiritofchennairun was fully witnessed.
  • special care for the budding elite runners and for the specially challenged participants
  • cheerful and responsible volunteers – who were also quick to cleanup up the trash thrown by runners 
  • electrolyte and refreshments all along the course – the spacing of fuel stations was perfect
  • free race day photographs – taken by professional photographers (in a country where most popular marathon events are ripping away the runners charging money for downloading the pictures)
  • large pacing group – 4 pacers for every bus was a fantastic idea.  bright T-shirts for the pacers & large Helium balloons  I really didn’t have to break my head to locate any pacer in the pile of pictures posted in FB – I’m very sure even the runners looking for the pacers as a reference had the same feeling.  The runners spotted the pacers from a distance and could hop in during the run.
  • well organized expo, goody bag and good quality runners T’s to runners

to improve

  • Shhhhhhhh!!!! 🙂 I’ve kept this list only for the organizers.  

– a proud and happy Chennai Runner

Special thanks to my son Aditya Kannan for supporting me in editing the contents 😉

1 Comment

Do you really need to depend on a pacer to finish a marathon? - KaysFIT Academy · November 21, 2019 at 8:13 am

[…] Want to be a pacer? read my experience here.. Categories: blogRunning, fitness, nutrition & wellness Tags: pacer […]

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