Seasoned marathoner Pratheep Jagannathan on the duties of a pacer

“Four, three, two, one … beeeep WALK!” We keep an ear out for Pratheep Jagannathan’s quiet command. He is training us for the upcoming Coimbatore Marathon event. Some of us have pulled on running shoes for the first time, but Pratheep is reassuring and gentle as he puts us through our paces. For a month now, four days a week, our running group at GV Residency receives a WhatsApp from him saying “Run Tomorrow. Start Time 5.45 am. 5K run-walk. Please confirm your participation.”

Forty-two-year-old Pratheep, a seasoned long distance runner is also a treasure trove of information on all things running. Every day we learn something more from him and today it is about Pacers. Pratheep is, perhaps, doing the pacer’s job with us, as he modifies his speed, keeps time and encourages us along. As we run, he explains in detail about these people who egg runners on to complete a run honourably. “A pacer should look and feel confident in his pacing, should engage the runners, motivate them and be cheerful. It also helps to be able to tell stories and distract the runners from their struggle,” explains Pratheep who does all of the above!

Pacers are experienced long-distance runners who run at a set pace or speed to finish a race in a specific time. “If you have registered for a 10 K running event, ensure you set a realistic time frame to finish that race,” he advises. “So if you want to complete the distance in one hour fifteen minutes you should know at what speed to run and how to maintain that speed to achieve your goal. A pacer will help you do just that.”

With the approaching Coimbatore Marathon , the avenues and parks in the city are reverberating with the thud of running feet. Young and old have dived in and pacers can help them stay on the straight and narrow on the final day. As runners in each category may have different paces, organisers try and provide different pacers for them. “For instance, a Half Marathon (21.1Km) race can have 1:50, 2:00, 2:15, 2:30 pace groups with one or more pacers in each finish time.” Interestingly, the pacers’ assigned finish time is termed “Bus”. Pacers wear specific coloured T-shirt or carry a placard or balloon with the finishing time on it! Pratheep has been a pacer in a couple of events. “Once for the 2:00 Hour Half Marathon Bus for the Coimbatore Marathon and once for 2:15 HM Bus for Chennai Marathon,” he says.

One often feels like apologising to Pratheep, as it must be pretty underwhelming for him to run with slow coaches like me! He has a formidable track record of three ultra marathons ( 2015 CTC Trail Ultra – 50 K (6:57:18), 2016 Jawadhu Hills Ultra – 50k (5:38:26) and the 2018 Kodai Hills Ultra – 80k (13:00:28). He has signed up for the upcoming 2018 Malnad Ultra – 110K. He won second place at the Chennai Triathlon 2016-Olympic category where he swam 1.5K, cycled 40K and ran 10K all in 3 hours 11 minutes and 56 seconds. He has more than 50 half marathons and more than 10 full marathons (his best full marathon timing is 4:06:20).

But he assures us that it is the job of pacers to tailor their speed and be able to hold a conversation while pacing. “They should be able to plan their average pace and know at what time they should have completed a certain distance at various stages of the race. They need to adjust the pace according to changes in elevation.”

“ Keeping Pace is an Art,” states Pratheep. “There are several nuances to to it and, one gets better and better with every event.”

One step at a time

Set a realistic goal (Usually it is five to 10 minutes faster than their previous bests)

A pacer’s job is to act as a marker for you and help you finish the race at the set time

A designated pacer will not slow down nor speed up to any individual. Some participants may slow down and drop off the bus, not being able to hold their pace; others may have underestimated their capability and may finish ahead of time. Some may join the bus in the middle of the race

It is not necessary to run with the pacer beforehand, but it is advisable to run at your target pace during training

On the day or even before runners can have a quick chat with the pacers. One can join a pace group on race day or even during a race. There are no formalities and runners are free to choose. One can even change among different pace groups during the race

A serious runner can hire a personal pacer and train with him/her

Info you can use

The sixth edition of the Coimbatore Marathon is on October 7, 2018

Last date to register is September 7, 2018

Registration fee is ₹800 for 21.1 and 10K and ₹550 for 5K. Students get a discount of ₹100