The all-women pacer group talks to Deepthi Velkur about what it takes to be leading runners at the TCSW10K.

If you are running the TCS World 10k this weekend in Bengaluru, then get ready to be lead by a formidable team of 19 women pacers. A first of its kind in the history of distance running, you will be following an accomplished group of runners as pacers this year. This unique initiative by Procam International for TCSW10K has raised the curiosity of running community and others alike. Vivek Singh, Jt. MD. Procam International says, “Running is empowering. The TCS World 10 K Bengaluru, is a showcase of the spirit of running. For the first time ever, we are delighted, to have an all-female pacer squad. Women from different walks of life are taking on leading roles, inspiring and helping amateur runners, to achieve their personal best.”

 

Each of the 19 pacers, wear multiple hats.  Mentor, motivator, and a role model in their own personal lives, they have the compassion and courage, to bring these qualities to the event. The fastest Bus is 50 mins and the final bus is at the 90 mins slot. So, depending on your running efficiency you can choose to follow any of the 19 pacers. The number 19 is not by accident but more by design. Experts at Procam analysed finish times across the last few editions and on the basis of feedback from amateur runners, KOL’s & running groups, identified the time slots that required more support and estimated improvement in finish times. This resulted in the different slots and the number of pacers that would be assisting runners on race day. Runners need to note that a Pacer BUS is the time at which a pacer will finish her race. All Runners aspiring to finish in that particular time target should follow her. For example, Shailja Sridhar is the 50 Mins Bus Pacer. All participants targeting a 50 mins finish time must join this bus.

Of the 19 pacers, 12 are from Bengaluru, 2 from Kolkata, 2 from Delhi, 2 from Mumbai & 1 from Chennai. Pacers were chosen based on the following criteria

  • Performance in last 12 months in training prior to Race day
  • Average weekly mileage of last 52 weeks, best performance in last 6 months
  • Margin of comfort needed between personal best & bus time
  • Lastly pacers own confidence to bring the bus in ‘ON TIME’

Catching up with a few pacers, we learnt about their thoughts about running, pacing and being part of the all-women pacer group.

How it started

Bindu Juneja, the 60 min BUS, speaks about how the idea germinated, “It was Jayanti Poojari’s dream to have a team of all Women Pacers for the 1st time in the World. I’m very proud to be part of this team.” Adding to this Shikha Rawal, 65 min BUS, says, “I think it is a brilliant idea and all credits to Procam for this. I am proud to be part of the squadron of 19. I couldn’t believe when I first got approached by Procam and I said yes immediately.”

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“I have been running the TCS for the last 5yrs. This will be my 6th year. I am a regular runner and I know a lot of people who run, so a friend of mine recommended my name to Procam. They checked my track record and selected me as a pacer. It was Jayanti’s brain child to have come up with this idea. She felt it was something very different and its empowering women to come out and do something unique. Seasoned runners from across the country will be taking part in this run,” adds Sangamitra Guha, 70 mins BUS.

Responsibility of the pacer

Being a pacer is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. Shahana Zaberi, 80 min BUS, takes her job as a pacer very seriously. She notes, “Being a Pacer is a very responsible job. We need to get our Bus on time. Irrespective of any odds happen during the route, we must cross the finish line on our target pacing time. Running slow or faster than our pace time will fail the whole purpose of pacer. We must follow the consistent pace and make the strategy well, depending on elevation profiles or other factors during the race.”

The group has a mix of experienced and new pacers but their commitment to pacing is unquestionable. Anjana Mohan, 70 mins BUS, echoes these thoughts, “The window is narrow – 30 seconds on either side of a promised time slot. Timing splits are also key, so a pacer cannot simply run haphazardly and then drag things out or speed things up in the last few yards or even kilometers. There are timing mats throughout the course and the steadiness of the pacer is quantified.”

Why follow a Pacer?

If you are wondering why we need to run with a pacer, then Neelam Talwar (80 mins BUS) an experienced pacer who has paced the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017 and Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018, answers that question, “Running a distance race with a Pacer helps you to focus exclusively on your running without having to spend any mental energy on the pace. A runner just needs to keep an eye on the Pacer, focus on the running. The Pacer motivates the runner, keeps the runner updated on the hydration stops on the route. Running with a Pacer helps think positively and not make an excuse of the weather, fatigue or just turn away from the target.”

Bahar Sinha, 55 min BUS, also adds, “With the pacer you don’t need to have any strategy, just follow the pacer and try to just align yourself with the pacer. When you are running alone then you need to plan and act on your own. Sometimes a mere thought that someone is there for you makes your journey smooth and that’s what pacer are there for!”

Nandini Ashokumar, 85 mins BUS, is a 6 time pacer who has assisted runners in the previous edition of the TCSW10K. She stresses, “Pacer helps the runner to stay on track by maintaining a specific time per km, motivates the runner, shares valuable running tips and stays focused to help the runners in the Bus achieve their dream target. For a beginner, running with a pacer will be of great help and for experienced it would help them achieve their personal best.”

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What excites the Pacers about running?

An excited Mahalakshmi Sagar, 60 min BUS, says, “The exciting part of running is with every run you discover a new thing about your body in terms of strength and weakness, and it does surprise you. The greatest lesson running has taught me is “You are stronger than you think”. Also it keeps me fit and has got me so many friends. Catching up with runner friends for a chatty run is my favourite.”

“That I run in the open during the wee hours when it is dawning and that I get to breathe the fresh morning air. Clichéd but true – it completely de-stresses me and makes me positive and have an optimistic outlook towards everything,” says Kavitha Nair, 75 mins BUS.

Avani Vora, 55 mins BUS recalls, “I have been running for almost 8 years now. Although running is something I do as I enjoy it. I feel I can connect to myself while I run, it helps is killing all negative energy within and makes me a better human being mentally and physically I stay fit, am able to look after my kids, husband, parents and friends.”

 Advice to runners from Pacers

“Do not kill yourself following a pacer. Select a pacer who is a little slower than what you want to achieve and if you feel up to it, you can go ahead. Better to go ahead of a pacer rather than lag behind. Choose wisely,” is the sincere advice from Anu Beri, 85 mins BUS.

The fastest pacer, Shailja Sridhar, 50 min BUS, says, “A good pacer will hopefully be helpful at the start and set the pace but it’s good to listen to your body. It’s also good to remember that the pacer is also human and can make mistakes.” Ranjani Ramanujam gives the final word, “Trust the pacers, and stay with them through the 10K.”

For these pacers running is a part of them. It’s a form of meditation for them and the honour of being a pacer is never taken lightly by them. Praising the commitment of the pacers, Vivek Singh adds, “Pacing amateurs is a selfless and challenging task. However, I am confident that at the end of the race, each one of these pacers will feel a sense of accomplishment, that goes beyond the sacrifice of achieving one’s personal best.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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