Pacing a group of debutants at the Chennai marathon’ 2019

pacing group

Nandini Ashok Kumar, an avid runner and pacer has so far paced 11 marathons. She talks about the joy and exhilaration her pacing experiences has given her.

The 7th edition of the Skechers Performance Chennai Marathon 2019 was held on 6th Jan 2019. It is by far the largest sporting event in the city and had three race categories – a 10K, a half marathon, and a full marathon until 2018. This year, they introduced the 20 miler (32.186K) which was quite a success. The race is organized by Chennai Runners, a not-for-profit organization run by passionate runner-volunteers since 2006.

My pacing journey.

It all began in 2014 when my running buddies (from my running chapter – Pillar Pacers) asked me if I could be their personal pacer at the Chennai Marathon. It was a first for me and I just wanted to keep it simple and ensure that they had a comfortable race. The smiles, the emotions, and satisfaction at the end of the race warmed the cockles of my heart and I felt like I had achieved something.

The next year, I had the opportunity to become the official pacer at the Chennai marathon for the 3hr bus (Half Marathon) and alongside my fellow pacers Balaji and Radhika, it was a successful run.

From pacing with close friends to becoming an official pacer, I have paced 11 marathons so far. I have paced more than I could run my own race and have always found pacing to be more rewarding – the happy smiles, the high five’s at the finish line and the sense of achievement give me immense joy and I’m proud to say that I’m one of the most sought after pacers.

In 2019, for the third time, I was again chosen as the official pacer for the TCSW10k.

Chennai runners and our pacing strategy.

Being a part of the Chennai Runners’ group and getting the opportunity to pace was indeed a great privilege and honour for me. Like in 2015, this year too I was given the opportunity to pace the 3-hr bus for the Half Marathon alongside my co-pacers, Vasu and Jayaprakash.

This time around, we had Chennai Runners come up with a unique initiative of having a wheelchair pacer for the 3hr and 2:30hrs bus.

The Chennai Runners organized practice runs every Sunday to motivate and encourage runners so they give their best on race day. This seemed like a great blessing for the pacers as they utilized this time to strategize on their pacing plan and make amends if need be.

We had 21 runners from our chapter who were training to run the half marathon of which 10 aspirants were attempting to run their first HM all in the age group of 35+ for women and 40+ for men. In total, we had 4 mentors including myself who were assigned to train them. It has been a tradition in our chapter that seniors help the newbies, by giving them able guidance, a plan, and race strategy to work on.

Having been chosen as one of the 21K mentor for the debutants, my fellow mentors and I came up with a weekly schedule for training and our pacing strategy to be followed on race day. There was another detailed plan created and posted on the Chennai runner’s FB page which helped other runners as well in completing their race comfortably.

The schedule for our group’s training comprised of hill repeats, easy runs, tempo runs, and other workout plans.

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The plan for the race day was simple – break the distance into small segments with a positive thought linked to each segment.

“Today I will be one run stronger!”, “I’m doing it for myself” and “Stay determined”.

We also encourage our runners to always wear a broad smile, encourage fellow runners, cheer volunteers, keep the running zone litter free and celebrate the spirit of running!

The day of reckoning.

6th Jan 2019 proved to be a dream chasers’ day. We had over 25,000 runners participate in the 7th edition, out of which 4000 runners ran the Half Marathon.

The new route from YMCA (Nandanam) to VGP(ECR) was a refreshing change. It was a beautiful flat course from start to finish, the weather gods were kind and overall it was a pleasant day all through.

Races in Chennai start early for two reasons – (1) the hot and humid weather conditions and (2) the traffic. It was 4 o’clock in the morning when I reached the holding area, collected the 3hrs timing balloon and fastened it to myself. The balloon is an indication for runners assembled there to join their desired dream bus.

The start of our dream journey

I walked up to the back end of the line-up section, where I saw many known faces who had practiced with me. The general mood was tense but they were all raring to go and give it their best.

The flag off for HM was at 4:30 AM with the fast pacing buses crossing the start line first. It was soon my turn with my BIG group (runners who were targeting a 2:50-3hr finish) and my fellow pacer Kamal (wheelchair pacer) started our 3hr journey.

The bus was full and I did my best to make sure the ride was comfortable by maintaining a steady pace with a run-walk pattern.

In the first hour, the plan was to run 4mins and walk 1min with an average pace of 8 and covering 7.5 kms.

In the 2nd hour, for the first 30 minutes, we followed the same pattern of 4:1 followed by 3:1 maintaining the average pace at 8.30. At the end of 2 hours, we had covered a distance of 14+ kms. The last one hour leg was covered by continuing with 3:1 to finish at an average pace of 8.30.

A whistle was used to indicate a switch over from run to walk and the runners were encouraged to hydrate at aid stations at regular intervals. I had to play a dual role of being a driver by maintaining steady pace and a conductor whistling, cheering and motivating the runners. The journey was a happy and pleasant one indeed. I could see innumerable happy faces at the finish point ready for high fives and selfies which was exhilarating, rewarding and gratifying!

I would like to quote some experiences by runners who had trained with me and ran in my bus.

Harini Shiv Shankar, a software employee who took the 3hrs bus said,

“I registered for the “SPCM – 2019” – 10 KM . Training with Chennai Runners Pillar Pacers (CRPP) weekly runs, I was confident of running the 10kms. However, my heart wanted to try the 21 kms but I knew I wasn’t really ready. Then in October 2018, CRPP had announced SPCM Sunday training schedules which were organized extremely well by CRPP leads. My initial training mileage was between 8-12 kms and we trained in the “Army” restricted zone. The training route was a great run track with a scenic view. Incidentally, on one of my training runs, I met Nandini and ran along with her. She helped me to better my pace and her constant guidance and motivation and the intermediate short stretch goals enhanced my pace which gave me the confidence to go for “21 KM”.

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Like many others, I joined Nandini’s 3hr bus to run my first 21K. We started our 21 kms journey with slogans and fellow runners cheering one another. All along the run course, Nandini ensured that we had our 30 seconds walk rest break, which was eagerly awaited by me. She also ensured that the members were well hydrated and during our bouts of exhaustion she inspired us to keep running, thus helping me to complete my race in 3 hrs. Thanks to Nandini and the CRPP / SPCM team!”

Vidya Ramaswamy, a project manager who trained and ran her first HM with me said,

“On the race day, I felt the adrenaline rush. Whenever there was a slack in my pace, I could hear Nandini encouraging the crowd not far ahead. Alternating runs with a minute walk did the wonders. God knows where she got the energy to pep people up for the full 2.45hrs of running and maintaining a cool attitude. I was raving about my bus and particularly my pacer to everyone. As we approached closer to the finish line, Nandini was literally shouting words of encouragement and made us complete the run comfortably. Consistency and Passion for pacing make her stand out from the rest.”

Rajashree Govindarajan, a homemaker who took to running in 2017 and was determined to do her first half marathon says,”

This time with great determination I enrolled myself for my 1st half marathon and started my training with our respected and experienced mentors.

One of the mentors was Nandini Ashokumar who had tremendous experience in pacing and mentorship for which she was fondly called TEACHER by our running buddies. I preferred running with her because I did not have any time target and just wanted to finish my race strongly.

Nandini along with other mentors planned our daily and weekly runs so efficiently that we all found it pretty easy and doable…intermittently she will advise us on various aspects of running, it was simply amazing training with her. With Nandini mam pacing us, it was a fabulous experience running along with her with all the meticulous training we got for the past 12 weeks.

She effortlessly took us all till the 15km mark and then when she knew we were strong to carry on to achieve our PB she allowed us to run at our own pace. I finished my race in 2hrs and 49 min….which was quite an achievement for me as my 1st 21k. Thanks to all training and excellent pacing by Nandini mam aka TEACHER. This will always remain one of my best race to date.”

Indra TV, an Educational counsellor and runner since 2018 said

“Nandini mam mentored me to increase the mileage gradually. My practice runs with her for this event gave me a lot of confidence and I was able to able to complete my race comfortably in 2.50 hrs”.

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Nandini Ashokumar

Nandini Ashokumar

Nandini Ashokumar is an avid runner who has completed 9 Full Marathons and several half marathons. A multifaceted personality who believes in driving herself with great zeal and passion. She is a prolific teacher who has won prestigious awards at the National level for her best teaching practices and is a role model for her students, friends and family.