Meet the Mumbai Pacers

No, they aren't cricketers

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Come January 15, South Mumbai will be teeming with thousands pounding on Mumbai’s roads. The 14th edition of Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) will witness over 42,000 runners from all walks of life and different parts of the country testing the limits of human endurance. Apart from the runners, there are people who support these runners to complete the marathon.

“A pace setter cannot aim to win the marathon as he has voluntary offered to become a pacer and lead the bus. Our only goal is to finish the race in the given pre-designated time of 1 hour 50 minutes,” says Shiv Shankar Kosgi, 31, Manager Operations of Hyderabad Runners Society and a marathon runner since 2012.

What Is a Pace Setter?

You are all geared up ready to start the race. A few metres away, is a person with a unique flag on his/her back and a number denoting the time limit. Just as the race is about to start you see that same person taking the lead, as the whistle blows, the person sets off with a group of people following him/her. Have you ever wondered why? It is to  ensure that the bus (group of participants) finishes the race in the given time. This is the role of a pace setter’.

Rakesh Bhandari
Rakesh Bhandari

“A pace setter does not run for himself or herself but they run for the bus (people) that are following them. It is the duty of the pacer to ensure that the bus that is following them should finish the race in the pre-designated time that is set for the ‘Pace Setter’,” says Rakesh Bhandari, 45-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai, who also completed a padayatra (walk on foot) from his home in Kandivali to Siddhivinayak Temple at Prabhadevi.

A pace setter comes as a great source of support for people who are running the marathon for the first time. First-timers usually do not know  what pace to maintain and when they should speed up and slow down. If you thought a pacer’s job was to just lead marathon runners you are thoroughly mistaken. Every pacer researches the routes of the full and half marathon. They break down the route so as to come up with a strategy for every location. This enables them to accomplish their goal of ending a marathon in the given time.

shiv-shankar-kosgi
Shiv Shankar Kosgi

I was curious to know as to how one becomes a pace setter. Shiv, pace setter of 1.50 bus (half marathon) explains , “Yes, there are certain pre-requirements to become a pace setter. Firstly, one has to be an experienced and consistent runner across marathons. The pace setters record in previous races or marathons should be really good and they must have finished their marathons at a really good pace. Besides, it is important that he or she should be able to lead a bunch of runners while maintaining the consistency and the pace as per the strategy The core team offers the chance for you to become a pace setter. They take in to consideration the previous records of the runner, cross-check the data as well as seek references from other experienced or veteran runners.”

saurabh-aggarwal-pace-strategy

A week before the big day, pace setters share their pacing strategy on Facebook and other social media platforms so that participants are aware of what is expected  from them. The number of kilometres to be covered in a stipulated time,  going faster on elevated tracks and pit-stops for quick snacks and drinks are some of the salient points pacers share with the participants. Preparations for major marathons start months earlier and it is mainly about maintaining one’s consistency, speed and being injury-free weeks before the event.

Saurabh Aggarwal
Saurabh Aggarwal

“Communication plays a key role for any pace setter. I always tell my bus that they should eat food and drink more water while running the marathon. Motivating the group while controlling their pace and channelising their energy in the right manner is a huge task for a pacer. Besides these, a pacer also has to study the route thoroughly so that they know where there will be an elevation or when a  flat road will begin. Slowing down one’s pace before a hill and speeding up on elevations are the few changes that we have to adapt to as a pacer. Also, weather plays a very crucial role both for the runners as well as the pacers. Cheering the runners constantly and specially during the last 10 km is important as this is the time when they hit the wall. I am looking forward to leading a big bus of runners in it so that we can have a lot of fun while running the marathon together,” says 27-year-old Delhi-based entrepreneur Saurabh Aggarwal, the second Indian to finish La Ultra (111 km run in Ladakh crossing Khardungla pass, 18,000 ft. in 23 hours).

Appreciating the crowd that cheers the runners early morning is something that every runner as well as pacer will look forward too. Besides leading the bus, the pacers also shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining discipline and following their pace strategy thoroughly. Getting as many people to finish the race in the stipulated time is every pacer’s wish. Can you imagine what running  full marathon would be like? Rakesh explains: “A full marathon is similar to the life cycle of a human being: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. The first 10.5 km is filled with lots of enthusiasm and positivity and it is here that the runner starts the marathon slowly and steadily. In the next 10.5 km, which is an adolescence stage, the runner is full of strength and wisdom as they have understood things very well and enjoy it to the core. In the next stage of adulthood (10.5 km), the marathon is all about shouldering responsibilities as there are a lot of twist and turns that the road will throw at the runner just as life does. Here, the runner will try to maintain a balance between their speeds, stamina, and hydrate themselves on constant basis. The last stage of human life, that is, the final 10.5 km is the  old age. Here, the runner keeps oneself motivated with positive thoughts and with the one goal of completing the race.”

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