This race is organised by my running club, Tunbridge Wells Harriers, so relies on volunteers to make it all happen. This year I volunteered to help hand out race numbers before the start, but also to run as a Pacer.
Last year I ran as a 1:30 pacer, but this year I asked to pace the 1:40 group. I’m not training for a spring marathon, so haven’t done much speed training yet, and running 1 minute per mile slower than my race pace would make this much easier than trying the 1:30! We try to have two pacers for each group, and this year I was running with Mark.
It is a tough course to pace, as the first half is mostly downhill, and then you hit the legendary Spring Hill that climbs for over a mile up through Fordcombe village.
I’ve run the route many times and it is impossible to maintain a constant pace (7:37 min/mi for a 1:40 finish), so I ran a few tests, trying to run at a constant effort and then base my race pace on these. As a result on race day I had a target pace for each half mile split, as well as the elapsed time to check against the mile markers on the road.
It was a cold morning, but the sun was shining, and local star Dame Kelly Holmes started the race on time at 9:00. The 1:30 and 1:40 pacers are instructed to run to gun time not chip time, so we had allowed for a slow first mile as i takes a few seconds to get over the line. We ran up through Southborough where as always there was great support, and on to the Bidborough Ridge. This is gently downhill, so we picked the pace up a little, running 7:20 splits, with the pace peaking on the steep drop into Penshurst village. Mark had set his Garmin to show a virtual partner running at 7:37, so confirmed we were now about 1 minute ahead of ‘even split’ schedule. This was right where we had aimed to be.
There is a small hill which you climb at the 6 mile point, before dropping down to cross the river then starting the main climb. Again we checked our timing at the 6 mile marker and where within 3 seconds of our target.
For Spring Hill itself, we had allowed for our pace to drop to 8:50 for the mile, and this enable us to carry on chatting to the other runners around us and try and encourage them to keep pushing.
At the top of the hill, we had now run 8 miles and were still on schedule, aiming to run the last few miles at a steady 7:37. It was great to see all the volunteers smiling and cheering people on, and I was really enjoying the run, chatting with Mark and encouraging the other runners in the race. However all this fun meant we lost concentration a little and when we got to the 10 mile marker we both realised we had lost a bit of time. We were now about 30 seconds off our schedule. Not a disaster, but time to pick up the pace a little. I agreed I would push on, picking the pace up slowly to claw back the 30 second gap, but Mark would run 7:35s and then pick up the pace in the last mile as most runners naturally do, and that way we should be able to bring as many people home in under 1:40 as possible. The final mile is slightly downhill and it was great to see so many people surge passed me as I got to the 400m to go sign.
We finally arrived together at the finish line for a 1:39:49 time.