A few months ago a call was made in my club for people to volunteer to be pacers for the Sheffield Half Marathon, the organisers requested 10 pacers from 95 minutes to 140 minutes and I put my name forwards for the 1 hour 50 minute slot.
I had never paced a race before but I had run a couple of halves before in 1 hour 35 so I felt I was up for the challenge.
Sheffield is not a flat half marathon, with 320m (1050ft) of elevation almost all of it in the first 5 miles so a flat pace would not do. One of our club members (Michael Greer) whipped up a spreadsheet to work out how slow to take the hill and my splits came to.
I printed out wristbands for each of the pacers to use in the race and they proved very useful.
I woke up early on the morning of the race, stepped outside and it was very fresh, a bit of frost during the night and a clear day ahead. Perfect running weather.
When I got to the staging area of the race I waited around with the other pacers until the race director found us and provided the pacing flags and rucksacks to carry them. The flag clipped into the rucksack and was surprisingly lightweight.
We then headed to our assigned pens and I had noticed that I had already gathered a small group as soon as the flag went up. I was quite glad I had already visited the porta-loos.
After a quick group warm up we waited for the starting gun, the gun went off and…. we stayed still, waiting for the people in front to clear. Once a space open we were off and I started my watch as we crossed the starting line.
And then we stopped again, the course had got narrower just after the start which was not a good idea. A few seconds later though and we were off again and this time there was no stopping us.
The splits I have were based on Garmin so they may not be wholly accurate
Miles 1 and 2 (7:52) (8:30)
I started a little too strong in the first couple of miles and ended up almost a minute ahead of schedule, a combination of the standard beginning of the race rush and overcompensating for the wait after we crossed the start line.
This was fine though as it would allow me a bit of flexibility on the hill
One of my club runners was very vocal shouting out thanks to all the spectators watching from balconies of the flats above. I told him to shut up and he might run faster which got to push ahead and I never saw him again
Another club runner named Tom passed by at this point, he really wanted to finish between 1:45 and 1:50 so I joked that if I caught up with him I would get out my cattle prod.
Mile 3 (9:43)
This is where the big hill really started and I started to lose people who had set off too fast themselves.
Spectators lined both sides of the road and were shouting encouragement to everyone with the classic Sheffield Half phrase ‘It’s Only a Hill’
The first aid station was at the end of this mile and I managed to grab a bottle of water from the last volunteer (other runners kept snatching them before I could get to them as it was still very busy)
Mile 4 (9:06)
The hill eases off a little in this mile but the crowds didn’t and this was the point the crowd started handing out jelly babies to runners (a trend that would continue about every 100m until the end of the race, this was a very well spectated race)
I now started to pay attention to the runners around me as the field has started to thin and I reckoned at least a few of these might stay with me until the end.
One chap in particular drew attention because he had been by my side since the very start, he was wearing headphones though so I couldn’t ask his name, so I will refer to him as headphones for the rest of this report.
I managed to get the name of a couple of other runners though, a bloke named David who had run the Sheffield half before and was hoping for a sub 1:50 PB, and a girl called Anna who was running her first half marathon. I advised her to take it nice and easy on the hill and push on the down and she dropped back a bit.
Mile 5 (9:51)
The hill was back and with a vengeance, this mile had a special challenge assigned to it the ‘King of the Hill’ mile and a prize was on the line for the fasted mile. (which was won in 6:05, not bad considering it climbed 77m (255ft))
Only a couple of runners around me tried to go for it and as they set off I shouted ‘Good Luck’ to them. I did have a quick though to myself that I should try it but common sense quickly took over that urge.
At the end of this mile there was another aid station and more importantly the top of the hill, arriving with cries of relief from people around me including David.
My cumulative time at this point was 45 minutes and 2 seconds, 12 seconds ahead of schedule.
Miles 6 and 7 (8:13) (7:35)
These two miles were the most beautiful miles of the race, with glorious views of the Peak District and no hill climb to distract you from them.
Headphones was still by my side as he had been all the way up the hill and Anna had caught up and powered down the hill.
The rest of my club who weren’t running the race had set up a cheering station along this road and they were as always, super-enthusiastic and gave everyone a boost. As well as taking my favourite photo of the day which I will link at the end
I got talking to a new member of the group who had caught us up called Charlotte who was surprised with how well she was doing after having recovered from an injury
Mile 7 ended with aid station number 3 with a very large group of spectators and was also the start of the second challenge of the race, the last 10km (won in 31:38)
Miles 8, 9, and 10 (7:35) (8:19) (8:12)
More great views along these miles and the route levelled out.
I had caught up with Anna who had started to regret her big push on the downhill and was content to follow my pace from this point on, David had dropped behind, and Headphones was still by my side.
The crowds were getting thicker and the rate of jelly babies had increased to about every 25 meters until the end
The final aid station was at the end of mile 10 and we rejoined the road we had headed out on.
My cumulative time was now 1:24:56, 30 seconds ahead of schedule. (according to GPS, although I remember it only being 10 seconds ahead)
Miles 11 and 12 (7:42) (7:41)
Not much interesting happened in these two miles, the crowds got thicker still and the group remained together as we headed down the hill
Mile 13 (8:02)
This was the point where headphones made his move, after staying within a metre of me the whole race he was off, picking his way past runners ahead.
Anna was still with me as was Charlotte, I tried to encourage them on but they were both running on nearly empty and didn’t want to push.
I saw Tom slightly ahead and caught him up about half way through the mile, I did managed to get him to push on after he groaned at the sight of me.
The final section, I looked over my shoulder and tried to wave and goad the people behind into a final sprint but very few did so. The race had taken a lot out them. So I just settled on joining the crowd in applauding everyone around.
I crossed the line, stopped my watch and it said 1:49:59, perfect.
Loads of people thanked me as we headed to the stands to collect shirts, goody bags, and the medal.
Charlotte, Anna, and Tom all achieved sub 1:50, David who finished about a minute after me also achieved sub 1:50 as he had started much further back at the start and was very pleased.
I had a great time and really enjoyed the pacing experience. Having many people PB around me was even better than when I PB myself.
Headphones had completely disappeared.
Full 300+ image album from the day available via the Striders Flickr Page