On Saturday, I ran my 68th Parkrun. Even though I’ve run 60 of those 68 Parkruns at Highbury Fields, this was a special event for me. Not only was it Highbury Fields Parkrun’s 8th birthday, it was my first time as a pacer!
I paced 31 minutes. This is quite a bit slower than I normally run this route, but I was excited to potentially help some runners get a new personal best for the 5km distance.
To celebrate their birthday, Saturday’s event had a team of volunteer pacers, pacing every finishing time from 20 minutes to 40 minutes! They were also doing a food drive for the local Islington Food Bank and collected more than 400 items from the generous crowd.
Before the run started, I was given a blue vest with my number on it so people would know my estimated finishing time. I knew I had to run exactly 6:12/km to stay on pace.
I had practiced the week before (in a torrential rainstorm!) and was a bit fast, finishing in 30:40. Highbury Fields is a more challenging 5km to pace. The route is 5 and a bit laps around a park where one side is uphill and the other side is downhill. This makes keeping a consistent pace a challenge.
I was super pleased to finish exactly on time: 30:54! After the run, two kind people came up to thank me for the consistent running. One even got a new personal best! I was so pleased for her!
Here are a few things I learned as a first-time pacer:
- People will love seeing you, and yet, at the same time, people HATE seeing you! At first, people are excited to be around you because they are usually going to try running slightly outside their comfort zone to attain a new personal best. As the run goes on though, I started passing people, and could hear a few comments like, “Oh no! There goes the 31 minute pacer!” OR “Ahh come on! You can’t let the 31-minute pacer go past you!” I wanted to say something encouraging at these moments but felt like it could sound condescending… so I just kept up with my steady pace and hoped they’d find an extra kick of energy and pass me later.
- You want people to pass you. Especially at the end! Usually, I am all for a finish line sprint, but in the case of pacing, it’s consistency all the way. I was delighted to see people who were a few meters behind me, dig deep and go past me at the finish line!
- You feel like a total hero. As a pacer, you’re running at a pace usually quite below your normal race pace. That means that you’re pretty comfortable the entire time and can carry on a conversation or encourage people as you go. Pacing immediately marks you as an “experienced runner” and I enjoyed feeling like people looked up to me. At every corner, people shouted “Great pacing!” as I went by and I felt totally smug with my role. It’s nice to do something you feel good at.
- It was a lot of fun! I’m so used to pushing myself to the absolute brink at these weekly events that I honestly had no idea what it was like to run this course casually. It turns out, it was immensely enjoyable. Also, helping people feels good.
Overall, of the 471 runners at Saturday’s event, 60 of them achieved a new personal best! That’s 1 in every 8 runners! I’d like to think the incredible team of pacers had something to do with that!