Elite Pacer spotlight: Tom Payn

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Elite Pacer spotlight: Tom Payn

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a pacer for elite athletes, this post is for you. Elite pacer, Tom Payn (aka Kiprop), kindly took a break from all his running and pacing to talk to us.

Here’s what he had to say about how he got into running, how the name Kiprop came about, what elite runner’s he has paced and what is next for him as a runner.

I’ve been a runner for as long as I can remember, it’s been a huge part of my life for a long, long time and given me many wonderful experiences and the opportunity to meet some fantastic people. In 2010 I moved to Iten, Kenya as I wanted to immerse myself in the Kenyan marathon athlete culture, I thought if you want to be the best you should train with the best. The majority of the best Kenyan athletes come from the Kalenjin tribe, their names come from the situation in which they were born, for example, Kiplimo means born amoung grazing cattle. When I first arrived in Iten it was raining so my Kenyan training partners gave me the name Kiprop “Born during the rain”. The name Kiprop has stuck and pretty much everyone except my mum now calls me Kiprop!

Over the last three years I have made a name for myself as a pacer for elite female marathon runners, I’ve paced a number of city marathons including Barcelona, Valencia, Brighton, Zurich and the original marathon in Athens. My next big race will be the 2016 London Marathon but I will do a number of races before then including one or two pacing jobs.

 Tom Payne_Frashia

We asked Tom a few questions, and here’s what he had to say:

1. How do you motivate the athlete you’re pacing?

When I am pacing I’m given a specific task to do. Some races will tell you that you are pacing a pace and not an athlete, i.e. I am being paid to run at a specific pace rather than running to help an individual athlete, in this case if no athletes want to run at that pace then so be it. Some other races ask me to pace a group of athletes and I can be slightly more flexible in the pace we run. Generally when I’m pacing marathons the first half is all about sticking to the agreed pace, it is very easy for an athlete to get excited and start running too fast, I try and keep this excitement contained, if they are still feeling that good at 20 miles then that’s the time to start pushing! Later on in a marathon the athletes will often start to struggle with the pace, I try and give them some words of encouragement, tell them to focus on my heels and relax into the pace.

2. How do you go about creating a strategy for the athlete?

The strategy is normally set the day before the race in the elite athlete briefing. I (the pacer) get introduced to all the elite athletes and we find out what times and targets they have. Normally the elite race coordinator will tell me the pace I need to run but this can often change slightly once we have discussed with the athletes. During a marathon the two most important things to concentrate on are consistent pacing and sticking to your pre-race plan (target pace). So as a pacer you need to be confident you can run at the required pace. As I’ve been running for so long I guess I have an inbuilt pacer and once I get a certain pace in my legs I’m very good at keeping that rhythm. This is the main reason why races like to have me as a pacer.

3. What do you do when the athlete isn’t running as fast as they should be?

Most of the time as I’m pacing a group of athletes they slowly drop off the group until I’m left with one or two athletes. If I end up with just one athlete and they start to slow there isn’t too much I can do about it but I try an encourage them and normally slow down with them to help them keep a decent pace.

4. When you know the athlete isn’t going to make their target time, do you turn to plan B?

As a pacer there isn’t normally a plan B, if I get to halfway and there are no athletes running at the pace the race wanted then I’m better off stopping or using it as a good training run. I’ve never been in this situation as it’s the job of the race to get athletes that are good enough to run fast.

Elite Pacer Tom Payn5. In the elite field, what happens if the runner is faster than the pacer?

I’m lucky that I pace elite women, this means that as long as I’m fit I will always be able to run fast enough to stay in front of the women. A good example of a time when a runner can be faster than the pacer is the London Marathon. London attracts the very best marathon runners in the world every year. Guys like Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang can run 2.03 which is 61.30 through the half marathon. To be able to run 61.30 for the half marathon you also have to be a world class athlete so pacing the London Marathon is a very tough job! With races like London they put in pacers to help the athletes get to a minimum of halfway at a very good pace and ideally the pacers will go on to around 20 miles before the real racing gets started. The lead group in London will have three designated pace makers. One or two will only make it to halfway with hopefully one making it to at least 25km.

In the London Marathon this year one of my close Kenyan friends, Edwin Kipyego paced London until around 27km, at this point Wilson Kipsang put in a surge and went by Edwin. Once the athletes have gone by the pacers there is no point the pacer continuing so they stop and their job is done.

6. What top 3 tips would you give a new pacer?

1. Take it easy at the start – the adrenaline of being in a race will make you go off too quick so take it extra easy
2. Practise pacing on a track – you get reminders every 400m
3. Consistency is key – there is nothing worse than a pacer who surges and changes pace to catch up time.

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