In this “meet the pacers” section, we talk to RacePacing co-founder and also the founder of running brand Xempo, Dan Afshar who has run over a hundred marathons and ultras, as well as many of the best known, and not quite so well known half marathons in the UK.
How did RacePacing come about?
It started out at the Ealing half marathon in 2012, where Xempo was one of the sponsors. Since our brand is all about hitting target times, we were asked to help in supplying the pace team which went really well. We were subsequently asked to pace at a few more half marathons, and soon realised that pacing is a service that most races find difficult to organise since there is no existing company to outsource it to. Plus, runners nowadays expect pacers at a race, so organisers are keen to provide them. Since then, we joined up with Simon Freeman at Freestak, a sports marketing agency, which has enabled us to set up a central hub at RacePacing.com, as well as give some good exposure for the races and sponsors we are associated with.
How many races do you pace at?
Since we are London based, we have mostly offered to pace at races we can get to easily, so we have established a roster of about a dozen races in the South East, but we are keen to expand nationally as soon as possible. In 2015 we went to our first race in Wales, at the Swansea Half marathon, and this year we will be in Worthing and Milton Keynes. We are keen to get to races in the north of England and Scotland in due course, but we haven’t been asked by any organisers yet. That’s not to say we can’t or won’t do it if requested.
Which are your favourite races?
The biggest race that we have been involved in for the past three years is the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. With 17,000 runners, and running past the best bits of the London Marathon course, this is always a special event for which we supply a team of twenty pacers. Big events have a special feel, and as such we always enjoy pacing at the Ealing and Surrey halves, which have been five and six thousand participants.
How do you choose pacers for each race?
We often have far more volunteers for each race, than we have places available. However, we try to put pacers into their preferred race, and if we can’t fit them in, they are marked as having priority for the next race they volunteer for. We want pacers to be running at a pace they are comfortable with, so we like to have runners at a pace ten minutes or slower than their PB for the distance (although that’s not always possible).
If you really want to pace and don’t want to miss out on a popular event, then here’s a tip; we always find it more difficult to get pacers for the slower times as most volunteers are quick or mid-pack runners. It’s much harder to find someone willing to pace 2h30 for a half than 1h30.
What are your own pacing experiences?
I’ve paced at a few events for Runners World prior to doing for RacePacing. Big events like the London Marathon and the Silverstone half are really rewarding as you get the gratitude of the runners around you, as well as the buzz of a big race atmosphere. With RacePacing, I’ve paced a few times, and have always enjoyed running at a strong, but achievable, pace and helping others to beat their target times. Oddly, I never train with a watch or GPS device, which surprisingly makes me pretty good at judging my pace when it comes to race day. When I’m racing flat out however, I’ve always struggled for even pacing, as I tend to make the classic error of starting too fast and trying to hang on. You can get away with that in a shorter race, but a long race such as a marathon will always find you out! The lesson is to run at the pace your fitness allows on the day, not necessarily at a pace you would like to run.
Why should runners sign up to be pacers?
It’s the chance to add a new dimension to your running. It’s also a tremendously rewarding experience to help someone round to a new PB. They are always quick to show their gratitude at the finish line, and every pacer will tell you how much they enjoyed the experience. Let’s be honest, when you’re smashing yourself for a PB, it’s quite hard to really enjoy the process, but when you are a pacer, you’ll be running within your comfort zone so you can really soak up the atmosphere of the field and the crowd. It does make you feel important too when you have a responsibility beyond just getting yourself round to the finish line.
What are you looking for in new pacers?
The most important thing, is someone who can run a nice even pace and hit their target time as closely as possible. But the best pacers are those who will engage with the runners around them. We want pacers who will chat with and encourage the runners in their group. Who will keep the group informed of how they are getting on throughout the race and help them with the mental aspect of racing to a target. Also we love pacers who are active on social media, and who will be happy to chat to participants on twitter and Facebook before or after the event, who will take photos during the event, or who will blog about it afterwards. The more profile we can bring to the event for the organisers and for sponsors, so much the better. We will use pacers like that for the biggest and best events.
Is it only for experienced runners?
They don’t need to be mega experienced. But it helps if they have run a few events. We need pacers for the slower times as well as the quicker ones, so it’s certainly not just for quick runners. So long as the pacer can run an even pace within their comfort zone, then we want to hear from them.
What is the future for RacePacing.com
We want to be the go-to pacing service in the UK. In fact, we probably are the only one at the moment, but we’re growing year on year. Ideally we’ll be able to cover events all over the UK with our national database of runners. Probably we will get to point where there are several events on the same day, so will most likely appoint regional captains to manage events locally. Race organisers from anywhere in the UK shouldn’t hesitate to get in touch with us if they are looking for pacers for any events of a reasonable size. Probably a minimum of about 2,000 runners is the line where we’d be interested in helping out. With our media partnerships, we can give a great deal of exposure to both races and future sponsors alike.
What are your top pacing tips?
This is my favourite and was the one I used to both my half marathon and marathon PBs last year (1.16 & 2.44). Keep asking yourself during the race “can I keep this pace going to the end”? If the answer’s “no”, then slow down. If “yes” then speed up. If “maybe” that’s perfect.
Also, I’d always recommend going into a race with a target time in mind (based off a recent 10k or parkrun time for example). Don’t make it up as you go along, as you’re unlikely to get the best out of yourself.
Finally, I’d say that to get your PB, you should try and make the first and last mile the same pace. The first should feel easy, and the last should be really hard, but the pace should be the same. And be prepared to hurt. It’s impossible to run your fastest without getting into the hurt zone. But it will be worth it!!