What is pacing?

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One of the questions which seems to pop up at each and every Comrades-related talk I do, is “what is pacing”?

You may recall that immediately following Comrades 2018 I was accused on social media by three individuals of being “paced” by my husband during the race. After ruffling a few feathers within the sport’s regulatory body, I was subsequently charged with the offence of “pacing”, the regulator having picked up from Twitter, the allegation that I had somehow used my husband, who finished 14 minutes behind me, to run a fast race.

A similar accusation in relation to Comrades was made against me today when I called out one of the people who accused me of pacing on Twitter for having violated a different portion of the same rule.

So just so we’re all on the same page, and in an effort to explain what is clearly a very contraversial rule in South Africa (since it seems to be largely ignored at high profile international events), I thought I would try to explain exactly what “pacing” is.

At the outset, it bears emphasis that I was never found by the regulator nor the race referees to have engaged in pacing of any sort. There was (and is) absolutely no evidence that I was paced by my husband (or anyone else), and as will be clear from the explanation below, there can be no merit to any accusation that I engaged in such behaviour at any stage.

Rule 34.9.1 of the 2019 ASA Rules and Regulations define “pacing” as follows:

Pacing is defined as any athlete running with another competitor to specifically assist him/her…

The following are considered pacing and are not permitted:-

i. An athlete that consistently physically assists another athlete (typically of a different age or gender). This may include assistance such as collecting drinks at refreshment stations, shielding an athlete from a prevailing wind, running in such a way as to set a pace (usually slightly ahead of the other athlete), carrying items for the other athlete or providing coaching.

ii. A pace setter that is not a bona fide entrant in the race. This includes supporters/ coaches running or travelling alongside the athlete at any time.

iii. …

v. …

vi. A designated pace-setter (appointed by the organisers) that adjusts his/her scheduled pace for the benefit of a specific athlete.

Note: Pacing must not be confused with the role of pace-setters. Organisers may appoint designated pacesetters that are scheduled to run a prescribed pace for the benefit of all/any athletes that wish to maintain that pace. The key point being that the organisers are the ones who announce and control the pace-setters.

The assistance needs to be consistent to be deemed pacing. Consistently may be interpreted as more than twice, with no time period defined.
If the referee considers pacing to be occurring, it is normal for the referee to warn the athletes involved and ideally indicate what behaviour is considered to be excessive assistance.

ASA Rule 34.9 (sub-rule 2 omitted)

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Ok, so there you have it.

Pacing or “assisted running” typically occurs where a faster athlete runs with a slower athlete in such a way as to set the pace at which the slower athlete should run. It may also include the faster runner: collecting water on behalf of the slower runner; shielding the slower runner from wind; and carrying race nutrition or similar items for the slower runner.

The pacing rule does not apply to designated pace-setters such as the “bus drivers” of the sub 7h30 or silver medal bus. Pace setting is permitted where it is to the benefit of all/any runners and not just one specific athlete. Similarly, it would be permitted for a race organiser to have designated pace setters (or rabbits) to assist elite athletes in achieving a particular goal time, provided that any/all elite athletes could equally benefit from the pace setting. Personal or individual pace setting (which occurs when an elite athlete pays another athlete to pace him/her until a particular point in the race, after which that athlete may drop out or finish the race more slowly), is not allowed in terms of the ASA Rules.

So now let me explain why neither David nor I engaged in pacing in contravention of Rule 34.9 on 10 June 2018.

  1. While it is true that David and I had the same pacing plan – as in, our Comrades goal finishing time was the same – 6h25; David finished in 6h24 and I finished in 6h10 – I did not stick to the plan, I ran faster than expected.
  2. David and I ran together until 30km at which point I spotted the lead vehicle of the ladies race a few hundred meters in front of me. I panicked. I was not emotionally or mentally prepared to be so close to the front of the race and I wanted to slow down (because I was afraid). David wanted to continue to follow the plan given to us by our coach (we have the same coach, follow a similar training program and do many runs together) and so we parted ways. We also knew that my Mum would not be able to second us both simultaneously and since she was just a few km further down the road, I was happy that he went ahead.
  3. At no point in the race did anyone, but especially David, carry race nutrition or pass me water. I carried everything myself and fetched my own water. This was deliberate.
  4. Having taken the lead at about 48km, I ran in complete terror for the remainder of the race. High on adrenalin I ran much faster than I had planned and picked up my pace considerably. In contrast, David started to slow down, his legs unable to sustain the slightly faster pace at which he was running due to his skipping out on a few crucial long training runs.
  5. I caught and passed David at the top of Fields Hill. He was grumpy but very supportive. Neither of us broke a stride as I passed him, exchanging only a few words of encouragement and best wishes for the last stretch of the race. I never looked back.
  6. My marathon PB is 2h35. This year, David’s best marathon time was 2h33. We train together and follow the same diet… currently, we are well matched as a couple, and incidentally, David and I started dating in 2011 after we started training together as members of the same running club. Even then we were well matched.

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I need to add, that at no stage did either David or I receive a warning from race referees. These same referees are able to watch the whole race across multiple television screens throughout the day. I got A LOT of airtime that day… had there been a problem, someone other than a jealous ex-training partner would have suggested that I had engaged in something illegal. But they didn’t… because I didn’t… and that’s the bottom line.

I happen to think that pacing is pretty petty rule. But it’s still a rule and must be followed. I hope that this makes things a little clearer for anyone worried about joining a designated pacing bus at Comrades (or even your local marathon) in future – you’re allowed to, so don’t sweat it!

And if you’re thinking about running a race with you partner – that’s ok too – as long as you comply with Rule 34.9, you’re good to go.

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6 thoughts on “What is pacing?”

  1. Esjay says:

    Geez thanks Ann, was never aware of this rule. Many times during marathons I’ve seen athletes running alongside their coaches and actually being coached along the route but never thought this was not allowed. I’ve joined a sub-3h40 bus ones during a marathon when my Achilles tendon got the better of me and guys were grabbing water sachets and passing them on to whoever needed them on the bus. Is this also not allowed according to rule 34.9? Would love to know.

    1. wpmasterlogin says:

      Pacing buses are permitted – not to worry about that 🙂

  2. Stuart says:

    Great clarification of a very dubious rule. The IAAF rulebook is even less clear. It mentions pacing about 4 times in 100 pages but the context is mainly track and field (e.g. a lapped athlete is not allowed to speed up and pace a faster athlete). The fact that there is a separate women’s marathon WR for mixed gender and female only fields also seems to tacitly condone mixed gender pacing.

  3. Francois Jordaan says:

    Hi Ann
    Well written and distinctively explained. For what it is worth, I (and I might as well say everyone I know) never doubted you or David at all. You are a true queen of the road and deserve all the accolades coming your way. Sour people will always be sour and we just have to accept that and move on with our lives.

    PS: A second running after a runner, then run along side him/her to give him/her a bottle is not allowed, or is it?

    1. wpmasterlogin says:

      Hi Francois, we have a strict “stand and hold” rule in SA – the second must be standing completely still at the time he/she hands any bottles/race nutrition to the athlete. Hope that helps?

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