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.
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.ASA Rule 34.9 (sub-rule 2 omitted)
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.
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.
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.