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Part of the "Erina Bush" run where it passes through the
Kincumba Mountain Reserve
This morning's Erina Bush 13km Run with Terrigal Trotters was always going to be a good guide to my current level of fitness.  It is one of my favourite runs, with a mix of road and technical trails and some testing hills.  In the past, when fit, I've run the course hard (after the initial 2km-3km of socialising) and been somewhere near the front of the pack.  However, today, the front-runners quickly left many of us behind, and despite running the first long climb comfortably and reasonably quickly, the leaders were long gone and I joined a few friends stretching out in pursuit.  It seemed we were running fast, but making little ground.  By the time I passed the half-way point, I could feel my lack of fitness beginning to kick in, and the long technical single-track climb up a spur of Kincumba Mountain, which I love to power up if I can, proved hard work.  From there, I just tried to maintain my pace and position, and finished very tired and coughing way too much, in 59 minutes.

Despite not running as well as I would have liked, the run had great value.  Not only did it confirm to me that I am on the way back to fitness, but it was hard enough to sober my time expectations for next week's Melbourne Marathon.  I won't get carried away thinking that somehow, miraculously, I have a chance of running near three hours, and will avoid (hopefully) setting out too fast for my fitness.  I would judge that I'm a couple of minutes faster over 10km than just a week ago, which is a welcome improvement, but that I'm still a month short of being competitive with the usual suspects on the weekly Trotters runs.

Roger Bannister (centre) led by Chris Brasher and tailed
by Chris Chattaway, his two pacers, on the way to the
first ever sub-4 minute mile in 1956
A number of my Terrigal Trotters club-mates are also running in the Melbourne Marathon and one, hoping for his first sub-3:00 marathon, has been training with another club-mate with a recent 2:40 to his credit, who is also running in Melbourne.  The rumour is that the latter will be pacing the former during the race to his sub-3:00, and there has been some banter, in person and on the club's Facebook page, about whether this is reasonable or if any time achieved will need to be asterisked.

Pacing is commonplace in running today from the 800m distance up to ultra-marathons, but there was a time when it was considered unethical.  Maybe this started to change with Roger Bannister's historic first sub-4 minute mile, where he was paced for the first three laps by colleagues, an approach which generated some criticism at the time.

For me, it's not an ethical issue, but a personal preference issue.  I think most runners, if asked, would say they valued a particular time achieved without pacing more than the same time if they had been paced.  However, if asked whether they would rather not run a certain time if the only way it could be achieved was with a pacer, most would choose the paced time.  You still have to run the time.

These days, in the larger marathons, the organisers frequently appoint experienced and identified runners to run the pace required to achieve certain benchmark times.  Knowing I would make use of this service during a race if I was struggling to reach my goal time, I can't afford to be righteous on this issue.  Achieving a time on my own, without the help of a pacer, would definitely satisfy me more, but I also hate asking for directions when lost.