Marathon pacers (London)

I stopped taking any interest in the London Marathon years ago when pacers began to appear. So I didn’t watch this year’s event either, the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon. There were a lot of pacers present. To begin with there were 65 pacers from the Runner’s World x New Balance Pace Team running at paces from 3 hours to 7.5 hours. I presume they actually ran the distance so I don’t object to those sorts of pacers particularly. It’s the ones who pace the elite runners I object to – they do not generally finish the race, their only purpose being to assist the ‘elite’ runners (until about half-way or a bit longer), some of whom demand this service if they are going to even take part. There’s nothing ‘elite’ about it – it’s ruined the event.

It’s not just me who thinks this. Pat Butcher does too and he knows a lot more about it than I do. He says the use of professional pacers ruins races, a disastrous situation that goes back at least to Roger Bannister’s celebrated four-minute mile, which was paced by Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. He said this in 2004 and that Bannister’s run was cosy, conniving and dishonest.

Everyone in a race should do their best to win. It’s the whole point of a running race. Non-finishing pacers are not there to try to win but to help someone else try to win – or break a record, or make that particular marathon the fastest, or whatever. Like so many sports one way or another, the sport of Marathon running has let itself be corrupted by money. Virgin Money should be ashamed for sponsoring the London Marathon or any other marathon where pacers are employed to distort competition and advantage some runners but not others. Whatever else this is, it is not real sport.

Apparently the marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge is planning to beat two hours some time in 2019. According to the Guardian the organisers have said that to do this “we have to find pacers to keep up.” No pacers, no record. Good luck to Kipchoge, a great runner no doubt, but if he succeeds his run will have the same status as Bannister’s four-minute mile: artificially assisted.

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