The clock was ticking at the start line. Nerves were jangling and the pressure was mounting inside. I was back being a pacer for the Dhaka Half Marathon 2020 and even though it was my third experience of pacing this event, I was still tense. The weight of the expectations of my fellow runners was on my shoulders and I knew I had to execute the effort perfectly.
I woke up at 3:30 am in the morning to prepare for the event. Unfortunately took me a long time in the loo for the call of nature. I hurriedly had a small breakfast and went out on my bicycle. All the pacers were supposed to meet at 4:45 am but I was late by 10 minutes. The start point was about a kilometer away from the finish line so it was a great opportunity for me to have a light jog as a warm-up.
The plan was to reach the start point and try out our pacer vest with the pacer flag. Vijay, one of our fellow pacers, was kind enough to bring those all the way from India which were specially made for the event. I tried the vest with the flag pole but it was hitting the back of my head. I decided against wearing the vest and instead chose to run with the pole in my hands as I didn’t want to risk causing headaches or dizziness during the run.
After trying out the pacer gears, all the pacers huddled around for a light warm-up session. We had our last-minute discussions about how to go about our task in hand. We all were excited but there were nerves deep down as well.
The atmosphere was electric. The start point just lit up when the Zumba session started. It was a new addition for the Dhaka Half Marathon and everyone seemed to love the concept. Thanks to the Zumba team for bringing positive energy before the start of the event.
Soon after that, it was time to take our positions. The runners were split into three corrals based on the estimated finishing time. Me and Salman, another of my fellow pacer stood in front of Corral A, the fastest of the three. My pacing finish was 1 hour 50 minutes and Salman was aiming 2 hours dead.
I was looking at the start gate just a few feet in front of me with RFID receivers. Automated time tracking through RFID was introduced this year as the Dhaka Half Marathon achieved AIMS certification. It was another giant step by the organizers in the right direction.
The start line was pretty chaotic. Volunteers were trying desperately to organize the race start but it wasn’t fruitful due to the lack of cooperation from the runners. I was sensing a messy start hence suggested Salman start a bit later as the timing would only start once the start gate was crossed.
The Race Director, Afnan Ahmad started counting down to the start and exactly at 6 am in the morning, the half marathon started. Right after the start, my gut feeling came true as Salman got tangled up with few eager runners and fell on the floor. He immediately got up and started running again but I noticed few bruises as I ran with him for a few meters.
I noticed his starting pace was a lot faster than the target pace hence told him to take it easy as I started setting my pace. The course was around 3 laps in Hatirjheel. My plan this year was to run 10 seconds faster per kilometer for the first two laps to allow myself some buffer time in case I start to suffer in the final lap. I didn’t want to let down the runners who were following me so the pressure was immense.
Unlike the last couple of years, this time I found a few runners who were running with me. Finally, it wasn’t too boring and isolating for me from the start. I always notice most runners start way too fast and then start dropping out. Had to zig-zag past them and sometimes I was forced to take avoiding actions so that the flag in my hands doesn’t hit other runners.
I was around a minute faster when I reached the end of the first lap. “Samiiiii”- Fuad bhai, The Event Director was screaming my name on the microphone. It was just the right boost that I needed and I waved at him starting my second lap.
On the second lap, only 3 runners stuck with me. I was still pacing fast and keeping the splits very constant. I was going a bit slow on the uphills but on the downhills made up the deficit by upping the pace. As soon as one of my arms was having pain, I switched the flag to another arm and kept running. Shoulders started to pain also since the arm movements weren’t fluid and it was inefficient.
Despite the pain, I was 3 minutes inside my target time as I finished the second lap. I started to lap the slower runners. By this time, I had only one runner following me. He asked me whether he can finish at 1:45. I said keep following me and the moment I say go ahead, you drop me and start running even faster.
Caught up 3:00 hour pacers Shakila apu and Vijay on the final lap. It was great to see them. Also cheered on Shafayet bhai, one of our plogger in this year’s event. Dropped some fast runners also, to my surprise.
2.5km left from the finish, I told my fellow runner to start upping his pace. He duly obliged and left me. I also started dropping my pace now knowing I was still 3 minutes inside my cut-off time. My arms, shoulders, and legs were hurting but I knew it was almost over. All I needed to do is to reach the finish line without slowing down too much.
I was soaking the atmosphere in the final kilometer and it felt great to see the finishing line. With the flag above my head, finally crossed the finish line. I looked at my watch instantaneously and the time was 1:49:02. It was a relief. I paced another Dhaka Half Marathon perfectly and was elated with the effort.
It was time to recover and meet with all the community runners. That’s the best part of any event, spending time with like-minded people. Embraced with all the pacers and plenty of selfies followed. I loved the enthusiasm from my cycling community who took up running. They did amazing and I hope to see more people in multisports this year.
All in all, Dhaka Half Marathon 2020 was another great experience. Loved the training camp, the pacing gang and the energy behind it. It just keeps getting bigger and better. Credit to the Dhaka Run Lords for making it happen. They are some of the inspiring people in my life.
Now fingers crossed for next year. I hope to get selected again to carry the flag next year. Despite the sheer weight of the responsibility, I love coming back and raise the flag for Dhaka Half Marathon. For me, it’s always magical to be the pink panther.
If you want to read my last year’s Dhaka Half Marathon experience, click here.