VLM Starting Pen qualification rant

Hi folks.  Just ran my first VLM.  Leaving aside the heat, etc., there's something I just need to get off my chest.  

It is this: given that the organisers are quite strict about letting people in (say) pen 5 move forward to pen 4, how about some diligence in allocating those pens in the first place?  As I ran round the first few miles, I was shocked by how many runners were already walking or going surprisingly slow.  Now, starting in pen 5 as I did (3:45-4:00, where I should have been) I would expect the majority of runners ahead of me to be going at a similar pace. But there were, how shall we say, larger middle-aged people walking not long after the first mile.

In this day and age, would it not be possible and a sensible idea to require some kind of qualification result for entry/allocation to the faster pens?  So, let's take pen 5 (3:45-4:00) as an example.  You can only start from there if you can demonstrate a previous time at a certain distance - being generous, let's say a marathon time of 4:30 or better or a half of 2:10 or better.  If it's your first big race, you start further back.  If you're likely to be genuinely capable of a sub 3 marathon, but it's your first, maybe it's then in your interests to do a test race to confirm this.  Most plans have a 1/2 marathon in them anyway.  Even being able to demonstrate a series of Parkrun times - e.g. sub 25 minutes for this example - would weed out those that have clearly knowingly over-estimated their race time.

It really annoys me because, instead of being swept along in a sea of like-minded and like-ability runners, it was a bit like playing dodgems, and oftentimes you'd end up boxed in behind people who clearly should have been starting at the back.

Now, I applaud the spirit of inclusiveness, but for many of us (myself included) the time *does* matter, and we want to do our very best to meet whatever time goals we have.  So, to find them thwarted by people who've clearly taken the piss with their applications, that sucks.  After all, it's no big deal to drop back to a slower pen.

OK, sorry about the rant, but this is one problem that could be easily fixed.  If the RunBritain rankings can verify times, it shows it's not a big deal to implement, and if you can't post a qualifying time, you can still run.  Just not in front of the rest of us :wink:

What do you think?


  • StevieWhStevieWh ✭✭✭

    Maybe they could ask you to reconfirm your predicted start time in Mid-Feb/March? For example I put 4 hours down when I entered the ballot back in May but quickly realised once training started 3.15 could be achievable. This was quickly thwarted by starting in pen 4! At no point in the marathon did I end up running with similar paced runners.

    I will say though that the heat affected a lot of people so this would have vastly increased the number of runners walking/slowing down

  • From a complete marathon newbie's point of view, I think this is a good idea.

    I put a predicted time down of 4:30, in all honesty I was kind of clueless as to what I was getting myself in for having only run short distance races. I chose my time based on my 10k times, but naively (and stupidly) didn't factor in any slowdown (or that my training might go completely downhill after getting injured...) I got placed in pen 5, realised by the end of training how unrealistic this was, so dropped right back to wave 8. I didn't want to be that annoying runner holding everyone up...

    I do think if they asked more questions on your ability when applying it would help newbies like myself choose a more realistic finish time, as well as preventing those who simply want to get over the start line earlier from knowingly putting down a faster finish time. Even if you just put down a 10K time they can easily get an idea of how long it will take you, then maybe add on a bit extra for the first timers!

    After all, even if your not running for a time it's still frigging annoying to be stuck behind people running at a much slower pace than you :D
  • StevieWhStevieWh ✭✭✭
    I think the main problem is the length of time between the prediction and the start. Anything can happen in 11 months! With consistent training you make huge improvements to your paces, or you could get injured and be a lot slower than you initially thought.
  • It would be a bigger deal to implement than you think - championship and GFA entries already have qualifying times checked and they allow up to two weeks to check them.  That's just for a few thousand - doing it for the thousands of other entries, with additional criteria for lots of other distances as well, would take a lot longer and would overall make matters worse because you'd end up with a whole lot of sub 4 but inexperienced runners having to weave through the slower but more experienced ones.  Trying to spread the field from fastest to slowest is more about trying to keep it safe for everyone than it is about minimising inconvenience to faster runners.

    Even qualifying-only races like Boston are not immune from this problem unfortunately.  In an ideal world people would self-seed on the day based on how they think they'll go, but that's not going to happen.

    Anyway, what have you got against middle-aged people? :-)

  • @StevieWh exactly right, it seems mad to ask for a predicted time that far in advance when anything could happen between then and race day.
    And like you said, it would also be helpful for people who, on the flip-side, underestimated their finish time.
    I was so relieved when I found out I could move back to a slower pen but still would have been thankful for the opportunity to revise my time.
  • I think it's a tricky thing to check - it would be a huge amount of labour.

    A smaller marathon is a better bet for a qualifying time than somewhere like London. 

    I was down for Pen 2 and knew that I wasn't in shape so I moved back a few pens but you'll get congestion at any big race. 
  • senidMsenidM ✭✭✭
    Its the London Marathon - its not like other races, and if you want to run a specific time, is it really the race to do it in? 

    A very large, in every sense of the word, number of entrants are 1st timers, who have no idea of what a marathon entails or what their expected finish time might be.

    One scenario might be they put down 3hours thinking that is a minimum time and they won't have to wait too long for the actual start. The fact that the majority of club runners will put down a realistic time and then end up 3 pens behind the 1st timers has no relevance for them whatsoever.

    Really, the London is a day out, and it will only spoil your run if you let these gauche entrants get you wound up - which is why I run Halstead instead; now that's a lonely run after half way  :)
  • NayanNayan ✭✭✭
    edited April 2018
    London. Great experience but unless your running sub 2:45 it’s always going to be crowded.  Even at the 3hour mark you won’t even see the blue line for the first few miles sometimes. 

    It’s not the best choice if you want your best time for most folks.  I’d choose Abingdon or  if you need a big experience go for Manchester now that they worked out how to use a trundle wheel.  
  • I found similar, lots of much slower runners in the same pen as me, which was 4. All the extra zig zagging meant I ran about 27 in the end!
  • jtcedjtced ✭✭✭
    2308 said:
    What was your own finishing time jtced?

    In the bracket 3:45-4:00 as you projected?
    Alas, no.  I gave it my best shot, was right by the 3:59 pacers at Cutty Sark but the heat got to me.  I crashed and burned big time, but at least (had the temp been a bit closer to what I’m used to, i.e. cool and drizzly) I had a fighting chance of that 3:55 race goal.  I was, as it turns out, closer to 5hrs than 4hrs... bit of a bad day at the office, I’m afraid to say.  Hoping to make amends at my next race in just over four weeks, which 0.5% of the headcount of the VLM :)
  • jtcedjtced ✭✭✭
    Not really.  I could at least prove to be capable of running at the 3:45-4:00 pace (from my previous marathon) so I was exactly where - weather impact notwithstanding - I needed to be.  But you know this...
  • I think he's got you there jtced.

    I knew I wasn't going to be as fast as my pen comrades so I dropped back a few pens.

    It wasn't like it was unexpectedly hot on the day. It was exactly as forecast all weekend. 

    You can't complain about people being in a pen that's too fast for them if you do the same thing .
  • jtcedjtced ✭✭✭
    I’m not going to get into a fight or anything, but just to say that until I was at least 10K in, I was still on target for 3:59, give or take.  That I started to suffer from the heat was unfortunate, but at least at the outset I was capable of meeting the general objectives of my starting pen.  And, to pick up on the ‘holding people up’ thing - sure, I will have done to some extent (though I sensibly ran off to the side when I slowed up) but the stats say it all:

    First half: passed 3064 runners, was passed by 829;
    Second half: passed 2833 runners, was passed by 460.

    So, I’m a net passer even at my reduced pace (though I admit that that surprised me).  I knew I might be setting myself up for a bit of flak with my original post, but let’s be clear here: there’s a huge difference in someone (myself) opting to start in the 3:45-4:00 pen, having run 3:58 in my previous marathon (and therefore acting with a reasonable expectation to run around or about the goal time for that pen), as compared to some of the very obviously slow/inexperienced runners I saw walking before 5K.  I can accept that some of them may well have found the heat a bit much, but I wouldn’t expect anyone in pen 4 or under to be walking before 5K unless they were injured.  

    I take your point, but still argue that there’s a clear difference here.  My point being clouded by the conditions on the day, which would have left a higher than normal number of runners failing to meet their goal times.

  • jtcedjtced ✭✭✭
    Actually, I had a sprint finish.  I stopped just as I crossed the finish line.  But you’re right, overall I must have walked a mile or two, I don’t deny it.  Anyway, your mind is made up and I disagree so let’s leave it at that.
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