“Good job Stefan. You kept a good pace,” the women’s elite marathon runners and organisers applaud in unison. Stefan Van Den Broek has just crossed the finish line. He is short of breath and completely exhausted. Proud of his feat, he acknowledges the wishes. It is a job well done. As usual, one must say.
Stefan isn’t here as a competitive runner. He is a pace maker or pace setter who leads a middle or long-distance running event for the first section to ensure a fast time and avoid excessive tactical racing. South Africa’s Sibusiso Nzima, Kenya’s Michael Mutai and Eritrea’s Mulue Andom are the other pace setters. “I started out in Germany and Holland when I was 35. Since then I’ve been part of many marathons,” says Stefan, now 40.
He shatters the myth that pacemakers train differently. While they practise as intensely as any other runner, Stefan admits that they need stamina and strength to lead the way.
A bus constructor by profession in Belgium, Stefan has set pace for many renowned athletes. In the 2012 Rotterdam marathon, Stefan was pacing with Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana. In a year, he has set pace for more than three marathons. People aren’t surprised when they know his age. “They see me running and they know how fit I am. Age is just a number,” he says. He blurts out a secret too. He wasn’t as good as a marathon runner.
Mutai confesses that he has never set pace for women’s marathon. “I’m way faster for the women’s race. So, I always set pace for the men.”
So what’s the difference between marathons in Europe and Mumbai? “The surface is very hard here and also it tends to become really hot and humid as the hours go by,” says the 26-year-old Nzima.
Nzima and Mutai are planning to participate in marathons in Hamburg and Cologne respectively. As athletes they prefer Europe. Why? Europeans are way too quick and the two want to up the bar.