Back in January, Brandon Laan wrote an informative article about what exactly pace bunnies (or rabbits) are. You often see them on the track and on the road, pacing some of the world’s most elite running athletes to new meet/course records, Olympic qualification standards and in some cases, new world records. But luckily for the rest of us, many organized road races include them for everyone from intermediate to beginner runners.
For the longer distances such as half and full marathons, some of them will even do 10 and 1’s – 10 minutes of running with 1 minute of walking. They are always recognizable by often wearing tall paper rabbit ears, an identifying shirt, and holding a sign with their respectable time written on it.
When I first started running races, I thought the idea of the bunnies was great, but to me they were just a means of establishing my personal performance within a race. I wouldn’t necessarily follow one, but I would see them mid run and know more or less how I was doing. Sure, this can be handy, especially if you don’t own a GPS watch. After training hard this past winter and spring for a 10km race followed two weeks later with a half marathon, I decided I would actually become social and try to stick with one for the entire duration of a race. I wasn’t particularly happy with some of my race results, so maybe now it was time to actually introduce myself and get to know some of these guys (and gals!).
First up was my 10km. I knew I wanted to push myself and try for a sub 40 minute time. Luckily for me, the quickest bunny in that particular race was pacing for exactly that time. I scoped out my paper eared escort and introduced myself. Aptly, his name was Peter, as in Peter Rabbit. This was fate. I asked a few key questions that I think anyone planning on following a pacer should ask:
1. Are you planning on running even kilometer/mile splits?
2. Are you running based on when the starting horn goes off (gun time) or when you cross the starting line (chip time)?
3. What is your 10k/half marathon/marathon PB (personal best)?
I think introducing yourself and asking these key questions is important before relying on another person for your pacing. If they know who you are and your name, they can offer personal words of encouragement and even a few tips along the way. Peter Rabbit ended up running very even, metronomic splits and I ended up running away from him for the last half kilometer to finish in a time well below 40 minutes. I was elated! I felt great the entire race. Perhaps there’s something to this whole “bunny” thing.
Two weeks later, my half marathon race day had arrived. Similar to my 10km, my last two half marathons had been less than spectacular. I came down with a terrible stomach virus the previous night before my first half that continued into race morning, but decided to run and complete it anyway. Gross. My second half was run at noon in the middle of July, so the heat really kept me from running the way I wanted. I decided – again based on my training – that I would follow the 1:30 rabbit. It was a little ambitious, but I felt very confident. I found my rabbit amongst the crowd in home-made signage as he had forgotten to pick up the official ones. Oh well, works for me! Michiel Rabbit was one of the most helpful pacers ever! Not only was he calling out each kilometer split, but offering encouraging words to all of us surrounding him. Once again, I ended up finishing strong with a sub 1:30 performance.
I absolutely attribute this recent race success to my training and nutrition, but I have to owe some of it to these pacers. I even consider my time running with them as a type of pace training in and of itself.I strongly urge anyone else out there from my fellow middle packers to beginners to RUN WITH A PACE BUNNY! They’re not dressed like that just for kicks. In fact, I am inspired enough to become a pacer myself. Come introduce yourselves to me when I do!
About the Author: Olivier Dyason is a full time working professional whose newfound love for running has turned into a new obsession. After obtaining a B.A. in Film Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa, Olivier began work at the National Film Board of Canada as a Team Leader and Events Coordinator. Although a middle-of-the-packer now, Olivier hopes to steadily improve his running through constant training and advice from places such as Runners Feed.