Mark Wigmore: leading the biggest pace bunny team in Canada

The energy on race day is tangible.

Lining the streets of Ottawa, crowds of people gather to cheer on friends, family and strangers with words of encouragement and support. But in and amongst the crowds of runners and friends you might notice a strange group of people wearing bunny ears and carrying signs.

They are the official Running Room Pace Bunnies led by Run Ottawa member Mark Wigmore.

It’s Mark’s 10th consecutive year with the Ottawa team this year, but he’s been pacing races for 12. As the leader of Pace Bunnies, he is in charge of organizing and timing the 68 members that make up this year’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend team — the biggest pace bunny team in Canada.

“It’s awesome! It’s a lot of fun,” says Mark. “When I first started pacing I did it as a victory lap for Boston. I’d already done Ottawa a couple times so I volunteered to pace.”

The goal of the pacer is to run the race within 30 seconds of the target time; Anything over a minute is considered a failure. To keep on track, he coaches his pacers and offers advice whenever he can.

“They run 20 minutes slower than their normal marathon pace and five to ten minutes slower than their normal half marathon pace so they can run it comfortably and have a bit of a victory lap.”

He tells his team to be consistent, to stay on track, and have fun! His skilled and seasoned team of runners do not disappoint: in some cases the pacers come within a second of their goal time.

“We have this friendly little contest called ‘run for the carrots’ because we’re pace bunnies,” he says. “We award golden ears to wear in the next years race and a bag of carrots to the pacers with the closest times.”

It’s easy as a pace bunny to get caught up in the race and try to help a group of runners get to the finish line for their target time. But Mark explains that the pacers are really there to be a “human time clock for both the runners and spectators.”

Mark’s favourite part of race weekend is the inspiring amount of community support from the city of Ottawa. He’s raced in many cities, but to him, nothing trumps the crowds at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.

His favourite pacing moment happened the very first year he ran as a bunny. “I was pacing the marathon at 4:30 and Jean Chretien had just retired as Prime Minister,” he says. “He was out cheering on runners so I looped back when I saw him and gave him a high five and continued pacing.”

Mark is not only the leader of the Pace Bunny team, he’s also on the board of Camp Misquah: a camp for adults and children with special needs. Each year he uses his platform as a pacer to raise money for the camp. “From a  charity perspective the race weekend is awesome because it’s basically free for us to raise money,” he says. “Over the last three years we’ve raised 35 thousand each year which is a lot for a small charity.” He encourages the other pace bunnies to fundraise for their charity of choice in a program he calls “Pacer Give Back”.

With less than a week before the 2018 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, Mark and his team are excited to enjoy the day and run a good race. He’s proud to have supported the runners for ten years and says the experience is incredibly rewarding — especially when it ends with a cold beer at the end of a job well done.

“Runners share their races with us and we get to share their agony and their victories,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to get that insight and watch it all unfold.”

Looking to use a pace bunny this weekend? Here are some of Mark’s tips for runners:

  1. Pick smartly your target time and find a pace bunny that fits that based on training.
  2. Use a pace bunny if it works for you but don’t become a slave to them. They’re running the race in a certain way and if that doesn’t work for you then just use them as a guide.
  3. You don’t have to be in a pace group for them to be useful to you — finish the race well instead of going too fast.

There’s still time to register for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Find your #runottawa2018 race here!