No Matter What Your Pace, There’s A Bunny For You.
You’ve definitely seen them, spreading enthusiasm and always travelling with a pack—after all the big pink ears are hard to miss. But who are the Running Room Pace Bunnies? How can they help you? And who are the mysterious and rare golden-eared bunnies?
To answer those questions, we caught up with Mark Wigmore, Head Pace Bunny for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and Army Run to get an inside look at the world of those who wear the big bright pink rabbit ears.
With more energy than the Energizer Bunny, each Pacer helps runners to reach the finish line within their set goal-time by maintaining a steady pace for the whole race, keeping their group on track. They’re like part speedometer, part cheering squad.
Wigmore explains that “pacers” started in the late 1990s in Ottawa, originally playing off a common practice of elite runners, who used paid pace “rabbits” to meet their finish times.
“Our Bunnies are all volunteers, though!” Wigmore chuckles, explaining they originally helped runners aiming to qualify for big races like the Boston Marathon, but then spread to smaller races to help runners with different goals from there. The rest is history! Now there are bunnies “hopping” runners to finish in the 10K, the half-marathon and the full marathon.
With 11 years as the head honcho of the Running Room Pace Bunnies under his belt, Wigmore has watched his ranks grow to 72 pacers, most of whom are returning to their role year over year.
“We love what we do. One of the goals you have as a pacer is to be on time. We take it quite seriously,” he says, adding, “But we have fun at the same time. We provide that nice steady pace for people, and they can follow us and can get to the finish line. As a pacer, it’s awesome to share that finish with runners.”
Steady pace is right! Targets are set for the pacers to come within 30 seconds of their target time, and remarkably 80% of the Pace Bunny pacers make it within that window. Despite this amazing track record, “too slow, just right, too fast” impressions can happen with runners following a Pace Bunny.
“It’s the classic story about pacers – there are 3 phases we go through,” says Wigmore. ”The first part of the race is where people running with you feel you’re going way too slow, because it seems too easy. By the middle of the race, those runners start to think Oh this guy is good, he’s right on time! Of course at the last bit of the race, they’re feeling like their Pace Bunny has sped up–but truthfully they’re actually just slowing down themselves or straining to get to that finish line.”
It’s important to note that pacers aren’t only for strong runners or competitive athletes. There is a broad range of “speeds”, including walk-run pacers who run for 10 minutes and walk for one minute, and walk-only pacers, too. “The goal is to finish the race, and the times are a very personal thing. Everyone has their own goals, training and motivation, and we’re here to help everybody.”
So how do you choose your pace and the right place to start in the corral at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend? Wigmore says it’s all based on your training, but he does have one universal tip.
“Start out slower than you think. You’ve probably done a test run equal to the distance of your race, but it’s easier to speed up later than if you start out going out too fast. A lot of people overdo it in that first half.”
So remember, that feeling that you’re going too slow at first is actually OK! “You don’t want to spend all your gas and never get it back, no matter how much gatorade you drink,” Wigmore adds.
There are a lot of great ways to get out and train before the weekend! Wigmore suggests including the Free Run Ottawa 5K at the Experimental Farm on the first Saturday of each month, the Run To Beer events and the Running Room Run Clinics (with members of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend’s #TeamAwesome members!)
If you want to meet and do a training run with a Pace Bunny, Kichesippi’s upcoming Pint Series will have pacers there! During Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend there is the Running Room Friendship Run with pacers that leaves from the Ottawa Marriott on Saturday, as well as the opportunity to meet the Pace Bunnies at their booth during the Health and Fitness Expo, in case you have any questions.
At this point, we only had one last burning question for Wigmore: Who are the golden-eared bunnies?
“We do what’s called the Golden Ears competition. Each year I award Golden Ears to the best pacer from the year before, with a bag of carrots.” So if you see a golden-eared Pace Bunny, it’s someone who has been the best pacer in the past!
“The enthusiasm, the adrenaline [at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend] is awesome,” Wigmore says in parting. “Remember, finish times are personal and everyone gets the same medal. As long as everyone’s having fun, that’s the main goal. Walking, running, rolling, just getting to the finish line is the key.” That’s their carrot shtick.
Haven’t signed up for a Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend Race yet? It’s not too late! Register for the Ottawa 10K, Scotiabank Ottawa Half-Marathon or Scotiabank Marathon and run with a pace bunny to help meet your running goal!