Pacing Duty

Confession: I paced my first race and may never go back to racing

My first real race was the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in 2013. I was hoping to finish in under two hours. I hadn’t focused on pacing before and while in the chute, I was stunned to see someone holding a 2:00 sign beside me. “This person is so good at running that they can guarantee a finish in two hours?” I thought. I had never heard of “pace bunnies,” but the idea appealed to me. I proceeded to run with the pacer for the first half peeling ahead when I felt good. I finished in 1:54. I believe that was thanks to that steady start.

How I ended up with pacing duty

Allegra Pace BunnyI’ve always been curious about being a pacer so I was thrilled when I was asked to pace the recent Waterfront 10K, the new Canada Running Series addition. Nearly three years after my first race, I’m much more confident with holding my paces. Having said that, I was nervous about the commitment I had made. (Full disclosure: I offered to pace a 50 minute 10K but dropped down to 55 minutes.)

The timing couldn’t have been better. My goal race was over on May 1, and I had been taking some much-deserved rest from my speedy workout. “Practicing” my 5:30 pace was an excellent excuse so my friends on Strava wouldn’t question why six weeks later, I was still taking it easy.

Canada Running Series did a great thing by looking to Toronto run groups to find pacers and I got a chance to get to know the team and exchange tips with them. Any race day atmosphere is exciting but on home turf, it felt like the whole Toronto running community had shown up. I ran into friends, colleagues, and Twitter followers I had never met in person.

As gorgeous as it was on race morning, I was surprised to find myself nervous. So many runners would be counting on me to help achieve their goals.

Heading to the start line

Once the gun sounded, all my nervousness fell away. I can’t explain how much fun it was. Immediately my fellow pacer, Andrew, and I discovered that since we were in the downtown core, our GPS was all over the place. We made a team decision that we would have to run by feel and check in at each kilometer. The views of the CN Tower were gorgeous as we came up to 1K and got our group to cheer as we passed the marker. Andrew and I took turns carrying the sign and shouted helpful tips about timing, water stations, and tackling the hills to runners as we progressed through the race.

When I signed up to work with a coach at the beginning of this year, I thought that the better you got at running, the easier it becomes. That’s not the case. The better you get, the faster you run. Pacing, as it turns out, showed that my dedication has worked. Running at 10K at a 5:30 pace once would have terrified me, yet here I was helping others do it. I danced through bubbles at a cheer station, ran through a mist machine, and high-fived police officers.

I’m proud to say that my official chip time was 54:59. It was a fabulous experience. As runners, we’re all selfish. That’s the nature of a solo sport. It was a freeing feeling to give back to the community and feel solid in the knowledge that this wasn’t going to be a PB, but that wasn’t the point.

While I have some races on my calendar over the next few months, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to pace again. I highly recommend trying pacing duty once. It’s a humbling experience and I look forward to the next time.

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