Pace Bunnies Rule

Pace bunnies look funny wearing rabbit ears, but it’s serious business trying to run even splits for a whole marathon.

What about the rest of us?

Yeah, yeah – so those speed demons use pacers to help them run their otherworldly marathon times. How does that affect us normal marathon runners? A quick look at any marathon worth its $90 entry fee will prove just how important pacing has become for marathoners of all levels.

“I think the marathon has become this amazing life experience that’s attainable to a lot of fitness folks,” says Brookes. “As race organizers, we owe it to them to give them the best experience as possible. I think that pacemakers, whether it’s to help someone break four hours or to go under 2:09:30, are part of giving people a great race.”

No program in Canada has embraced the art of pacing more than the Running Room, which provides pace bunnies to many of the country’s top events. 

“Pace bunnies place an emphasis on fun for the athlete competing in a race, for both the novice and seasoned runner,” says Running Room founder John Stanton. “Often the excitement of the day, the synergy and energy of the crowd, results in the runner going out too fast. The pace bunny is there to guide them along the way to a successful goal and even-paced race. The bunny with the fun ears has an amazing way of calming the first time nerves of a novice racer or someone trying to reach a specific time goal.” 

Brookes attributes the rise in popularity of pacers and pace bunnies to the popularity of the Boston Marathon – the race that’s proud to say has relegated all the other marathons in the world as “just a qualifier.” 

“In the ‘90s, qualifying for Boston became a huge thing,” says Brookes. “A whack of people suddenly weren’t happy to just finish a marathon. Now they were after the challenge of qualifying.” 

Boston aside, though, the Running Room pace bunnies have become welcome support for many Canadian marathoners. “Without a doubt the bunnies provide the leadership and mentorship on race day and remind the athletes to trust their training and come along for another long run,” says Stanton.

Pace fairy down

“When I paced the Midsummer Night’s Run, we weren’t pace bunnies, but pace fairies,” says Toronto’s Mary Jo Fader. “Most of the event was in the dark, and just before the half, I took a nice dive and a number of people screamed ‘Pace fairy down.’”

It’s just one of many memorable experiences Fader has enjoyed during her years as a pace bunny, pace fairy, or as she’ll be referred to at this year’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon, simply a pacer. 

Mark Wigmore will make the trip down from his home in Ottawa to pace at this year’s Waterfront event, too. He has some equally entertaining memories of pacing.

n> “One was meeting Jean Chrétien cheering on the marathoners as we passed his house in the 2007 Ottawa Marathon,” says Wigmore. “I looped back to shake his hand because, as I said to people in my group, I thought he would want to meet the 4:30 pace bunny.” 

Wigmore has mastered the art of making his pacing experiences a fun time for both himself and the athletes he’s trying to get to the line on time. “I have an absolute riot,” he says. “I try to make it fun for people in my group. I pass around the sign – I call it my IV pole – and let others lead the group. Some borrow it to carry it past where their friends and families are waiting, and it’s heartwarming to see the reaction of the kids as their mother or father run by with the sign leading a group of runners. I have paced 4:30 four times and there are a lot of first-time marathoners in that group, so it’s a thrill to see their nervousness, their struggles and their successes.”

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