The Secret Delights of a Rookie Pace Rabbit
It was a disastrous start just 500 meters into my first pace rabbit assignment. I was running the 55-minute pace for the inaugural Toronto Waterfront 10K and my pre-race excitement had fizzled into shock.
The essential tool in my pacing repertoire – my GPS watch – could no longer be trusted as GPS signals bounced through the financial towers of downtown Toronto. My GPS pace oscillated from 4:55/km to 6:05/km and the first kilometer on my watch was way ahead of the course marking.
But fortunately, I had prepared.
Feeling the Pace
Two days prior to the race, I went out for a 5:30/km pacing practice run. As any reasonably intelligent pace rabbit should do, I agreed to run a pace that I could comfortably perform. My primary challenge, however, was to reign myself in from running too fast.
During my trial, I would run by feel, check my pace, curse myself for going too fast, adjust my run by feel, and check my pace again. This was all about developing my “effort memory” to help keep myself in check for race day and I was glad for my anal-retentive tendencies.
Pacer Ear Problems
The last thing that I had to practice before race day was running with my pace-rabbit ears. The good folks at Canada Running Series had the bunny ears custom-stitched to an awesome Ciele pace-rabbit cap. With a bit of trepidation, I donned on the cap on for the first-time and began to run. Within my first few steps, I was overwhelmed with an unexpected feeling: floppiness.
I ran a little bit further trying to ignore that floppy feeling but it came back over and over again. This was a problem.
I quickly decided that I needed to find a way to secure my ears so that they would stay up (cue the laughter). I wasn’t handy enough to stitch and tape wouldn’t hold for long. Thankfully, I was clever enough to determine that a couple of well-placed safety pins would keep this pace-rabbit’s ears up for the duration of the race – phew.
The Community of Rabbits
On race day morning, the pace rabbits all met up for a pre-race group photo. Each of the pace rabbits represented a different run club from across Toronto and it was great to see a community of runners coming together. Each pace group had their own giant but surprisingly light pace sign to act as a beacon for goal-time runners.
I had the good fortune to be paired up with Allegra as my pacing partner in crime. We agreed to take turns carrying the pace sign and we were both equally excited at the prospect of pacing others towards their goals.
Pace Mode Not Race Mode
As we headed into our corral, it was a nice feeling to have runners congregating around us. As the start horn blared, the first challenge of the race was in holding the a giant pace sign in my right hand while starting my GPS watch as we crossed the start timing mat. After that, it was all about reminding myself that I was pacing instead of racing and that I had to keep my effort in check.
The course starts in the downtown Toronto core and heads south through the high rises of the financial district. My eyes widened as I checked and re-checked the pace fluctuations my watch was reporting. Allegra’s GPS watch was also having problems so we had to take a different approach to pacing – we were going into manual mode.
Although our GPS watches were inaccurate for distance and pace, they could still be used reliably as a stopwatch. Whenever we saw our next kilometer marker, we would check our elapsed time and adjust our pace to cross each split as closely as possible to the target pace time – it was a bit of mental effort, but it helped us to stay focused.
Coaching, Cheering, Passing
The best part of pacing duty is that it gives you permission to be an encouragement to others. I would remind runners to get a drink at the aid stations and provide advice on how to squeeze the top of the cup to minimize spillage. As we headed down the one main hill, I focused our pace group on letting gravity do the work. As we headed back up that same hill, I emphasized using our arms to pump our way back up. I was doing my best to ensure that others could run their best and I absolutely loved it.
With the last kilometer upon us, I advised my pace group that it was now time for them to go through one final push. Both Allegra and I didn’t want anyone to finish with us – we wanted everyone to finish ahead of us. This was the first time that I was happy to have runners pass me towards the finish as it meant that they were likely to be meeting their goals.
As we headed into the final stretch, we were now well versed in matching our desired elapsed time with a specific point on the course that was now the finish line. As we neared the finish, I glanced at my watch and we slowed ourselves just a bit. We crossed the finish mat, raised our pace sign in celebration, and finished with a 54:59.
Keeping the pace,
July 23rd, 2016