Have ears, will run: The job of a marathon pace bunny
'You do have to trust that they will get you to the finish line in that goal time. That's their job'
This Sunday, runners in the Prince Edward Island Marathon as well as the half-marathon, 5- and 10-kilometre runs and more will flow over the Island's fall landscape in a sweaty, puffing tide. In their midst: half a dozen volunteers, also running, dressed in bunny ears, holding numbered signs and shouting encouragement to those around them.
They are pace bunnies — people who run a specific time, or pace. Those who want to run the marathon in four hours will try to follow the four-hour pace bunny, and so on. There are faster bunnies and slower bunnies.
You get the chance to help other people look for the goal, encourage them — it's really a fun time.— John Acheson, Running Room
"It's easy if you pick a pace that you're comfortable with," said Jennifer Hanus, 38. She'll be the pace bunny holding a big 2:30 sign in Sunday's half-marathon.
"For me finishing a half-marathon in two hours and 30 minutes is like finishing a training run on any given Sunday. It's an easy pace for me."
More fun to help others
Hanus has been running for five years and has completed all the distances in the P.E.I. marathon weekend, and so has turned her focus to helping others as a pace bunny.
"Sometimes it's more fun to actually help other people to reach their goals," she said. "There's a great sense at the finish of the race that you've accomplished something."
Most pace bunnies are fun-loving and easy to talk to during the run, Hanus adds. Pace bunnies don't get paid, but their race entry fee is waived.
At the finish line, Hanus gets lots of thanks and hugs from racers who've followed her, as well as people asking to take photos with her.
Meet your pace bunny
The marathon includes a friendship run Saturday morning where you can meet your pace bunny.
"You do have to trust that they will get you to the finish line in that goal time. That's their job," Hanus said.
Many people come from off-Island and don't know the course, Hanus said, and need guidance throughout the race about things like upcoming hills.
She also sees mistakes made by runners every race day — with adrenalin pumping and an energetic atmosphere, they start off running too fast.
"And then they burn out when they get halfway through it, and they can't reach their goal," she said.
Her advice: Follow the pace bunny even if it's slightly slower than your goal. If the race is going well, speed up later to improve your time.
"Everybody that followed me last year finished ahead of me, 'cause they had the energy at the end to do it," she said.
"The experience of the pace bunny is quite exhilarating," said Running Room's John Acheson, who co-ordinates the pace bunnies. "You get the chance to help other people look for the goal, encourage them — it's really a fun time."
"People are really excited and grateful they're getting the help," he said.
It can be tricky to find four or five pace bunnies to run the full marathon, adds Acheson, noting many people who run that distance would prefer to compete themselves.
Not all bunnies will hit the pace they're advertising if there are factors like excessive heat, he points out, but "we try to do our best."
Many pace bunnies will volunteer repeatedly because they find it so rewarding, he said.
Jennifer's husband, Matthew, 45, is also a pace bunny — he'll be pacing the 1:50 mark for the half-marathon.
The couple is training for the Niagara Falls International Marathon at the end of the month.
Her goal is to finish in about four hours and 30 minutes — and yes, she plans to follow a pace bunny.
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