On Sunday I took on the role of official 2:00 half marathon pacer at the Hamilton Half Marathon. After confessing last week that I was slightly nervous, I woke up on race day feeling excited and ready to go.
It was freezing cold when we left the house at dark o’clock to pick up some friends, but it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day – and I absolutely overdressed in tights and long sleeves, plus my tutu.
We made the hour drive and parked at the finish line area, then took a
shuttle school bus to the start where we were able to keep warm inside the school. We managed to meet up with most of the training posse to chat and exchange good lucks.
I struggled to secure my bunny ears on my head with a very ill-fitted plastic headband; I wasn’t concerned about comfort (although they hurt like a b*tch) since this race wasn’t about me, but I was really worried that they weren’t going to stay on.
Lots of runners started approaching me to ask questions and/or let me know they were going to be sticking with me. Nicole managed to spot me and keep me in her sights til the start, which was no small feat – we weren’t given pace signs to hold so it was pretty tough to spot the bunnies among the throngs of runners.
We headed outside moments before the marathon start (they were scheduled to go off 15 minutes before us, but started late) for one last potty stop. Laura saw me in the line-up and we finally got to meet officially and chat briefly after being at many of the same races for years!
As soon as the marathoners had cleared out, I wriggled my way through the crowd and tried to position myself correctly. They didn’t have marked corrals so I managed to spot a few other pace bunnies and placed myself accordingly. I had a nice little crowd following me and immediately picked up a few others. Time to have some fun!
I knew it was going to be a pretty congested start and wasn’t going to bother weaving around people – I told the runners around me that I was just going to relax until it opened up. We could make up those seconds later, and this would make it a lot easier to stay together.
I was getting lots of compliments on my colourful outfit and many people said I would be easy to spot (that was the plan!) Unfortunately I was right, and my ears started falling off right away. I tried everything I could think of to hold them in place – under my headband, over my headband, under my hair, etc. Nothing worked until I finally placed the plastic “ends” in front of my ears (my actual ears, not my bunny ears – LOL) instead of behind. It didn’t feel great and probably looked weird, but at least they stayed put for a while.
As anticipated, it cleared out enough to find some space after the first kilometre. I chatted with people around me and kept a close eye on my Garmin to ensure that I wasn’t getting sucked in to a quicker pace. I enjoyed listening to the conversations around me, scoping out the sights and just running comfortably. I got warm very quickly and certainly wasn’t the only one who had over-dressed. People were shedding layers all over the place.
Target pace was 5:40/KM
KM 1-5: 5:47, 5:30, 5:41, 5:40, 5:38
At about 5K we hit the highway for a long downhill stretch. Nicole went on ahead here as planned (I won’t giveaway the ending but check out her race report!) while I did my best to reel in the pace. I had a few “regulars” with me now and we were getting to know each other. I did pick up the pace slightly, but not enough to be detrimental to anyone’s race – especially going downhill. I kept everyone around me posted on our splits and overall time and checked in on how they were doing regularly. Many people told me they had done this race in the past and gone too fast on the downhill, only to bonk once it flattened out again. This year they were holding back and trusting me to lead the way – no pressure or anything!
KM 6-10: 5:32, 5:34, 5:33, 5:41, 5:33
We had a short hill up the ramp off the highway and a water station positioned right on the hill, hence the slower split for KM 11. Now we were running along some commercial and residential streets as we made our way to the waterfront trail. Some people dropped off along the way and I picked up others. Often a runner would come up to me out of the blue to ask if I was on pace. I tried to be as encouraging as possible, especially when I could tell someone was struggling.
A couple of times I would catch myself deep in a conversation with someone and realized they were pulling me along slightly too fast (like the 5:26 split below – oops!) … sometimes it was very difficult to keep that pace in check.
KM 11-15: 5:50, 5:35, 5:26, 5:32, 5:30
At 16K/10mi we turned onto the waterfront trail and we were now heading directly for the finish with just 5K to go. I pointed this out to those around me to stir up some energy and excitement. Most people seemed to be in great spirits and I managed to rally up some new recruits as well. It was a gorgeous day to be out running along the lake – there was a nice breeze (which I admit, probably would have felt more like “hellish wind” for anyone who was pushing it at this point) and the sun was shining.
The best water/support station of the day was along this stretch where there were dozens of students all decked out, cheering like crazy and pumping music. It was a great boost for many and I whooped it up all the way through that section.
KM 16-20: 5:40, 5:43, 5:42, 5:40, 5:33
I continued counting down kilometres with those around me and trying to be as encouraging as possible. We were almost there, but I know it doesn’t feel that way when you’re hurting.
KM 21: 5:39, 0.1 at 5:05/KM
During the last kilometre, I heard some spectators cheering for a group of ladies to “catch that bunny”. I looked back and they weren’t too far behind so I waved for them to catch up. Nobody was immediately with me at this point and I had a bit of wiggle room on the clock, so I slowed just enough for them to close the gap a bit. I made it my mission to get these girls into the finish with me. Soon we could see the finish on the opposite path and we just had one final bend to make. I cheered them on every step of the way, and one of them was even able to sprint ahead.
The announcer called out that the 2:00 bunny was coming in right on schedule and the crowd was cheering. I took off my ears and waved them in the air as we ran in for the finish. It was a really fun moment!