Race Report: GoodLife Toronto Half Marathon (2015)

How to describe this weekend's GoodLife Toronto Half Marathon? It was one of the best experiences I've had as a runner.

What what so different about it?  It was quite simply the experience of putting others first, by volunteering as a pace bunny.

It was last October that I started thinking about volunteering as a bunny.  I knew I wanted to give back to the running community in some way in the months ahead.  I had just completed the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, where I followed my friend and pace bunny Jowenne for part of the race, and also watched Coach Roger of Ignition Fitness pace another group.  It was inspiring to see and it prompted me to explore the idea myself.

Happily and thankfully, this spring, the Running Room accepted my application to be a pacer at the GoodLife Half and I eventually landed the 2 hour, 10 and 1 run/walk intervals, time slot.

Pre-race, sign in hand and ears on top.

While I was excited and honoured about this opportunity to help, I was nervous too.  The night before the race, the anxiety of having runners depend on me to achieve their goals sparked vivid and strange dreams.  (Imagine clocks and a loop of being late for appointments.)  I did not feel particularly well rested on Sunday morning, but adrenaline quickly kicked in.

Usually when I'm competing in an event, it's a fairly solitary exercise, despite the thrill of being around dozens, hundreds or thousands of other runners.  Come race time, I don't often run in a group with friends or training buddies, because we all split up at the start line.  That means I'm usually running alone with my thoughts, summoning the internal energy to push harder.  (Don't get me wrong, I still love it and would race every weekend if my shins, schedule and savings account would allow it.)

The pace bunny experience turns that all on its head, because you're: (a) surrounded by a group that's running together; (b) focusing your thoughts on others along the race course; and (c) summoning energy to give to those around you.  The funny thing is, in trying to share energy with others, I realized it manifests more within me too.  It's an incredibly revitalizing experience.

A beautiful sight: thousands of runners heading south on Yonge Street

Along the race course, I warned the people in my group that I would be cheering them on and encouraging them the entire way, so they wouldn't be getting a silent run from me!  I shared advice given to me by coaches about running up (and down) hills, maintaining form and pacing oneself.

We looked at the scenery together, pointed out great places to go for a run downtown and where to find running clubs.  In the final couple hundred metres, it was time for me to pull back, slow down and cheer loudly for the pack as they made their way to the finish line.

On the other side of the finish line, one of the gentlemen that ran in our crowd asked for a picture together, saying thank you and explaining that this was his first international half marathon.  Two other runners thanked me for the encouragement and energy.  It was such an uplifting experience to see others reach their goals that I'd pace another half marathon next week, if I could.

If you've got the chance to volunteer as a pace bunny, go for it.  In giving back to others, it's truly a way to rediscover your own love of running.