Earlier this year I registered for the Calgary Marathon 50K to run with the MitoCanada team. After registering and taking a better look at my race schedule I realized this race was only one week following the Blackfoot100K, an "A" race and this year's National 100K Championships. Fearing I would show up at the Calgary Marathon 50K and race the damn thing, I emailed the organizing committee and begged them to take me on as a pace bunny. The finishing time I was given to pace was 4:30, a 5:24 min/km pace which isn't a normal pace for me but isn't painfully slow either. Approaching race day I knew of a few runners that would be joining me, one of which was Dennene Huntley who has run an average pace of 5:24 min/km over 100K so I knew we'd be surrounded by good energy and fresh legs.
I arrived on the start line 15 minutes before start time. Immediately runners started surrounding me, some friends (Frank, Mark, and Greg) and some pleasant strangers all about to embark on a 50K journey through Calgary's finest neighbourhoods. Surprisingly, my friend and running icon Ryan Twa approached me and announced he would run with me that day. Ryan is a sub 2:40 marathoner and a recent victim of a hard fall off his road bike. Road rash everywhere and a possible cracked rib he couldn't see himself racing, so instead he took it easy with me for the day.
While most of these runners were about to take on the new and scary experience of running an ultra marathon, what was new for me was being a pace bunny and ultimately being responsible for maintaining said pace for 50K. That being said, the energy and the positivity shot us out from the Stampede grounds, through the Calgary Zoo and eventually towards the city's SW. Now, I'm biased but hot damn we had an awesome group! The next 25K were spent laughing, high fiveing children and carrying on a steady even split pace. At times I'd look back and see 25-30 runners latching on to the energy and spirit of the group and boy, in a sport where pain and focus reign supreme, positive energy is the nectar of the gods.
As we ran north on 14th Street the runners in my group grew quiet. This was the typical timeline within a race the "suck" bleeds in, so even more so I tried to be more positive and encouraging. We circled onto Memorial Drive which I later called the 'Pain Cave'. The heat seemed to absorb into the asphalt and one by one the runners slowed their pace. It seemed like every time I looked back the group was thinning out. During the beginning of our first out and back on Memorial I relished in the glory of being passed by all the faster 50K runners, all of which I'm quite good friends with. Even Oleg Tabelev stopped to give me a back massage, shouldn't that be the other way around? As the crowd of now struggling runners grew quiet I got louder. But I wasn't alone, both Ryan and Dennene played the part of cheerleaders the rest of the way. The last 5K of the race was a very interesting experience for me. Besides the cheering from supporters on the sidelines it was as quiet as a morgue and it seemed like there was a sniper hiding not far, occasionally shooting out someone's hamstrings or lower legs with a cramping bullet. I would get passed by one then I would pass twenty. I felt horrible as I passed because they'd look up and see a fresh pace bunny bound passed them, look up and see the 4:30 time on my sign, most likely the time they wanted to beat. I'm proud to say when my GPS clicked 50.0K my time was 4:30:06, SNAP! I crossed the finish line in 4:31:?? and spent the next while hugging and high fiving the runners I tried helping that day.
To any runner that hasn't been a pace bunny before, do it! I thought it would be a rewarding experience but it's fair to say this was definitely the most fun I've ever had at any running event. The final 10K was spent with a smile plastered on my face. I got a solid 50K supported training run in, made new friends, spent time with old ones and I'd like to think I helped others in achieving their goals.
Oh yeah, you maybe asking yourself after seeing me in all these photos carrying the sign. Aren't you supposed to only run with the sign the first few km and discard it at an aid station? To that I ask you, "What else would I ride like a horse through the finish line at the 2014 Calgary50K?!?!?"