The Olympic medallists will compete against each other in a Duracell Bunny Challenge during this year’s Simplyhealth Great Run Series

Olympic medallists Kelly Sotherton, Jason Gardener and Iwan Thomas are to step up and take on pacer roles during this year’s Simplyhealth Great Run Series.

The trio will go up against each other in the Duracell Bunny Challenge as they become Duracell Bunny pacers to help thousands of runners go further for longer.

As the latest runners to don the famous Duracell Running Bunny ears, the three former athletes will compete at races throughout the series of mass participation events that began in 1981 with the world famous Great North Run. Renowned for their prowess over short and middle distances, the pacers will be tasked with running further than they ever did during their elite careers.

As well as taking on distances of 10km, 10 miles and the half-marathon, the trio will also compete against each other to see who can get closest to their allocated pacing time at their respective events.

Birmingham-based three-time Olympic bronze medallist Sotherton will kick start the ‘Duracell Bunny Challenge’ at the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham 10km on Sunday.

Then former sprinter Gardener, now president of UK Athletics, will be tasked with going from 100m to 10,000m by becoming a pacer at the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run on May 28, marking a return to the city 15 years after his Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning triumph there.

British 400m record-holder Thomas will take on the iconic Simplyhealth Great North Run in September and the 10-mile Simplyhealth Great South Run in October, the latter being close to his home on the south coast.

The Duracell Bunny pacers have been a cornerstone of series sponsor Duracell’s campaign since partnering with the Simplyhealth Great Run Series in 2016, with more than 100 individuals performing the role last year – including Ryan McLeod (pictured), son of the first winner of the Great North Run, Mike McLeod, for the first time ever at the Simplyhealth Great North Run.

Brendan Foster, Olympic bronze medallist and founder of the Simplyhealth Great Run Series, said: “It’s fantastic to see the Duracell Bunny pacers continuing into the series this year, and fitting that Kelly, Jason and Iwan are going to be helping inspire other runners while taking on the ‘Duracell Bunny Challenge’ to go for longer than they’re used to.

“As always, we’ll be ensuring that the pacers more familiar with the distance will also be on hand to communicate their knowledge.”

Sotherton said: “It’s a great honour to be pacing during this year’s Great Birmingham 10km and taking on the ‘Duracell Bunny Challenge’ in my home town makes it even more special. While 800m is the longest distance I used to run in the heptathlon, I’m confident about going for longer at the Birmingham 10km and I hope the other guys can manage to do the same.

“I’ll be helping to pace with some brilliant experienced Duracell Bunnies who can hopefully share some of their knowledge to get me through it. I also can’t wait to beat Jason and Iwan with my pacing time.”

Gardener commented: “I’m looking forward to returning to Manchester, this time as a Duracell Bunny pacer. The competitive edge that took me to the top in my career is still burning strong, so knowing that Kelly and Iwan are going for longer too makes me more determined to do this right. I appreciate that this isn’t a natural distance for me but I also have a lot of respect for the amazing job the Duracell Bunny pacers did last year, so I’m going to embrace the challenge and do my all to get both myself and others across the line on the right pace.”

Thomas added: “It’s exciting to be part of the ‘Duracell Bunny Challenge’ alongside some of my running contemporaries in Kelly and Jason. Although I’ve raced in mass participation events before I’ve never had to think about how I pace myself – usually I go off too quickly. However, I’m taking this very seriously and there’s added pressure for me to deliver where the Great North Run is involved. Overall I’m pretty confident I can get closer to my time than Kelly and Jason can, so bring it on.”

As well as providing the pacers to help runners maximise their own performance, Duracell will this year continue to draw on the power of support by helping spectators cheer on their friends and family using the Duracell #PowerBoards. These customisable boards will be available at the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham 10k, the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run, the Simplyhealth Great North Run, the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Half Marathon and the Simplyhealth Great South Run, and will allow fans to write their own personalised messages for runners as they go past.