Monday, May 21, 2012

Run Rabbit Run

So, marathon#18 in the bag, and my second time pace-bunnying a full.  In fact my last two marathons have been as a pace-bunny for the 3:30 group.

Bunnying a marathon seems to have piqued many peoples' interest, so how is it really?

I think the trick is to pick your pace-group carefully.  Some people have asked me "isn't it difficult to run at 5 minute per kilometer (5:00/km) pace?".  I would answer, for myself, "no".  If I were to go for a nice, relaxed run I tend to average out between 4:30 and 4:45/km,  So running at 4:45 and 5:00 is really quite natural.  Any slower and I'm constantly pulling away from the group.  I'm not being an arsehole, I just find it very difficult to run that slowly.   Conversely, for the faster paces it's running at 4:15 for three hours that is decidedly unnatural!

It is, of course, personal.  La belle's likes to bunny the 4:00hr group or about 5:40/km. It's all about preference.

The second thing is a marathon is not a distance to be run with alacrity.  You need to prepare to bunny a marathon in the same way that you would prepare to race one.  I stopped cramming the miles in a couple of weeks ago and cut down from 100kms to 50km to 30kms during the taper.  I still had the huge pasta dinner on Saturday night, I still went to bed early, got up early and my race-day ritual contained all the usual little personal tics it would have had for a "real" race.  

Except this is a real race; I might not be racing for absolute performance but instead I'll be expected to lay down a time not too far removed from an all out effort (only 19% slower from my current best pace).  Remember, a marathon isn't a race you can be guaranteed a finish; it's so long, too much can go wrong, or many things have to go right - some of them out of your control. I won't deny, I had butterflies in my stomach standing on the start.

One thing I noticed in Moncton and confirmed here was that bunnying a marathon feels just like running one for yourself only less-so.  So I still felt that slight tightness in my hamstrings and ITB at 15 miles, those little niggles that remind you you've been running for a while and which may yet develop into a disabling attack of cramp.  I still got that slight sense of ennui about the whole thing around 31 kms ("aren't we done yet, I've been running all day") and a slight sense of bonk-i-ness at about 34 kms, the "sod it I'm going to pack it all in and crawl under the nearest bush and sleep before I do myself some real harm" feeling.  Except, like I said, less so.  So the feelings tend to pass relatively quickly instead of sitting on your head and growing into a big black dog that's constantly dragging you down.

Some of that is to do with your group.  As pace-bunny you are part pace-setter, part drill-sargeant, part agony-aunt and part cheer-leader.  So you encourage, threaten and cajole your charges to the finish-line.  This can be quite fun and it is certainly rewarding to get people to personal best times.  

Interestingly, and perhaps intuitively, I ended up running with three distinct groups.  Most people positive-split a marathon, that is run the first half faster than the second.  Pace-bunnies are expected to run an even split; the same time for both halves.  In Moncton and Halifax I ran an even(ish) split; 1hr 44 min for both halves. So, there's always a big group for the first half; if you're shooting for 3:30 then a 1:45 half is eminently do-able.  I had a fluid group of at least five for both events, but as there are always people who don't want to run with you but just want to keep you in sight, I don't know how many people were keying off me in the first half.  

After the half, the first group starts to melt away and is replaced by a second group of people who started just a tad fast, are starting to fade and are coming backwards to you.  How long this group stays depends on how quickly they're fading.  Yesterday, I had completely swapped my group between 21 and 25kms.  At one point I felt like a mother duck with a loose line of nearly ten people stretched out behind me.  

This group eventually implodes too as the distance mounts.  At Moncton I ended up with one guy by about 21 miles and we came to an agreement; no walk-breaks, just 5:00/km and walk the aid-stations.  Same here at Bluenose; I was all alone by about 31 kms, so I just kept to pace.  At 35 kms I picked up a marathoner who was kinda walking and he said he wanted to try and run in with me.  So we hooked up and I got him through a very tough 4 kms around the park. There was a touch of the blind leading the blind here however as I was having my own moments of self-doubt in the park and having to shepherd someone else through their own helped me to dwell less on my own inner demons.  Coming out of the park I still had a couple of minutes in hand and at 40kms it was clear we were going to come in around 3hrs 25 minutes so instead of keeping the pace down I let it creep up a little and then we booted it for the last kilometer,

Job done.

Here are my kilometer splits from Garmin.  A fairly even pace throughout and even though I felt like I was slowing down, clearly I didn't.  

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy that graph.

Yup, geek!

Unfortunately, no HR data as the Polar I was wearing died half-way through.  What are the odds; it performed yeomans' service all the way through training and the battery dies 1/3 through my first race of the year!  Johnny Miles maybe.

After I finished I turned around and went back down the course to bunny in the people who had dropped off the pace. Big props to them all.  That's Brett Glover below, a trackie and x-country guy from SMU.  His Dad was running the half and Brett did a couple of training runs with him.  Brett took this race on with one 20K long-run under his belt and did it in Vibram five-fingers.  He ran through the first half with me, 1:44, bang on schedule.  He even put the boots to me on Maple Street!  He dropped off on Agricola and I didn't see him again until I picked him up again at Cogswell and Brunswick and ran the last three-hundred metres with him to see him home for a stonking 3:44 marathon debut.  

A shout out goes to Jennie Orr, Michael Gaudet, Rachael House, Andrea Moritz, Cyrus John, Chad Smith and Steve Elliot, all people I spoke to and ran with en route.  I know there were more, and I"m sorry if I can't remember your names.

Kudos one and all, it was a great experience to run with each and every one of you.


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