Monday, June 17, 2013

Run Rabbit Run

I think my attitude towards running is getting a little hedonistic. It's because of the bunny ears.

No, not that kind of bunny ears, although that would be hedonistic,  These kind of bunny ears.

Slowing down and, figuratively speaking, smelling the roses has reminded me how much fun running can be.  Not only that, but if you are not turning yourself inside out to get a PB or a BQ then even running a marathon can be fun, and fun is surely why we do this. Goodness knows we aren't doing it for the money and the consensus is out as to whether we're doing this for the good of our health or not (as we might be shortening our lives) so we might as well be having fun.  Isn't that hedonism?

My average marathon time, not including the three or four pace-bunny outings, is around the 3:07 mark, with a handful of outliers eight-to-ten minutes either side of this arithmetic mean.  Nicely Normal.  This translates to an average 4:26 kilometre pace.  Bunnying a 3:30 or longer takes the pace down to 5 minutes a kilometre or longer.   I've been asked, more than once, isn't it difficult to run this slowly?  No is the answer. If anything, it's the 4:26s that are are abnormal.  If you were to send me out Garminless (which is to say functionally naked) I would naturally do a 4:40 or 4:45, so doing a 5:00 isn't too much of a stretch. Besides, if one is bunnying a Running Room group to 3:30, they may be on a 10:1 run:walk schedule, which equals a 4:45 running pace with a 1 minute power walk.

I don't train differently if I'm "only" bunnying.  My last outing with ears was Bluenose 2013 and I still put in the miles, let me tell you.  Many of those long runs were cracked off at a pace significantly faster than my projected bunny pace.  I didn't even have a marathon of my own coming up, BN was it, and I still racked up over 1000 miles in training since Jan 1. Seems excessive?  Twenty six point two are not numbers to be taken with alacrity and, regardless of pace, you need to treat the marathon with respect.  One reason I train "properly" is because the marathon treats my body the same way, whether I'm bunning or racing.  When I'm bunnying, I often find my body goes through the same stages of aches and pains and bonkiness as in a raced marathon, only the crappy sensations don't come on quite as hard and don't last quite as long.  Similarly, I usually recover somewhat more quickly after a bunnied marathon than a raced one. Going down stairs after two days instead of three perhaps.

One hears much of bunnys and bunnying strategies.  Most of these are somewhat negative and I'm rather glad never to have heard through the grapevine "that 3:30 bunny at the x marathon was a real muppet".  The singular most important trait in a pace-bunny is to run steadily and even split the marathon. People may come and go out of your group, but as long as you run at 4:45 or 5:00 or whatever, you are doing your job. It may seem heartless to erstwhile members of your group as you steam away slowly after 20 miles, but you must stick to the pace. No deviations. It's a bit OCD, but as runners we're all a little OCD at heart, so it comes naturally!

It annoys me to hear the bunny horror stories about bunnies who bolt off the line in order to "gain time", which we all know is a marathoning fools' errand, and are never seen again. It's not sensible running if you're trying to run for yourself, much less if you've been entrusted with getting others in on time. I once heard of a bunny who crossed the line fist-pumping, like he'd got a good time for himself.  Did I mention he was ten minutes ahead of schedule too?  It may seem like a bit of a lark;  they pay your entry and you get to run, albeit in the dorky t-shirt and ears, but remember; you're essentially employed and entrusted for the morning to run a pace.

Alternatively, the 3:15 pace-bunny at Dublin was a right sargeant-major. I heard him coming, barking orders "water station coming up; water on the left, Gatorade on the right", "Left hand corner coming, lets swing right and run the tangent". I almost expected him to say "...and if you see a kitten in the middle of the road, don't stop! Take no prisoners".  

I don't bolt off the line, I don't bank time (on purpose) but neither am I the Dublin RSM.  I'll be your friend, I'll cajole and coax and encourage, I'll talk and tell jokes or I'll listen.  I'll work with them, not against them. At the start I ask the group that coalesces around me at the start how they want to run; run:walk or continuous, It's the same either way to me, this is their race, not mine. Whatever strategy they choose, I tell them I'll re-assess it periodically.  Sometimes we can keep on schedule to the end, sometimes we need to change, but let me worry about that.   I've had to do both.  I'll dole out a bit of tough love though. If one thing is certain, I tell them, I will run 3:30. That I guarantee,  I won't wait for you.  I'll come back for you once, but after that, you're on your own.   

Bunnying also gives an interesting perspective on how one runs a marathon.  In my experience, and those of others, one runs with several distinct groups. You start with a reasonably large group hoping for, let us say, 3:30.  Most of this group hangs with you for the first half.  No problem. One or two might drop off.  Somewhere between 21 and 25 kilometres this groups melts away in ones and twos.  Gradually, your original group is replaced by a second, people who were likely aiming at a 3:15 and are now coming backwards steadily.  This group might last until 35 kilometres until it too melts.  Eventually, you will pick up a few stragglers who were likely on pace for a 3:10 or better until they hit they wall.  One or two of these stragglers will find the energy to hop on your heels for the last mile or so to the finish. It makes you think upon how you run your own races. The standard deviation on my personal 4:25 average must be quite large; likely starting at a brisk 4:15 and slowing to an ignominious 4:40!

Running is often seen as a solitary activity. When one thinks about doing good by running, one thinks of charity running, which apart from pan-handling around your family, friends and acquaintances (no doubt at the same time your friends are doing the same) means running in an actual bunny suit. Or a fat-man suit. Or a turtle suit.  Of maybe just a baggy cotton t-shirt a la Simon Pegg in Run Fatboy Run, which you just know is going to do a job on your nipples.  Or you could give back to the running community by working at races or even organizing a race.  I've done those latter two. Man, that's hard work.  So, as well as the sheer unabashed fun of running, pace-bunnying has another reward.  You get to help out a bunch or runners by doing what you enjoy doing, viz, running.  Win win!

Interestingly, pace bunnies in Halifax are usually organised by the Running Room.  When I started this ears gig five years ago or so, I was the only non-Running Room pace bunny. At the last Bluenose, three or four of us out of the full. half and 10 were Halifax Running Club. I'd like to take a little credit for that, along with la belle, for getting the word out.  I think more and more of our running partners are starting to see pace-bunnying not as a chore, not as something to do if you can't race but as a rewarding and meaningful activity in it's own right.  Something I hear isn't "I wouldn't like to do it" but "I don't think I'd be good at it", which could be dissembling but I like to think is a more nuanced way of saying they're not sure they could harness their run-like-the-wind urges to come in bang on time.  Why don't you just try it, I usually reply.  You'd be great at it.


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