No one could sum up my last two racing experiences better than Elmer Fudd when he said, "Oh, those pesky wabbits!"
For those of you who may not know, many professional track races have a "rabbit", or a person who starts the race with the intention of setting a specific pace for the other athletes, and then drops out at some agreed upon distance. The purpose of a rabbit is to get the race moving fast, without forcing one of the racing athletes to run out in front like a sacrificial lamb (it takes a higher expenditure of energy to run a race from the front). When you have a good rabbit, a race can be so much fun because you can sit on their shoulder, forget about your effort, and just roll with them until it's time to do your own work for the last portion of the race. In a perfect world, a rabbit would always run the pace asked of them. But, of course as the racers we need to remember it is not a perfect world, and sometimes rabbits screw up.
Exhibit A: The Appworld Solutions Elite Women's 800m in St. Louis, Wednesday, June 1st 2011
Before I say anything negative about the rabbit situation at this meet, I must first say that it was an absolute JOY to compete there. I loved the atmosphere, the fans, and the support staff that treated us so well during our stay in St. Louis. This was a charity meet at a high school with the best facilities I've ever seen, so our elite women's 800, and a men's mile to follow were the "highlights" of the night. They made us feel like superstars as they introduced us out on the track, and I loved meeting so many talented young athletes after the meet.
With that being said, however, take a look at the video coverage:
This is a perfect example of what I call an "excited rabbit." In the end, this girl did a great job of hitting the time we had asked her to run through 400m (57 seconds). However, she went out in 25 seconds (50 second 400 pace) for the first 200m, which is too fast for all of us who have to do one more lap still, effectively making herself useless to the athletes who are trailing too far behind her. She was a wonderfully sweet girl who I loved to get to know, but it sure would have been nice to have had her a little closer to me for the first lap, so I didn't feel like I was leading the race from wire to (almost) wire. It was my own mistake to start coasting in on the second lap, though, I will admit that!! In the end, an excited rabbit is a loss of a good opportunity, but it is not the end of the world. She didn't impede me from running my own race, it just as if she weren't there in the first place.
Exhibit B would be this past weekend in New York at the Adidas Grand Prix.
There was no video coverage of this race, so you'll just have to trust me on this one. Our rabbit was both an excited rabbit, and...shall we say, a pesky rabbit. As soon as the gun went off, this girl was out fast, just like the rabbit in St. Louis, she hit the 200m in about 25 seconds, leaving the leaders of the real race back to do their own work. This rabbit had told us she was planning on going through the 400 in 57 seconds, and then dropping out on the inside of the track, at 450m (so, the top of the curve in the second lap). I'm not sure where the wires got crossed, but after she went through the 400m mark, she put the brakes on. Which would be fine, if she got off the track, but she put the brakes on, and was coming to a complete stop...in lane one. So as the race is coming directly behind her, there was a bit of a pile-up. I yelled out "Watch out!", which wasn't enough warming before I physically ran into her, lost all my momentum, and then tried to pick it up again. There was a general bustle all around as the racers got put back together, but in the end I ran a disappointing time, and I'm not sure how much of that I should blame on the interruption of the race, and how much was my own shortcomings.
I am aware that rabbiting is an intimidating job, and the people who are willing to go out there and give it a try do deserve our respect, I just found it especially frustrating to race in these circumstances in my two races preceding the USA National Championships. I could certainly have used a fast, confidence-boosting race...but alas, I will have to wait to prove to myself that I am ready in the preliminary round in Eugene!
The good news is, I have already run a near-best time this season, I am healthy, happy, and hungry for more races to come. Another piece of good news is there are NO rabbits in US Championship races...ha!