Beware the rabbit

No, I’m not talking about the killer rabbits from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. 

I’m writing about the person who runs ahead of your pace group, but isn’t the actual pace leader. They may want a slightly faster run, or just want to be in the front of the group because they don’t like running in crowds. The thing is, they’re first but they have no responsibility to the group. Some are good about this and check to make sure they’re  still on course. Others are just plain careless.

The reason I call them rabbits comes partly from why we call the pacers on race day “pace bunnies”. It goes back to dog races. The dogs follow a fake rabbit on a mechanical arm that moves around the track to the finish line. Runners in a group have a tendency to follow whoever is first. It can be a little tricky in the first couple of weeks as people move up and down pace groups looking for the right one from them. Between adrenaline and lack of blood to the brain, they may not recognize  they’ve started following someone other than their pace leader.

I’ve had to deal with this a few times as a pace leader. Each instance required a different strategy. In my last clinic, I had a married couple that wanted to do continuous pace for long runs on Sunday. I just let them go off and do their thing. As far as I was concerned, once the first walk break started and they kept running, they left the group. If they were within shouting distance and had missed a turn, I would let them know but keep the rest of the group from replicating the mistake. I had another short distance hero that thought we should run faster on our LSD runs. Despite her terrible form and awful breathing, she kept insisting she and therefore we should be faster. I remember the 7K run from hell last winter where she spent the last 2 kilometers talking about her 45 minute 10K finish from five years ago.

Earlier in this clinic, I knowingly let a rabbit make a wrong turn to make an example of him. He crossed Wellington St. when he didn’t have to and half a dozen members of the group went with him. It was the difference between having a run from MacKenzie to Bank St. uninterrupted by traffic lights and having to stop for lights three times and cross back to our side of Wellington because the stretch from O’Connor to Bank was closed.  That same run, I had already told one wannabe rabbit who said we should cross on don’t walk light that we don’t do that in my pace group. It was that long light by the National Art Gallery that’s fed by three different roads. Long and short of it is, I told her my group obeys traffic signals and makes it home alive.

Tuesday, I had a what could have been a Darwin Awards worthy moment on my hands. Several of my runners have this habit during tempo runs of running faster for the last 500 meters or so to the store (it happened last time early in the clinic, but waned as people moved to higher pace groups, distance increased, etc). Since this is usually on city streets with traffic lights, I think this is probably the stupidest thing a runner can do on any given night. I also don’t like the interruption of traffic lights, so when I run the group along the canal I always go far enough down before turning around we will get our distance in by the time we make it back to Elgin St and reserve those two blocks back to the store for a cool down walk. With this 5K route, it’s difficult. I would normally have my group just keep going to Bank to finish off the distance without having to stop for lights. Unfortunately, four of my group had already turned down O’Connor so I led the rest down that way, too. Given what would happen next, I’m glad I did. I witnessed two of my group running towards a crosswalk despite the orange hand of a don’t walk light. I shouted for them to stop. I could see three buses heading in their direction. They entered the intersection without hearing me.  Thankfully, they cleared the intersection before the traffic reached them. Neither of them even turned their heads to see what was coming their way or why they were being shouted at.

I spoke to them individually when I got back to the store. One was very apologetic. She didn’t realize it. She was following the one in front of her. Rabbit syndrome. The other was defiant, denying the don’t walk light was even lit. She got a lecture on how the “bon homme” (I’ve only learned recently that this is what francophones call a walk light) isn’t a force field. Neither of them could hear me because they were both listening to music. Noticing that both of them were listening to music in both ears, I suggested that they only use one earbud. The apologetic one agreed. The defiant one then told me something earth-shatteringly stupid:

“I can’t run with one ear phone because only one ear works.”

Huh? Say again.

“I’m deaf in one ear. I have to use my good for my iPod.”

So you’re using your good ear for music instead of paying attention to your surroundings on city streets?

“It’s okay, I won’t sue.”

I’ll believe that when I see it … in writing … witnessed … and notarized.

I’ve been around lawyers most of my life. When I said to one of my lawyer friends that I new many of his ilk, he joked back, “Yes, but do you know any good ones.”

My attitude towards music and running has evolved over the year and a half I’ve been at this. I’ve been doing my training runs and short races without it, but I did do my half-marathon with it. Since I was planning to run too fast to keep up a conversation, I figured a playlist would be in order to keep my mind focused. Everyone I’ve met since starting at the Running Room has told me one thing about long runs; they can be boring to the point of distraction to do alone. In fact, when I run alone I typically just do this almost 6K loop.

I just could’t believe how cavalier Defiant One’s attitude was. I honestly hope she never runs alone at night…or, for that matter, daytime. Even in nice cities like Ottawa, summer seems to bring out the pervs.

Thankfully, she wasn’t my problem on Wednesday. It was only 3k, so she tried the 1:50 group. When our groups passed each other after the turnaround, she was keeping up. Hopefully, she will find that pace more to her liking. With her attitude, she’s an accident waiting to happen at my pace level.

In some ways, the rabbits remind me of people who didn’t show up to class in university.     In most courses it was no bother. After all, life happens.  We all had that course, though, where, despite being fully enrolled, only about half the students show up to an average class. They enroll in the course/program for the credit of doing so, but really aren’t interested in doing much than getting credit for showing up on exam days. This frustrated me royally as both student and professor. On separate occasions, I was both a student in and instructor for university classes that were prerequisites for the program I was in. Everyone in the program wanted into these courses so they were required for their major. I remember during my brief stint as a political science/criminology double major and having to sit through the required class on deviance. Attendance for this class was about 55-60%. There were only two sections that year and it was a prerequisite to enter the third year courses in criminology, which was incredibly popular at St. Thomas. There was a huge wait list. We could all drop the course and it could be filled by the morning.

The professor’s frustration was obvious. She would use it as a teaching moment, “Let’s talk about the general versus specific deterrent effects of an attendance requirement on class.” It felt like she was punishing those who showed up for those that didn’t. We weren’t the ones who taking a space in the course away from someone who wanted to be there. I had many issues with the course and the material, but when that teachable moment became an essay question on her mid-term, the one time the classroom was full, I realized I didn’t want to be there. While it was too late in the term to vacate my spot for a student who would have liked to have been in the course (or to pick up an additional course to replace the one I was about to drop), I could at least be an example to my fellow students. I handed in my half-completed mid-term, which probably scared the shit out of the no-shows, and headed to the registrar’s office to drop the course mere minutes before the deadline to do so without penalty expired. I trudged through the snow, hoping the forecasted storm had not made the office close early. It was a move that solidified a decision made earlier in the week, to honor in political science.

When I returned to St. Thomas to work with then Senator Kinsella and teach in their human rights program, I used the experience of that deviance course to shape my own policies as an instructor. By the time I had returned, we had online registration and the wait lists were done away with. We also had requests from the registrar’s office to inform them of anyone who did not attend the first couple of classes so they could be dropped to make room for students wanting to get in. I had an Intro class of 75 and clearly articulated in the syllabus that anyone who missed three out of the first four classes without contacting me would be dropped. This would help make room for those that wanted to be there. I would also drop anyone who missed the majority of classes by the drop without penalty date. In my mind, this would be an act of mercy. Since it was a relatively new program, only the second full-time program in Canada, we were not sure what the text should be for the Intro course. I used human rights documents and supplemented them with my lectures, along with some journal articles. If you didn’t attend the lectures, you wouldn’t pass the exam. I figured seeing these items in print would scare off a few to make room for someone who wanted to be there. I had over 90% attendance. That didn’t prevent the real awkward conversation with one student who showed up for the exam having never attended a class other than the first.

I know it’s a rather limited comparison. For one thing, no one is taking space from someone who would like to be there but can’t because we’re oversubscribed. Running Room clinics don’t work that way.

Where the comparison is apt is these rabbits have enrolled in a program, but for whatever reason want to do something other than the program they paid for. Most of my rabbits just want a faster run. The simple solution for them is they should probably attempt to run with a faster pace group. My friend Christian found this to be the case when he ran with me one Sunday and ran with the 1:50 group subsequent weeks. I’m a big fan of training conservatively, but now is the time in our schedule to experiment with your abilities and try the faster pace. There’s nothing personal and I’m not offended if you want to run with a faster group. You can always come back to the slower pace group.

If you want to run at faster pace but can’t keep up with faster group, take responsibility and volunteer to lead a group between the already established groups. For example, start a 1:55 group. It may be a good way to work yourself up to the faster group. Just as an example, Joanne created a 2:10 pace group in the last clinic and within weeks they were all part of my 2h group.

The moral of this story is if you want to do your own thing, do your own thing. Don’t drag others with you.

Be a leader, not a rabbit.



One response

  1. […] without building a few bonds. Every pace group is different and they’re usually quite fun. There’s always a few rabbits, but that usually works itself out. With just a few practice runs left, looks like everyone in my […]

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