The Renaissance Of Pacers In Races

By Kyle Merber

March 1, 2023

It is rare that the rabbit gets much attention, despite being the subject of every fringe fan’s first question while watching a race, and much of this week’s newsletter. That’s why it’s so exciting that The New York Times had a nice write-up on the man who has become synonymous with the job, Erik Sowinski. Despite an impressive resume that includes 166 sub-1:48s, a personal best of 1:44.58, and a World Indoor bronze medal, he is currently best known for his work as the pacesetter every top athlete, agent, and meet director turns to when a fast time is desired.

Being a good rabbit isn’t just about knowing the pace. (Although Sowinski is definitely excellent at that!) With pacing lights now lining the inside of many tracks, that’s the “easy” part. What Sowinski does better than anyone is arriving at his target destination with the pack in tow.

You weren’t exactly a successful rabbit if you finished your assignment on-time, but without a single competitor on your heels! There are plenty of 400/800-types who can comfortably hit the end split Erik does, but how many of them – cursed with too much fast twitch muscle fiber or jittery with nerves – lope to a 15-meter gap on the field in the opening 200 then allow the pace to lag as everyone catches back up?

There are nuances to pacing that ought to be taught on the bunny hill. For example, take the first 50 meters out too hard, and suddenly an insurmountable gap has formed. It’s best to run parallel to the field – allowing them to sort positioning out – and then slide in before the second turn once tempo has been established. Then sometimes people fall off after being attached! What do you do in response? As pointed out here, Erik knows what to do without disrupting the rhythm. The most crucial part of the job comes moments before stepping off. Top-tier rabbits wind up the pace for the athletes who are following, which helps minimize the possibility of it immediately slowing down when they’re left to their own devices. And then it’s also a matter of not tripping anyone!

Once in a blue moon, there is a race that gets set up perfectly and even the tenth-place finisher runs a personal best. Fans keep attributing the revolution of fast times the past couple of years to super shoes or faster tracks or double threshold-style training. But no one has recognized that the timing of it all also lines up perfectly with Erik Sowinski’s personal renaissance as a pacer. There is infinite value to having someone who is capable of being in the race themselves fall on the sword.

We’ve long seen that with male pacers elite female road running prospers and I think we should take things one step further. Why not let professional rabbits cheat? Like, Sowinski can cruise the first 1000m of a world record-pace 1500m, but with modern science, I think there’s another 300m we could probably tap into. Alternatively, what if when athletes get busted we allow them to reduce their sentence if they do “community service” by helping to pace a certain number of events? Who cares if the dude who is committing seppuku at the front of the race was jeopardizing his long-term health? He’s paying it forward with honor!

While on the topic, here is a bright idea I had that doesn’t fit in any other section of this week’s newsletter! If a world record is achieved that sets off a bunch of red flags and has everyone suspicious of its legitimacy, then the athlete should then prove they did it without cheating by openly doping the following year. If they can’t run faster it’d be quite obvious that they were previously under the influence. But if for example, Usain Bolt stepped out in 2010 and ran 9.48, then the debate would be over, right? We’d know for eternity that 9.58 was done clean.

(If the cops are reading this, or if my candidacy to be named the next President of World Athletics in the year 2050 is under consideration, then please understand that for legal purposes, this is a joke.)

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.