As the field in the mile race at Saturday’s Boston Indoor Games passed the halfway point, a runner with a Michigan singlet led the pack of international superstars. But instead of senior Nate Brannen or freshman Mike Woods, two of Michigan’s best milers, it was sophomore Sebastien Lounis.
When the field made the turn for the race’s second half of the race, Lounis ran off the track.
“I consider my run in the mile a success,” Lounis said.
How could someone who did not finish a race consider his performance a success?
Lounis was not competing in the mile run. Instead, his job as the rabbit was to pace the field for the first 800 meters.
The amazing thing about Lounis’s performance on Saturday was that he had set a personal record of 1:51.39 in the 800-meter run earlier in the day at the Boston University Invitational, beating his previous personal best by about one second. After finishing the race at 3:15 p.m., coach Ron Warhurst approached him about pacing the mile run at 7:30 p.m. The rabbit who was originally scheduled to perform the duties had cancelled earlier in the day.
“I surprised him with the rabbiting duties,” Warhurst said.
This was not Lounis’s first opportunity to rabbit a race. He paced for Brannen twice before but never in this setting. The Boston Indoor Games is a major international track meet and was televised on ESPN.
“I introduced him to (two-time Olympic medalist) Bernhard Lagat, who explained what he wanted the rabbit to do,” Warhurst said.
The rabbit sets a pace so the runners don’t start too quickly or slowly.
During the race, Lounis did his job by running 800 meters in 1:57.50. Interestingly, Lounis was the only Wolverine mentioned on the ESPN telecast of the race.
“He was the talk of the town,” Warhurst said. “He ran a perfect pace.”
Although Lounis was pleased with his own performance, he felt that his teammates in the race deserved more credit. The Michigan athletes who actually competed in the race excelled. Brannen set the Canadian mile record and missed the collegiate record by .11 seconds, while Woods set a personal record.
“I could stop when it started to hurt,” Lounis said. “The guys had to keep going. It’s a weird experience for me because I don’t feel like I did that much.“
However, Lounis felt the strain of running two 800-meter runs under two minutes.
“I was pretty emotionally drained at the end of the day,” Lounis said.
To pace a race, an athlete must have certain skills.
“It is about keeping your emotions under control and keeping the pace,” Lounis said.
Knowing it would be shown to national television audience, Lounis needed steady nerves to run a successful pace. Another skill that Warhurst looked for in his rabbit was the ability to follow directions.
“If you ask (Lounis) to do something, he will do it to the ‘T,’” Warhurst said.
Lounis’s performance on Saturday could provide future opportunities for rabbiting races.
“I can take him out there next year, and they can pay his expenses to rabbit any race they want him to,” Warhust said.