Meet the Runner Who Leads Every Pack and Then Vanishes

In other words, pacers are not going anywhere — especially in the current era of super spikes and super tracks, twin pieces of technology that have helped milers run even faster. Athletes want to chase records. Fans want to watch them do the unthinkable. And meet directors are happy to oblige.

“It’s so much easier to run behind someone to take the edge off mentally and physically,” said Mark Coogan, an Olympic marathoner and the coach of Team New Balance Boston. “If you have a good pacer, you can try to relax for as long as possible before you have to take the race on yourself.”

Enter Sowinski, who never aspired to be a rabbit. (Once upon a time, he thought he was bound for medical school.) He did not make his first foray into the art of running fast for the benefit of other people until March 2019, when Nike, his sponsor at the time, asked him to pace a world-record attempt in the indoor mile at Boston University. Sowinski did well, covering the first half-mile in about 1:53 before he slowed to a stop so he could watch Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia break the record in 3:47.01.

It was a sign of things to come, though not right away.

After most of the 2020 schedule was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, Sowinski returned in 2021. His mind-set then was the same as ever: to compete as an 800-meter runner. But after he raced in New York that May, an official for a top-tier meet in Gateshead, England, approached him about pacing the men’s 1,500 meters there — exactly two days later.

Sowinski boarded a trans-Atlantic flight and arrived hours before the meet. He proceeded to do “a good job,” he said — good enough that his pacing services were in demand later that week at another meet in Qatar. On the elite track and field circuit, word began to spread about Sowinski’s metronomic abilities. That summer, he paced about a dozen races in nearly as many countries.

As a full-time 800-meter runner, Sowinski never had to worry much about tempo or tactics since the event is basically an exaggerated sprint. He could turn his brain off.

“You’re just going out there and kind of dying,” he said.

The mile is different, more measured. Runners like Nuguse and Ingebrigtsen want even, consistent laps. And there is pressure on the pacer to get it right. Go out too hard, and an oxygen-deprived field could blow apart. Go out too slow, and the race could turn into a traffic jam.

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