Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Mile

It had been 25 years since my last track race when I finally made it to one of the BU mini meets on Saturday.  Now all I can wonder is what took me so long.

Having never done one of these meets I had no clue how it would flow and so I got there really early (9am for a 10am meet) not knowing what time I would run. I asked one of the BU athletes at check in for her best guess on when the mile heats would start and she said, "Eleven-thirty, maybe?" Yikes. I had a lot of nervous energy so after a quick jog over to Star Market for some quarters to feed the parking meter, I shed some layers and did some jogging on the 1-lane warm-up track that surrounds the actual track. At just past 10 o'clock, they started with the 3000m heats.

They called the first heat as the "8:35 and under" section and I thought a bunch of the guys must have given some wishful seed times. But no. The whole field was comprised of college runners or recent college grads, mostly D1 guys. Eric Ashe of the BAA, and BU alum, won the heat in 8:06.07 (!) and every guy in the heat was under 8:35. Wow. I was a bit intimidated at that point but as the heats wore on, it became clear that there really were runners of all ages and speeds and that with so many runners in each event, you wound up with really tight grouping in the heats so there was real racing going on throughout, with almost nobody ever running in no man's land. The heats went fast with very little down time in between--as soon as the last runner in a heat went by, they called the next section onto the track like clockwork. And so it went.

The last 3 heats of the 3000 had 16-20 runners each so they got through it in 4 heats and immediately started with the 400. They announced that there would be 12 heats of the 400 but I figured those would fly by so it was probably only 15-20 minutes until the mile heats would begin. I moved my gear bag down onto the infield and intermittently did some more jogging and some strides and drills to stay loose. I still had no idea how many mile heats there would be, or which section I would be in but judging by the number of skinny people still warming up or stretching on the infield, I knew there would be a whole bunch.

The 400 indeed went by in a flash and they called the first mile heat to check in--the sub 4:20 heat. As the heats went by the seed times were only inching up incrementally and by the 4th heat they were still calling 4:40 and under. Apparently the calendar worked out such that a lot of high school kids were able to make this 2nd of the 3 mini meets and most of them were running the mile. Around this time I bumped into Kieran Murphy, a friend from the Shamrock Running Club. He had run these before and it was good to see a familiar face and get some coaching on how things would go.

Eventually they called my seed time (I had given 5:05 which was a wild guess based on my best 5k from October) and I found out I was seeded 11 of 12 runners in the 8th of 13 sections of the mile. After waiting around all day, everything seemed to speed up now and the next thing I knew they were calling the 7th section onto the track and I would be up next. I took off my watch, stuck my lane number on the shoulder of the ole Greater Lowell singlet, moved over toward the starting line and watched the end of the 7th section.

Then they called us onto the track and, just like that, the waiting was over. My seed time put me into a crazy mix of a heat with about 3 other masters men, a whole bunch of high school boys, and a couple of recent college grad women. On the line I had a tall high school kid to my left and a petite New Balance Boston woman to my right. The official checked each of our numbers, confirmed our last names and then the starter gave us our instructions.

"Bang!" We were off.

Immediately the tall kid inside me on the line threw a flying elbow right into my chest and it was game on. Within 30 meters I was near the back of the pack just hanging on for dear life as this crazy organism hurled itself around the roller derby track. When we came around the 2nd turn onto the front straightaway I was near panic but once I saw the clock I settled down. I hit the finish line at 38 seconds which was right where I wanted to be--except in the haze of racing I didn't even process that that was actually my 209 meter split, not the 200, so I was ahead of schedule. I was just fine where I was near the back. I went through 400 (again, actually 409) in 74/75 and by the 800 I was sitting dead last but hit it right at 2:30. Now it was all starting to get fuzzy. Kieran was doing some really good in-race coaching for me, yelling splits and telling me what to do. He told me to "stay on that CSU guy!" and I obeyed, moving past someone to get on the CSU guy's shoulder. People were coming back and I was passing them and having to run in lane 2 for most of the time now.

The last split I remember was 1000, which was about 3:06/3:07. Kieran was telling me 600 to go and for a split second I heard it as 6 laps and momentarily backed off before I processed what that meant--holy shit it was go time. Kieran yelled again, "You have to go by him, NOW!!" and as utterly insane and crazy as that sounded, I moved out and started grinding my way past the CSU guy. The entire rest of the way was one giant mess of trying to work past other runners and none of them giving in--just complete and utter hand to hand combat for the entire last 600. By the time I was on my last lap I was trying to go by another tall high school kind and his coach was screaming at him from the infield not to let me go by. The kid never gave in and as I whipped myself around the last turn I got ready to throw every last gasp of energy I had at the final straight.

I simultaneously could not even believe how much my throat and chest (and whole body) were burning at this point, or how totally unfazed I was by it.

Off the final turn I think I remember seeing the clock at 4:51 and just running out everything that was in me, practically throwing myself through the finish line. It was all blurry and messy but I just did inch past the kid I had been racing for the whole last lap even though that didn't matter any more. It was all about the clock now. I knew I had broken 5 and only at that moment did I mentally acknowledge how important it had been to do that, and how, deep down, sub 5 had been the only goal I had from the moment the idea of entering this meet even took seed in my brain. The hit of adrenaline, the knowledge that I had done it, and the unbelievable burning in my chest and head was quite the rush--I recommend it.

I managed to let go the railing without falling down (nice!) so I staggered down the banked turn onto the infield where Kieran congratulated me and I kinda-maybe gasped some words of thanks or at least tried to. It was a while before I could breathe somewhat normally and the dry air triggered a whole avalanche of asthma and allergy issues for me that I'm still dealing with and probably will be until mid week. Whatever. It was completely worth it.

At the end of the day I ran 4:58.94 for 6th out of 12 runners in the 8th of 13 sections at a low-key, holiday all comers meet. It was one of the best running experiences I have ever had--my first track race and first sub-five-minute mile since high school.

As I drove home from BU I felt like Zeus standing on Mount Olympus throwing thunder bolts at the tiny people below. If my throat hadn't been so sore I might have yelled out the window at people on the street, "Hey, I just ran a sub-five-minute mile, what did YOU do this morning??"

It was that awesome.


  1. Hello Mike,

    I read Jeff's blog through Facebook and he linked to your post. I race a couple times a year in Nashville because my in-laws are down there. I think I was the guy that you smoked at the end of our heat. I run for CSU and we spoke briefly after the race. We also raced together at the Run for All Ages but I think you had tired legs there.

    Yes, the mile is a rush. I stared running later in life and that was only my second indoor mile. It was my first time under 5 (4:59) and I had the same exact feelings of accomplishment as you.

    Congrats and I'll see you around,
    Kevin Delaney

    1. Hey Kevin, thanks for the note. Good meeting you yesterday. That's right it was CSU not CMS...I'm lucky I remember anything the race was such a blur. Congrats on your sub 5! See you at a race soon I'm sure.

  2. Awesome race report! Thanks, you've inspired me! I think I'll enter a mile race next year and see if I can get that sub-5.

  3. having quite recently hurled myself at a ticking finish-line clock, i can truthfully say - amen, brother. amen!

  4. The mile race is awesome! It is a rush! I started a Time Trial Tuesday out here in Phoenix, where on the last Tuesday of each month (Feb - July) we run an open mile...

    Been a good turn out - and I think we are getting the running community excited about running shorter distances...