In my career, I’ve run many races of varying degrees of success. I’ve even been fortunate enough to feel the elation that comes from reaching the white finish line before any other man. The cost of such a feat is often great, and usually experienced by long moments of voluntary agony, squeezing every drop of forward movement from a body demanding the easy way out. Is such blind discomfort worth it? Absolutely. Even the most unbearable pain of the final straight is somewhat dampened by the joyous thrill of victory. Last night, under the lights at the Occidental High Performance meet, I encountered a victory that came without agony, without apprehension, without supreme effort. It was an open expression, a demonstration of patient power held deep in reserve…
The turquoise-blue neon lights lined a curbside Mexican restaurant. A few friends sat in the outdoor bar, laughing between themselves, only to stop and stare as the slender runner quickly went by. I was only five minutes in my warm up, but could already feel hot beads of sweat forming on my back. The race was set to go at 9:40 P.M. and due to a recent heat wave, temps would still hover in the upper 90′s. I made my way through the local neighborhoods, in and out of streetlights, away from the buzz of the stadium. Alone for a short while, I started picking up the pace on my warm-up. I sped into the last mile well under six-minute-pace feeling hot and hypersensitive to every biological signal. But the power was there. All systems were ready.
Slowing to a jog, I entered a bright stadium – calm and collected – and began the final preparations, done in a manner comparable to autopilot. Time passed in the haze of total concentration.
I stood there, gently shifting my legs, listening to the starter give his final instructions. The other runners were there too, standing a stride behind the slightly curved line – gladiators behind the Colosseum gate, waiting to meet their fate.
Then everything came in slow glimpses:
The raised arm…
Finally, the gun!
My featherweight Nike spikes instantly drove into the track, sending instantaneous electrical signals to my brain and back. Those signals were interpreted in a blink, and I suddenly knew that the power was THERE, to be used as I chose. Out of my peripherals, I felt the others side away and into their own respective paces, each guy putting his own piece in motion. 80m were gone and I found myself in the lead. Should I stay with the pack or go with the rabbits? The pace just felt too comfortable; I had to go with them. I attached myself to the rabbits, showing my first card to the field. My intentions were stated and this race was on, honestly.
The two rabbits, cutting through the warm air, ran as one, sneaking quick glances back at the sole runner who had suctioned himself like a piece of gum to a shoe. I came through 400m in 56, surprised to hear such a healthy split. The pack of nine men kept its distance – about ten yards – with each man trying to protect his treasure and ensure that when the final push began, that he had the high ground. We circled through the second lap, listening to the name “McNamara” blaring over the speakers. The gap remained, and while I didn’t once sneak a look behind, I felt very much as if I were racing alone, following the strong pacemakers who would soon have had enough. We were 1:55-mid (faster than my high school 800 PR).
The first rabbit peeled off, his job done well. Moving with strength, I felt the voice within my mind, excitedly bouncing around yelling, “That’s great Jordan, that’s great! Now stay close until he drops and get ready. They won’t be done yet.”
I sailed down the backstretch, watching the second rabbit kick his final 200m, leaving me with 500m of running remaining. Little did I know, the pack had been watching and waiting and now was coming very much back to life. Like a pack of sharks, they descended, driving with the arms and closing down on the slender runner in green. I was caught with 450 to go, and heard the ring of the bell surrounded by five other men, each of whom had his own ambitions for victory. I felt curious, unsurprised, and alert. Soon the kicks would come.
The tightly knit packed drove down the final backstretch. I watched from third, waiting for an early bid.
250 to go…
200 to go…
I rounded the bend, completely surrounded but at ease. I surveyed the runners, noticing the telltale signs of those on the edge: the exaggerated arm drive, slight backward bend and audible “Eh” on the exhale. It was then that it dawned on me, “They’re giving it everything, Jordan”. I was still in second gear, simply waiting for the command from within. In my mind, goose bumps arose. Despite my anticipation, my position was far from ideal. 120m from the line, I was badly boxed in and needed to make a few calm, calculated maneuvers to ensure myself a clear lane to see it through.
Spotting a narrow gap, I shot by a runner on the inside, up and into third. Accelerating now, I eyed the man who I had previously tagged as my largest threat, a nimble-foot Irishman whose kick I’d had the pleasure of being acquainted with over a year prior. 80m out, I watched him transform into a sprinter, hitting his top gear. Ah yes, you’ve still got it. I eyed it and reacted on instinct, head-checking my blind spot before swiftly sidestepping – flinging myself into lane two. There were no further obstacles to negotiate, just a short corridor upon which to transverse with great speed. It was now down to that final drag race: the home straight.
The crowd’s noise reached a climatic crescendo as this front-running miler in green caught traction and, within a very short period of 30 meters, assumed the lead. And, for good this time…
The final move was decisive and was executed with quick precision. 30 meters from the tape, I looked around, surprised to find myself hurtling away with sublime indifference. When you’re ‘on’ you’re ‘on’.
Arms outstretched, I eased across the line in a season’s best time of 3:37.39, certain that a number of seconds could’ve been removed in slightly more competitive circumstances. The time for such things is soon to come.
I invite you to watch this race and really pay attention. If you observe closely you can see my commitment, feel my joy, and share my pleasure.