Three Thursdays in July
Driving home from work recently, I got behind a car with a bumper sticker that stated “The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.” It was a slight modification of another familiar saying, another pithy bumper sticker. But it sure doesn’t hurt to be reminded. It was a good theme with which to start my one and only postcard from this year’s Summer Track.
I came to the July 11 event following my first week back at work following an extended time off, some of which was spent with ailing elderly parents. The recent turbulent weather seemed to match the swirling thoughts and troubles in my head. As late as 5 p.m. or so, it was beginning to look like we’d have the second cancellation of the summer. But alas, as if on cue, the skies began to clear around 6. The diminished crowd was treated to a relatively cool, breezy evening in which the setting sun created a glint off the wet infield grass. It was a good setting to renew old friendships. I only get to talk to some of the sprinters like Bill Tharpe and Tarik Noriega this one time each year; it was good to see them still maintaining their intensity, defying what 40 + and 60 + bodies are normally capable of. The summer Grand Prix mile would arrive soon due to the dearth of youth 100 meter runners that day. I spent a rather undisciplined warm-up partly on my own, partly taking a couple laps conversing with Tony Guillen, partly pulling up the rear of the kids 400 meter dash. One particular 5 or 6 year old seemed to be having a great time meandering between lanes 2 and 5 of the back stretch, playing some kind of chase game with his mother. I was so enjoying the vibe that the mile was almost anti-climactic. The legs have slowed, but pacing was relatively consistent. Mike Savage and a few others handily beat their goal times thanks to the cooler weather, and it was satisfying to share in their accomplishments.
July 18 was one of the few days in July without rain. While it was a scorcher, the youth came out in droves once again. There was time enough for a 5 mile warm-up before all the 100 meter heats had even finished. I run solo on most of my training and warm-up runs; I had nearly forgotten how quickly they can go by with engaging conversation. Thanks Dave Yon. I had the opportunity to watch rising Deerlake 7th grader Grace Jackson win the women’s 800 meter running barefoot, then in a few minutes toed the line for the 3200 meter. Now I know Summer Track is primarily an event for fun youth races. But the featured Gulf Winds races do have a place of significance. They provide a low pressure opportunity to set a goal, test your pacing and your mental toughness to withstand the higher levels of oxygen debt. The mental toughness part is easier to manage when someone else is running close to the same pace. Fortunately, I was pushed by rising Maclay freshman Jake Mazziotta throughout the 3200. He prevailed in the end with a strong finish, but I would not have been able to hit negative splits without our little duel; he is another smart pacing Gary Droze protégé. Roxanne Hughes easily broke 13 and shorter distance specialists Paul Guyas and Ryan Truchelut ran strong 11:07 and 11:13 times.
Random plug: Check out at least the first 6 – 8 pictures from Fred’s pictures each week. He is going to have a hard time deciding which ones to put in the Fleet Foot and which to leave out.
July 25 brought a huge rainbow in the eastern sky lasting nearly a half hour. Dave Rogers returned to sprint competition after recovering from a foot injury that required nearly a 4 year layoff. The weather was a sauna but no one seemed to care. In a nod to the days when officials carried stopwatches, Tom Perkins instructed the 5000 meter competitors to “watch for the smoke” since Perry Shaw was firing his gun with the milers who were starting concurrently. After a brisk first mile, that sauna did come into play. “Is this lap 7 or lap 8?” I started asking myself. My heat-racing delirium was beginning to set in. There is no lap counter out there; you are on your honor. Fortunately I came to my senses, but 12 ½ laps can feel more arduous than a road 5K on some days. So there was a sense of shared accomplishment as we staggered to the table to record our times for the final Grand Prix summer race. Those final conversations and shared cool-downs will stay in my memory more than the race itself. They are among the “best (non) things in life,” and I won’t take them for granted.