Posted on March 21st, 2012
The relay meet was only two hours in length, if it was run well. Two and a half more likely. A welcome relief from the usual several hour long meets that dominate the season.
The 4 x 800m opened the meet and the 4 x 400m closed the meet. Dan and his relay teammates would get a maximum amount of recovery.
The Green Mesa 4×8 team was considered the strongest team in the field by 15 seconds based on performances to date. They had already dipped below eight minutes and were looking to improve on their mark at Jeffco. Dan would anchor, Sam third, Phil second, and Les, the tall and lanky sophomore would lead them out of the hole. Dan had a theory that if they listened to the same song before warming up, they would sync up totally – body, mind, spirit – and naturally run a more unified race together. He had made sure they all had Souls Like the Wheels by the Avett Brothers in their ipods. When the song was over, the foursome was quietly fierce and introspective. They wanted to do something special today. The season was too short to wait to perform.
Les hung in the middle of the pack for the first lap. On the second lap, Jerry Mathias, a senior from Arvada West, bolted, putting ten yards on the pack before the backstretch. Les and Karl Happy from East jumped together at the backstretch to chase Jerry down. They caught him coming off the curve onto the homestretch and the three ran step for step to the exchange zone where they found their teammates waiting, hands outstretched, shaking hands and legs, desperate for the stick. The front three came through the split a hair under two minutes.
Phil took the stick from Les and slid to the rail a half step behind the purple singlet of Arvada West. The second leg runners were no match for Phil’s 1:59.2 and Green Mesa was several yards ahead by the third leg. Sam nearly matched Phil’s 1:59 and Dan received the stick 50 meters ahead of the field. Bill expected as much. He had advised Dan to run smooth but strong, practicing a slightly negative split. Dan rounded the first lap in 59 and felt as if he was just cruisin’ as he had done in so many practices. At the bell he notched it up just slightly, imperceptive to anyone but himself and probably Bill, lapping 58 seconds for the second quarter mile, finishing in 1:57.0.
It was a great effort by the Green Mesa 4×8. They were now definitively on the map with a 7:54.5. Bill was pleased. He caught his four athletes at the gate leading off the track and led them out for a slow cool-down. As they ran, he explained the science of their performances. It wasn’t by luck they had run so well, but natural ability and training put together. As their training progressed, their ability to deal with lactate improves, and with it, the ability to push harder on the first lap and a stronger response from the legs on the second lap will be possible. Bill said he expected that each one of them, Les, Phil, Sam, and Dan, all had at minimum 2-3 seconds yet to shave from their 800m.
“It could get scary,” Bill said, grinning widely.
The four continued the cooling with Myrtl and Back routines, and then retreated under the stands for a game of PG ‘would you rather’ with some of their female teammates. Dan felt the soreness of his achilles, aching a bit more after the effort, but he decided against mentioning it to Bill or Charlie, in an effort to wish the ache away. He told himself that if it didn’t get any worse, it wouldn’t be a problem.
After an hour under the stands it was time to warm-up for the 4 x 400m. Charlie came around and summonsed the distance boys out of their lounge. They were the B team 4×4. They passed the stick around during the warmup, jocular, feeling the light load of having to go once around the track. Coach Walton called out to Dan to come over and see him. Dan gave the baton to Les and jogged over to Coach Walton.
“Listen son, I need you for the A squad. You’ll go third.”
Dan looked back without a word.
“That’s not a request.”
“I understand. Third leg.”
Dan was thinking about how he’d really rather run with his teammates from the 4×8. They might actually give the A team a run for their money, but not without him. He was also concerned about his achilles. Somehow running on the A team seemed as if it would stress it more. While this was probably not true for his achilles per se, it was true for his mind, inexorably connected to the achilles.
On his way to find the A team, Dan mentioned to Bill and Charlie that Walton had requested he run on the A team. Bill was incensed at Walton pulling his athlete willy-nilly, without discussion and consent from the primary coaches, no less, ten minutes before the race was to begin. Bill asked Dan if he had yet practiced hand-offs with the A team. No was the answer. Bill shook his head, with a look that said, “Walton is an idiot.”
“Take an open hand off Dan. If you haven’t practiced blind, don’t try it now. He’ll hit you every where but the hand, and if by some miracle you do get the stick in the end, you’ll have wasted more time than if you took it looking. What leg are you?”
“Have a little talk with leg two. Let him what you mean to do. No need to mention it to anyone else. We don’t need a debate.”
Dan did as he was told by Bill, and ran respectably enough, 25.2 and 25.7 splits, good for a 50.9. Dan cooled down after the race with the B team that had run well, but did not challenge the A team. Bill noticed a slight limp in Dan as he finished three laps of barefoot jogging and began the Lionel Hampton routine.
“Dan!” Bill shouted across the field. He motioned for Dan to stop what he was doing and briskly walked out to where Dan stood on a grassy area northwest of the track.
“Something’s hurting you. I want to know exactly where it is and on what day it started.”
Dan sheepishly confessed that he had felt a twinge in his achilles since Monday. Bill was clearly unhappy about the news but internalized the worst of it. He told Dan to ice tonight, ten on ten off, for an hour.
“Most importantly, do not stretch the lower leg. It will only make it worse.”
Bill emphasized the words, do not, such that it was clear to Dan how pissed Bill was that he didn’t tell him about the achilles before. It was a sour ending to an otherwise great day of racing. Dan knew Bill would make him rest, and this worried him about what the rest would do to his fitness.