27 January 2013

A Very Quick Distraction

It’s been a rather brutal week in Lake Wobegon. One would think we’d moved to central Minnesota for the temperatures we’ve seen; temperatures more reminiscent of the youthful days of the First Lap rather than those of the tepid winters of late. Such weeks just scream for a distraction to help us forget that late January has been, as it statistically should be, the coldest part of the year. And a distraction we did get, a quick one, indeed, a very quick one. More on that later.

First it’s worth noting that times like these test men’s souls, or more accurately, the part of the soul that constitutes the memory. After a number of chilly outings of late, Thursday morning I found myself in Boston proper, having stayed overnight at an overpriced hotel for a work function, a hotel that shouldn’t be shamed for trying to charge me more at the front desk than they were advertising on their web site, a hotel that, despite their lowest rate being double what I’m happy to pay, still found the need to try to charge exorbitant fees for expected freebies like internet service and local phone calls, and God forbid, if you’re a visitor from afar unlucky enough to have a cell phone that doesn’t work here, fees for calling over the pond that were simply shocking. No, they shouldn’t be shamed and should be left anonymous so that nobody knows it’s the Westin….oops.

Anyway, finding myself in the famed area code six-one-seven ironically on day six-one-seven of the streak (the long-term reader will recall this happened in Seattle on day two-oh-six, and though I didn’t mention it, was supposed to happen last week in New Jersey on six-oh-nine before that excursion was called off due to weather, but I digress), I didn’t have the luxury of waiting till the sun was high, as duty beckoned, so a sunrise jaunt was in order. If this was six-one-seven in six-one-seven, it was only appropriate to pop in roughly four in four. Degrees, that is, with a notable wind to add to the fun. One may think it unwise on a morning like to head to a place likely to be exposed to even more wind that, but being in striking distance of the waterfront at sunrise on a morning extracted straight from a Renaissance master’s painting simply can’t be ignored. The sun rose in unequalled glory from a low cloud bank over the harbor as I circled Fort Independence on Castle Island, and only a memory of that guy freezing to death in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, seventh grade English class (see, we do remember some of that stuff) kept me from circuiting the entire causeway that encircles Pleasant Bay. I figured it might be a long time before someone found my frozen corpse out there.

Four was cold, no doubt, but I recalled the night in my youthful days when I’d gone out late one night at the other four, four below. So when asked about my sanity later in the day, I referenced that night, implying that the current day’s run wasn’t really so bad. And later research into my old logs proved that I was both wrong and right, as my memory of the record coldest run was wrong, but only further proving that I was right, Thursday indeed wasn’t so bad. As it turns out, that earlier record wasn’t four below, it was ten below, the night of January third, nineteen eighty one. There’s a record I have no real desire to exceed.

By Saturday, the surprisingly well attended nine degree club run felt almost comfortable, and afterward, the sun made it actually feel warm till I got back into car and saw it had risen only to twelve. Clearly it was time to do something to stop thinking about the cold, cold, cold.

And that something was only hours away, and a few miles down the road. For that very afternoon we were treated to an event of Olympic proportion right in our backyard. The rumors that had floated for several weeks had been confirmed, and thus Darling Daughter the Younger and I made our way to Boston, braving the hazards of impossible parking, to insert ourselves into the stands at the Boston University
Terrier Classic track meet, where the organizers had assembled an all-star cast for an invitational mile featuring none other than Galen Rupp, silver medalist in the 10,000, which if my recollection is correct made him the first American to medal in that event since 1964. That race was among the most thrilling I’ve ever seen, and here was the star attraction, targeting a sub-three-fifty mile in our backyard. Three-fifty!

The indoor track at Boston University is supposedly one of the fastest (it holds my somewhat less-than-light-speed Second Lap mile personal best), and the facility is among the finest, with ample room for spectators. Good thing, because the place was packed solid, not only with the many club and collegiate athletes of the major meet in progress, but with hordes who’d made the same pilgrimage as we, simply to see history in the making. The crowd which, by sheer physical facility limitations, was smaller than the massive stadium in
London, was to a man completely tuned into the significance of what was happening on the oval. That crowd spilled from the seats, jammed the rails of the bleachers, packed the perimeter of the track, and through sheer numbers of athletes, managed to almost fill the infield as well, and generated an energy level I haven’t experienced live in years, if not decades. That crowd roared louder and louder on each circuit, reaching new crescendos as the first pacer dropped as planned at eight hundred meters, the second pacer stepped aside four hundred meters later, leaving Galen alone to drive the last four hundred meters in fifty-eight flat while the house exploded. The Cubs winning the World Series would not generate the concentrated energy inside that building. It wasn’t electric, it was nuclear.

Rupp missed breaking three-fifty but came close enough that nobody left unsatisfied. Three-fifty-point-nine-two, the fifth fastest indoor mile in history, and the second fastest by an American. And following him, at three-fifty-seven up,
four more clocking under four, and the final, sixth runner, clocking four flat. I had to explain to Darling Daughter how merely sixty years ago it was considered impossible to break the four-minute barrier, and here we’d just witnessed a race where essentially everyone did it – and the guys who’d just run three-fifty-seven were essentially ignored!

While Darling Daughter, the Biggest Fan of the leading runners of our day, was understandably in heaven (as was, to our amusement, the young lady sitting behind us, clearly of the same mindset – who needs rock stars when you have these guys?) I was no less in awe. Rupp and his coach Alberto Salazar, just a few feet from us, not for an expo appearance, but making history on a track that I’ve run.

Suffice to say that we pretty much forgot that it was cold outside.

My video of the race, admittedly not of professional quality, can be seen on YouTube at this link. It’s worth the five minutes, just to absorb the energy of the moment. Enjoy.

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