“Stand tall gentlemen, stand tall” the starter says, executioner style, moments before the start. From the set…bang! through the first bend of the Stanford track, I think, feel, and remember nothing. Jittery emotions that have been brewing inside my stomach the last three days now have a half-mile of track to work themselves out. These moments, I fret over, lose sleep over. I also live for these times. The race is on now and today’s the day to run under 1:51.15, the NCAA regional qualifying standard. Its time, as Eminem might say, to lose oneself in the moment.
Fifty-three seconds. 54. 55. I run through the first lap tucked in 5th place, nearly a second off University of Utah coach Brian Appell’s instructions. On cap and tassel day for Utah’s class of 2003, my graduating class, I risk flunking track 101 because if there’s one thing coach Appell believes in, it is hitting pace. Exactly. I hear Lombardi was a perfectionist too.
That final backstretch, the best part of half-mile racing. About 250 meters out fatigue sets in. The shoulders and lower quads tighten. In every satisfying competition, I find myself asking, â€˜how much do I want it?’ In turn, this is followed directly by â€˜do I really want it that bad?’ Tonight I want it that badly. It’s not even a question. Like a gift from the heavens, lane one opens up as I start my bid for home, moving up to second into the final curve.
Coming out of the final curve I move to lane two, the lane of high hopes. Seventy meters out a blue Kentucky jersey comes up alongside. I dig down to go with him, but my legs simply can’t answer his pace. Neither can they match the U.C. Davis runner forty meters later. Glancing up at the giant scoreboard clock, the seconds click by 1:46, 1:47, 1:48 the winner’s time flashes across – 1:50.87. It’s going to be close, but I can feel that I just missed out.
An hour later, friend and training mate Colby Frazier breaks through with a 4:04 mile. We celebrate with my dad at the only restaurant open, Jack in the Box, at eleven. Graduating college. Colby’s NCAA bid. Thirty-seven hundredths of a second, all in the last forty meters, I was horseshoes and hand grenades close to doing it. But still, you got to love days like these. To my competitors, master skiers and junior racers keep dreaming big and I’ll do the same.