Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 'Peaked at Age 13' Post

Go lions!

I was 13 in February of 1992 when I ran the Junior Olympic Mile at the Mobil 1 Invitational.  It was, to the best of my knowledge, a rather short-lived elite meet run at the Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.  Roughly the equivalent of a Diamond League meet, or the Milrose Games (without the storied history, of course).  Mobil was at the time headquartered in nearby Reston, prior to their merger with Exxon.  I think I still have the promotional poster somewhere, but I have not been able to find it recently.  But I found an old picture of my college dorm room, where I hung it proudly next to a bunch of National Geographic Maps and a random Big Blue on the Corner giveaway poster.  Without the (impossible) ability to enhance photos I can't quite make out all the names, but I know the big ones--Noureddine Morceli, Jackie Joyner-Kersee,  Evelyn Ashford, Willie Gault.  Scheduled to appear, but did not were Renaldo Nehemiah and the late Antonio Pettigrew.  Olympic Champions, world record holders, and a super bowl champion.  Morceli was chasing the world indoor record, but fell short.  His mile, not all that close to breaking the record, still stands as the 63rd fastest indoor mile of all time:  I was pretty much watching from the outside lane of the track while it was going down.  The best document of the meet overall was an article I found in the Baltimore Sun, of all places.  There is only an indirect mention of my personal performance, however.

So how I did get to share the track with some legends and heroes?  I was a bit of a phenom as a young runner, stretching back to at least age 6.  I had several top performances at regional and national AAU/TAC meets (I believe I won a regional 3200 at the AAU regional at Slippery Rock when I was 9, finished 24th at Cross Country Nationals in Birmingham in that same era).  But I was burned out by my teens and took a break from youth running to make sure I would be at my best for High School.  But I guess I had a reputation and my parents got the call asking if I wanted to take part in a special Junior Olympic mile at the meet.  It was for under 14 folks, or at least anyone who was not yet in high school.  I was still in shape, I was the manager of the high school cross country team that fall, and used to run the course after practice going sub 18:30 for 3 miles.  I think I would have been on varsity running those times if I had been a year older.  I talked to my future XC coach and got some mile-specific workouts.  I can't even remember what a typical week was like, how often I ran and how far.  For some context, I did the Cherry Blossom about 8 weeks later in 1 hour 10 minutes for that 10 miler (peaked at age 13, I tell ya!). 

My mother and I went down the day of the meet early to catch everything.  As a participant I was able to go anywhere, and I think I spent took full advantage, hanging on the outside lanes during the distance events.  I remember Maksim Tarasov being particularly entertaining at the pole vault.  Willie Gault didn't do much in the hurdles, but at one point came over to the section where my mom was sitting.  He had to be just a few weeks past the end of his season with the Raiders, since he didn't retire until 93.  He just recently set some fastest times in the 100 and 200 for someone over the age of 50 last year.  My race was the last even of the meet, sometime around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. 

I don't remember much.  I was racing one my 'rivals' from growing up--Robby Ficker (younger brother of Desiree the marathoner/triathlete and son of Robin the famous heckler from Bullets games).  I think he had done the mile the previous year and everyone seemed to know him and expect him to win.  The particulars of the race have faded but I assume I hung close and let him dictate the pace.  And some point on the last lap I made a move and we were pretty much stride for stride to finish the race in 5:16.7.  Since it was a legit meet with the proper equipment it was literally a photo finish.  I might still have the photo somewhere, I kept it for a long time.  After a little while (perhaps to develop the photo) they declared me the winner and I believe it was a meet record for the event.  That's one I might still hold...

In one of those Runner's World 'back story' pieces they interview Meb.  He mentioned he ran a 5:20 mile in middle school and his coach declared they had a future Olympian on their hands.  I also ran a 5:20 but somehow I'm not toting the line in London this week.  Ha.  He might not have peaked yet at 35 plus, while I peaked at...