The National Championship on the Line
Original Title: A Rookie Mistake and a National Championship
I ran the two-mile in high school. That tells you that I'm no longer young. Since then, up until about a month ago, I hadn't run a race on the track since I ran those 8 lappers. This past weekend, I ran two relays at the USATF National Club Championship. A 4 x 800 meter relay, where each of four runners runs two laps of the 400 meter track, and a distance medley consisting of a 1200 meter (3 lap) leg, followed by a 400 meter (1 lap) leg, then an 800 meter (2 lap) leg, and finishing with a 1600 meter (4 lap) leg, totalling 4000 meters or just under 2 1/2 miles. I was asked to run the 1600 on my club's (Shore AC) "B" team.
Most of the teams in the meet were specialty teams, either mostly distance runners, sprinters and jumpers, or throwers (one of whom had my favorite team name of the meet - Lords of the Ring). My club, the Shore AC of New Jersey, is unusual, it can be roughly divided into three segments: a local/regional competitive running team; a regional field team; and a national level travelling team. The three segments rarely come together, it requires a rare confluence of circumstances to make this happen. The meet has to be important enough for the travelling club to come in, it also needs to be close by enough to get significant particpation from the regional members, and it must be a track meet (not a road race) or the throwers, jumpers and sprinters have no reason to appear. So, when the national club championships were held in NY City, it was such a time.
The meet, which began on Friday evening. Many middle distance events and some long events were held then. By the time the evening was over, Shore AC's men's team had amassed a meaningful lead. That lead grew early on Saturday as Shore's racewalkers picked up a few points against some specialty racewalk teams.
Shore AC's men's team had been leading the meet all day. As the day wore on, several clubs began eating away at our lead. As we got to the final two relays, Shore AC led NY Elite by 11 points. NY Elite is a crushingly good club in the relays. The next to last event was the distance medley relay (DMR) described above. NY Elite won the DMR, running 10:16.24 and picking up 10 points. Following them across the line was was the Syracuse Chargers team, just over 3 seconds back. Roughly 7 seconds more allowed the Central Park Track Club to pick up their 6 points and 13 seconds later, Shore's "A" team held off Executive Track Club's team, and thus, Shore picked up 5 points. So, going into the final event, a mere 6 points separated the two teams.
Unusually enough, Shore's team, wound up running in the "slower" first heat of the final event, the 4x400 meter relay. Shore wound up winning it pretty easily, in a relatively good 3:12.81. Now, the waiting began. We'd done the math, and knew that based on previous performances, NY Elite might well win, and if that happened, we would need to finish fourth or better to win the meet, while fifth would get us a tie.
The second heat lined up, we were all praying for a relatively slow race. NY Elite promptly grabbed the lead, so our nervousness ratcheted up. They continued building their lead throughout the race. Every time the baton was passed, we checked the clock and did the math. Those quick "in the head" calculations kept saying "too close to call." When it was over, NY Elite crossed the line in 3:07.92. The other teams were some distance back, but closely bunched. Our fate was in their hands. We each looked at clock, the other teams, and back to the clock. As it ticked past 3:13, no other teams had crossed the line. Virtually all the Shore AC members were going through the same process, a grin crossing their face and a little fist pump and the word "yes" crossing their lips.
Relays are a funny race, sometimes something goes wrong, a pass occurring outside the exchange zone, etc. Tim Brennan, the travelling team coach told us not to celebrate yet. A couple of minutes later, the relay results were posted, and Shore AC was listed second! A few more minutes passed before the team results were posted and Shore AC was listed at the top of the men's list, edging out NY Elite by a mere 4 points.
The men's final results were: Shore AC - 140 points; NY Elite - 136; Executive Track - 103; Greater Boston Track Club - 63; and Syracuse Chargers, whose 45 points captured fifth place by a single point over Central Park Track Club. The women's results were: Lemans Track Club - 160.50; Greater Boston Track Club - 148.50; Mid Atlantic Elite - 94; Central Park Track Club - 72 and rounding out the top five; Shore AC - 40 points.
In addition to Tim Brennan, Shore's efforts were orchestrated by Elliott Denman and Gerard "Coach G.P." Pearlberg, of RunningBuzz.com, author of Run Tall, Run Easy.