It is ok to hate your personal bests. Actually, I’d encourage it. I hate most of mine. When you get a new one, it’s so exciting! You see your name printed next to a fancy new number that you’ve never seen before, and it validates everything you’ve been working towards. But then the next day you wake up, watch the race video and think, ‘I could have gone faster had I just done this, this and this.’ Maybe the next few weeks you’ll still beam with pride when congratulated on the number, but time passes and it grows old. Then you’re sick of it. And then it’s 3 years of self-loathing and conversations about the existence of short tracks. But when I crossed the finish line in South Carolina and saw the clock was way lower than ever before, I flipped out!
In 2012, while a senior at Columbia, I was able to use a few connections to gain a late entry into a small Monday night 1500 at Swarthmore College. Training had been going really well, and racing was on a sharp upswing. I stepped on the line calm and ready, knowing that the 3:39 Olympic Trials qualifying time was well within reach of my fitness. The plan was just to follow the leader, and slowly move up in the field. We strung out immediately, and with the help of Nick Willis pacing for 1300 meters, I ran splits of 59-58-57-41 for the American Collegiate Record* of 3:35.59.
A couple years later I had a conversation with Nick about why that race was so fast, and I think he summed it up perfectly: Most rabbits go out fast, slow down and step off after their slowest 100. Now the athletes behind have lost their momentum, and have to shift gears again to head into the kick. In that race, we were wound up and released.
If your goal is to break 5 minutes in the mile, you can most likely find a race that would set you up for a chance to do it. It’s nice in HS and most of college, to have so many prospective races setup to get the times you are chasing. Unfortunately, at the professional level, you have to earn [deservedly so] the right to be in those races unless you get lucky being in the right place at the right time (i.e-Swarthmore, Furman). Once you reach the Diamond League level, you have world-class rabbits and competition that produce sub 3:35 races with regularity. At a certain level you run into this problem again since 3:26-3:29 races are extremely rare, and getting rabbits that are capable of coming through in 2:45 is a tall order.
From Swarthmore until Furman, the fastest race I had been in was a 3:38.5 race last summer in the ‘C’ heat at Heusden-Zoleder [and I won]. Saturday night at Furman, I was lucky enough to be in a fast race that ran from the gun. We had a fresh and capable rabbit, as well as a couple brave runners who were fearless about attacking the pace and chasing the standard. But as noted, these opportunities are special, and it’s of utmost importance to capitalize on them when they do come. And hopefully then, you run fast enough to climb the ladder and get into the next tier of professional meets. It’s a tough, but fair process.
During our cool down the conversation was overwhelmingly positive about the success of the meet, and we couldn’t help but wonder why there aren’t more races like this in the United States throughout the summer. The atmosphere was intimate, the field was competitive, and the pace was honest. After last summer, having attended the Michigan Track Classic and the Falmouth Mile, I was inspired to create my own race, The Hoka One One Long Island Mile this September 9th. It’s an easy formula to replicate, and if enough individual race organizers through out the country decided to put one of their own on, we could have a competitive domestic circuit in our own backyard during the summer months that could rival Europe’s. The US distance scene is plenty deep, and it’d be a great boost to the local running community and for athletes who cannot afford to spend multiple weeks overseas.
Just food for thought.
A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders for the next two US Championships by achieving the World/Olympic ‘A’ Standard. I am stepping away with a lot of confidence having closed in 54-mid off an honest pace. Now the focus shifts to the US Championships and a top 3 finish. Back to work!
My next race on the schedule is an 800 this Thursday at the Adrian Martinez Classic in Concord, MA.
(By the way, I think it’s an awesome experience and fully support HS runners getting a chance to compete at professional races. I apologize for the inability of sarcasm to be translated via the Internet.)