Penn Relays

Penn Relays is a phenomenal event. It was by far the biggest stadium and largest audience I have ever had the gift to compete in front of.

My first time on the UPenn track was in eighth grade. I ran the open mile. I had been on the verge of breaking 5:00 the duration of the season, working my way down from 5:27 to 5:15 to 5:09 to 5:06. The benchmark was calling in the distance, and on such a large stage, it seemed almost inevitable.

The day of the race was hot, and Franklin Feild offered no shade. This was the city meet for a Catholic Student Track club I was a member of. I sat down on the infield underneath a tent for an hour with my spikes on waiting for the race to start. I had done my normal middle school warm up which included stretching, light jogging, and fooling around. When we were all placed on the line, I was number 24 of 25, which was different for me, because I was the third best runner in the league.
Pictured: Pain (I'm the one in the center in green).

Around the first turn and the view changes from stadium seats to a large jumbotron fixed to an old building that doesn't belong on a stadium and would fit much nicer on an old train station or library. Instead this small castle was thrown on to one side of Franklin Feild to cap off the north end zone. The straights feel a little short, they might possibly be, and then you end up right back where you started: in front of a crowd that extends straight up a mountain of stands.

I did not break five on that beautiful track. I was not even close. I ran 5:26, a time reminiscent of the beginning of the season. I would not return to that track until Junior year High School.

Junior year, my 800 time was drastically improving. I dropped from a 2:10 to a 2:07 to a 2:04 and had earned a spot on the A relay for the team. I was the third leg, so arguably the weakest leg, and you would be right. But I was confident.

Or I was just strangely nervous. That morning at 5:00 AM I ate a klondike bar, then got in the car to go to the race. I would never tell my coaches that, but I was scared and thought eating it would help me be less scared? Calm my nerves? I don't know, but it happened.

Here I am in the front!
We were the first team there, in part because of our schools proximity, and because that's what our coaches want for every meet. We stood at the entrance by the UPenn practice fields far outside the stadium under the elevated, stone-supported train tracks for an hour before we were let in. We then walked up the stairs and onto a high bridge that led into the stadium area. It felt like entering a castle over a moat. On the other side were booths filled with running apparel (predominately Nike), music, contests, and most importantly, a gorgeous track inside a large stadium.
We warmed up as soon as we dropped our stuff off. We jogged around on the Astro-turf back where we entered the complex and came back with just enough time to wait around for an hour. We were the B heat, which meant we had to be shuffled around in between the A and the C heat outside around the stadium and along the closed off streets all in our spikes. When we finally were on the track, our warmup run was a distant memory and all the runners were cold and nerve heavy.

There I am in the back.
But none of that mattered when the gun went off. Our first two legs were strong, we were seeded at P and we were running a F time at least. When I got the baton I flew, I passed so many runners around the first turn, including the Jamaicans and I held them off around the second turn leading back towards the strange building. I kept going. Around the next turn I could feel the Jamaican teams behind me, five or six guys gunning it just as hard as I was. No, they were working way harder. They blew by me, rocketed by me even. My legs were becoming metal barbells as I came into the final turn, but I kept going through the burning sensation. I handed off the baton in the same spot I got it in and a time of 2:03. A PR and I didn't ruin everything, is the same a victory in my book.

After that run instead of cooling down we made our way over to the bridge we walked in on to lay in the shade beneath it on a bed of grass so soft and fresh it felt like clean sheets.

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