On Saturday night at BU, Galen Rupp made it two-for-two; the Oregon Project’s most decorated athlete added another American Record to his resume, running two miles in 8:07.41, two seconds faster than Bernard Lagat’s time from last year’s Millrose Games, and only three seconds off Kenenisa Bekele’s world record.
I had journeyed to BU for the 5K record nine days earlier. I watched the two mile, however, from the comfort of my living room (made possible by my deciding to shell out big $$ for a Flotrack Pro subscription). It wasn’t the same as being at the track, but it was a pretty good deal all the same. The coverage was informative, the splits were plentiful, and the announcers did a great job communicating the excitement in the building.
It’s no wonder that Rupp and the Oregon Project have adopted BU as a venue for record attempts. Not only is the track fast, the building is fast. Even a moderate-size crowd can make a lot of noise, and having that crowd practically on top of the track, urging you on, can make a big psychological difference in running fast times. Add to that the cooperation of the BU staff for scheduling the races, as well as the pre- and post-race workouts, and it’s an ideal set-up for a detail-minded coach like Salazar.
And we, the Boston running community, benefit by being able to rub elbows with some of America’s best distance talent. I don’t mind admitting that it was cooler than cool to arrive at the track on Thursday night to see Jordan Hasay, Mary Cain, and Treniere Moser finishing up their light day-before-the-meet session with some strides, and then see Rupp knock off a few sub-60s 400s just to stretch his legs. It’s inspiring to run on the same track — perhaps even to run faster thinking of all that speed on display.
But I can’t help wonder about the echo chamber. For me and probably for you (since you’re reading this), it’s great to watch someone go after records, but it’s also got a limited appeal to anyone outside the very hard-core running order. It’s great to stand and cheer inside BU’s lyrical bandbox of a track, but on the day that Rupp ran his 2-mile record, there were 5 times as many people watching a high school track meet at the Reggie Lewis Center a couple of miles away. One guess about which event got more coverage from the local papers.
One of the most interesting things about taking in Rupp’s record attempt from home was the experience of watching it with my non-running spouse.
“So is this a big, important race?”
“Uh, no, not really. It’s just that BU has this really fast track, and everyone comes to this meet to run fast times, and try to qualify for championship meets later in the season.”
“So why are we watching?”
“Well, Galen Rupp — he’s probably the top distance runner in the U.S. right now — he’s going for an American Record in the indoor 2 mile.”
“Is he trying to qualify for something?”
“No, actually nobody else in the world really runs the 2 mile. Usually they run 3000m.”
“Why isn’t he running 3000m then?”
“He actually already has the American record for 3000m.”
“And he used to have that 2 mile record, but then Bernard Lagat took it away, and now Rupp wants it back.”
“Well that wasn’t very nice of Lagat.”
“No, I guess not. Anyway, he’s got all these guys in the race to set the pace for him.”
“Isn’t that cheating?”
“No, it’s not cheating. I mean, Bannister had two pacers when he broke the four-minute mile. If he didn’t have pacers, then the race would get tactical.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means that no one wants to lead, because it’s harder to lead than to follow. So everyone runs slowly so that they won’t have to lead, and then at the end, everyone sprints like crazy, but the overall time is slow. So when someone wants to go for a record, they hire a couple of “rabbits” — runners who set the pace for a while and then drop out. So Rupp doesn’t have to worry about anyone else in this race, Basically everyone is in it to help him run fast.”
And so on. And then we watched the race, with me making occasional comments about the rabbits or the pace. It was impressive, but when it was over and Rupp had lapped everyone in the field and gotten the record, there was definitely something missing. The excitement of actually being there didn’t translate well to our living room. Nor, I suppose to the pages of the Globe and Herald.