The pack in the “Adro” mile, the night’s final event, hitting 200m.
As I was heading out the door this morning on my way to work, my wife stopped me at the threshold with a question that sounded accusatory. “Where were you last night?” Yeah, where *was* I, anyway? I’m usually home by 7:00 or earlier, and if I’m going to be late, I’m pretty good about communicating clearly enough that my spouse remembers my plans. But in the gray early morning light, she searched her memory and couldn’t recall whatever flimsy excuse I had given for rolling in at 9:30 the night before. And it hadn’t helped that I hadn’t checked messages until almost 8:30 pm. So what had I been up to and with whom had I been consorting? Watching the big game with drinking buddies? Romancing a younger woman? Playing the ponies? Attending a secret political meeting? She just wanted to know.
With a guilty glance down at my sneakers, I mumbled that I had been at a track meet. “But not just any track meet,” I said, trying to sound brighter than I felt, “the Adrian Martinez Classic!”
Maybe, in the end, it will turn out that hanging around at a local track Meet for five hours is as bad, if not worse, as the other forms of straying. But the Adrian Martinez Classic is a unique event, a “meet like no other,” as it self-advertises. It is mostly a collection of mile races, beginning in the late afternoon with races for high school kids, then, in turn, youth, veterans, seniors, masters, and open runners. And then it morphs into a high-performance meet that includes stacked 800s, 5Ks, and ultimately miles. From local riff-raff taking a break from the roads hoping to notch sub-5:00 miles, to pro runners chasing Olympic Trials qualifying times, the meet is weird mix of casual, even recreational racing, together with professional speed. It goes on for a long time, but somehow is never boring.
Two years ago, Garrett O’Toole, a senior at the Middlesex School a few miles up the road, ran the nation’s fastest prep mile of the year, blazing a 4:01.89 and nearly running down Leo Manzano in the final stretch. This year, ANOTHER local high school kid, Thomas Ratcliffe, a senior at Concord-Carlisle High School, ran even faster, clocking a 4:01.50, making him the four fastest high schooler in 2016 so far. It just seems nuts that twice in three years, we’d be watching a high school kid from Concord take a serious run at sub-4:00.
One of the other attractions of this meet is that the setting feels so intimate and local. The track is situated in the middle of town, with a couple of adjacent ball fields and a playground nearby. There are no stands, to speak of, and so the crowd just distributes itself along the modest chain-link fence that surrounds the track. From this trackside perspective, one can take in the truly astonishing sight of professional athletes up close. I say “astonishing” because a body that is capable of running sub 1:50 (men) or sub-2:05 (women) for 800m is not normal. It is the product of great genes and years of the most intense training, an exotic recipe that serves up a superhero’s physique that is ideally suited to making 25s 200s look routine.
I happened to be watching all this with som former athletes and their parents, and the word that kept being used to describe what we were seeing was “thoroughbreds.” The pro runners just looked different, every one of them introduced as the champion of this or that, as they paraded in front of us on their way to the starting post. And then the race would start, and every one of them would run splits that would stand out as extraordinary except that the whole pack was capable of such speed. Once again, I mused that in heat after heat, the fast running became repetitive, but somehow never boring.
I left the meet after the final race, as the last light of twilight faded from the sky, the crowd dispersed, and the evening gloom obscured the scene. From Concord, I drove into Cambridge to pick up my son, from an evening class.
In the car, I tried to describe the meet to him. When I got to the part where I tried to describe the awe-inspiring sight of pro runners, he nodded, although he is not really a fan of track and field. He talked about the sight of pro basketball players seen up close, so much more impressive when seen in real life as opposed to on the screen of our TVs.
“Thoroughbreds,” he said.