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Carbs for breakfast. Carbs for lunch. Rest a lot; get a little work done. Focus on the race.
Nasty, cold morning here in Boston. Nasty chest cold too. Horrible hacking, wet cough and an almost healed foot. Lots of question marks…
Call coach Hislop for counsel and race strategy review. “Plan my race then race my plan.” Okay. All ahead full.
Check-in at the Reggie Lewis Center near Northeastern University campus. I warm up in the cold with fellow Masters (Masters = 40+ years old). They remind me more than once that Erik “Ned” Nedeau is the one to beat. Younger, better leg speed (and today much healthier lungs)! My foot feels okay. I’m surprised at my relative lack of nervousness.
The warm up facility is sparse. Picture seventy-five Masters, elite high school superstars and Olympic medalists cooped up in a small gym together with medical staff, equipment, refreshment coolers and a short carpeted runway bisecting the room diagonally. I do two minutes of stretching and hazard two short strides (warmup sprints) on the runway before they escort us with ceremony down a long hall and deposit us, without ceremony, in a cubicle near the track.
Fifteen minutes to race time.
We strap into our racing spikes, jump up and down in place (a poor substitute for a warm up) and try not to make eye contact with each other.
Event marshals line us up and we stand in place five more minutes before finally being led in an obedient line to the track where three thousand raucous fans stomp and roar!
Four minutes until race time. Too close for real warm up strides. After a couple of short bursts they line us up for introductions.
The talented field consists of the fastest Masters milers in the country. With the best qualifying time, I wear a white #1 hip tag and am placed in lane one. I’m careful not to obscure the logo on my singlet for Get Air Trampoline Parks, my corporate sponsor.
We will race a full mile on a 200 meter track. To make up the roughly 9.3 additional meters the starting line is set back from the finish line. The following description is in yards:
Final instructions from the starter and then the gun…My first step is off balanced, but I catch my stride and am off. No one challenges me as I claim the lead around the banked turn and try to judge a 32.5 first lap. Without proper warmup, I miss badly and come through at a too brisk 31.5. I ease up on the throttle, careful not to over correct and land a decent 64.5 first quarter. I lean back into the effort and come through 660 at 1:36.5 which keeps me slightly ahead of world record pace. I somehow lose a degree of focus and saw my 2:10 880 split.
“Okay, good. I’m still in this. I’ve given myself a chance. Finish up with a 2:09 and I’ve done it.”
The crowd is at a fever pitch as I consciously increased my effort. “Just make it 3:15.” My mind begins to fog. My 1100 split is something like 2:42.5. My mind reaches back to the chase pack hoping for support but none comes. I resist checking the size of my lead in the huge monitor at the back turn, choosing instead to reserve my dwindling mental faculties and focus forward.
Pressuring the pace is costing me. My congested lungs are unable to keep up with this sustained effort. The vice tightens on my chest. A twinge of detached disappointment with the number on the clock as I passed 1320 at 3:16. “I’m one second down but not out.” I throw myself at the pace. Race plans call for a marked change of gears with two laps to go. With the low altitude this deliberate change of rhythm should energize me but it doesn’t. My legs protest in pain as I accelerate off the turn and into the back stretch.
The announcer explains my predicament and my throbbing mind registers the encouraging chant of the crowd, “Brad-Bar-ton, Brad-Bar-ton…
The crowd’s encouragement feeds my effort around and on to the bell lap. I’m really moving now. I don’t see my split but it must have been respectable. I learn later that I gapped the field and stole ambition from my chief rival the talented Erik Nedeau.
I tried in vain to redouble my efforts for the final pull. This last oval begins in desperation, turns unmanageable in the back stretch, and erodes to a sheer ugly grind to the tape. This isn’t fun anymore! Numb, hazy, throbbing, in a daze I turn and touch the others in a weak imitation of a high five. Someone hands me a victory bouquet of flowers. I’m thinking “Funeral?”
I’d finished with a disappointing 4:24.13. After a moment, I jog a victory lap to the roar of a cheering crowd, barely registering in my oxygen-starved brain.
It is now Sunday evening. I’m sitting in a crowded terminal in Phoenix. I receive a text from my new Masters friend Lance Elliott from Minnesota. His simple message: “Fun weekend. Unfinished business…”
Lance is right.