17 years ago (almost exactly one half a life ago) I ran a 4:48 mile. It's actually a funny story. A friend and teammate on my high school track team wanted to run a sub-five minute mile. I ran the 800, so offered to rabbit for him, since no one else on the team could run a mile that fast.
So at our next meet, away at our rival Woodside High, we lined up to run the mile. I put him on my hip and ran what at the time was a mellow half mile, making sure he was on pace to finish the rest and hit his goal. But midway through the second lap, I said to myself, why not just keep going? So I did.
And when I hit the third lap, and it looked like sub-five was in reach I said hell, why not finish. So I did. John and I sprinted the last 200 and, because I was a competitive bastard, I edged him out in 4:48. He was thrilled, and so was I.
The funny story continues.
Doubled over, I heard that the 4x400 relay, which I was set to anchor, would be run in reverse order: Varsity Boys which usually ran last would be running first. So my team started lining up. The gun went off and I was still wheezing.
Fortunately, Woodside was no match for our team. By good friend Nick's third leg, we had a half lap lead. I smiled, knowing I could basically jog and we'd still win. Good thing, since that was about all I had.
But about 1/4 of the way through Nick's lap, he started to limp. By midway, he was barely moving faster than a walk. Earlier in the meet Nick had tweaked his knee, but hadn't told anyone. Now he could hardly run. And Woodside was gaining. I watched in horror, as the Woodside runner made up ground and on the final turn blasted past Nick and took the lead.
I looked at Nick, and he looked at me. Hobbling, he lunged and put the baton into my hand. "Go man, go!" he urged, helpless, apologizing eyes. He had watched me run that mile and knew how little time I had to recover. I set off and by the time I hit the first turn, my legs went dead.
17 years later, I remember this one lap perhaps more vividly than any other race in my track "career." I watched Woodside's anchor stretch his lead. And I got pissed.
I am generally very mild mannered. It takes a lot to set me off. But when I am running, if you're not standing on the sidelines to cheer me on, your very presence is a personal affront and I am there to crush you.
Something clicked. My legs woke up. And I bore down on this poor kid. On the back stretch, I started reeling him in. As we started the turn for home, I knew I had him.
That was my thing. I had this kick. This kick that never lost. This kick that was always enough. This kick that let me split lanky black kids a head taller than me, who gawked as this scrawny white kid come blazing through. This kick that let me pass on the outside, hit lane five and win. Every time.
And that's exactly what I did. I hit that final turn, leaned in and kicked.
It was over before it started. The guy had no chance. He glanced over as I went past and I remember seeing this look. It said, "huh?" Pure, teenage disbelief.
That mile time is still my PR. I ran some great 800s. I even puked a couple times. But I am more proud of that 4x400 leg than I am of any race I ever ran. Even more proud than diving across the finish line to win the relay in our league championship, when we already had the meet locked up.
Oh, I ran a mile today. Company relay, first ever. I ran 5:02. I was shooting for sub-five.
I needed a rabbit.