This was it. The day that he’d finally been waiting for. The big day which he’d been preparing for since the end of last season and possibly even longer. Really, who knew anymore? He didn’t. His friends didn’t. His coaches certainly didn’t. Maybe he’d been preparing since he’d been born.
And yet he didn’t feel ready as he lay in bed, three hours before the race was to begin. He stared at the ceiling wide-eyed and unable to sleep as the green LED clock on his bedside table flashed 3:30. He thought back to his last month’s training. Most recently, he ran 75 miles last week, preceding that one with back to back century weeks. This week, he ran a mere 45 miles and his body felt great – younger than it had in years.
Yet something didn’t feel right. He did everything he could, but for some reason he feared it wasn’t enough. What if the Finnish runner showed up – the one who ran a three-fifty-two-six in Florida last month? Or worse – what if he didn’t? What if the time came and he stood uncontested in the mile? Would he be able to push hard enough – could he break his three-fifty-five-four?
He tried to psych himself up – tell himself it didn’t matter any more at this point, what happens, happens, but it was no use. So he got up and walked around the hotel a bit. Other runners were milling about in their sweats (since when did America become such a strong running country? But then again, the same could be said for his native Israel…) mostly talking to each other. Every now and then one would smile at him, although he was almost certain nobody recognized him.
He walked outside and shivered in the chilly Colorado midnight air. He glanced at his Timex – 4:02. He read somewhere in an article about a law student from NY who slept outside. The marathoner was quoted as saying four to six in the morning are the coldest hours of the day. Kid knows his stuff. Especially out here in Colorado. The miler made his way back up to his room to put on some music.
At 5:30 he hailed a cab. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe he won’t stop at the Armory. Maybe he’ll just keep on driving into the night. Maybe I won’t have to race. But that’s not the way these things ever work out. They pulled up at a quarter to six.
The miler jogged to the midfield and surveyed the situation. There were runners of all sizes stretching. Some were doing jumping jacks. That looks like a good idea. The awkwardly tall 6-foot-4 miler unfolded his wings and flapped them as he silently bopped up and down. Inside, he was calm. He was beginning to get a feel for the race. He stopped jumping and walked around the track, noting each bump, every slight rise and fall of the clay surface. He was, after all, Israel’s golden boy – their first runner to break 4:00 for the mile. Or to break 4:15, for that matter.
As he finished walking the track , he glanced at his watch. 6:20. Things should be starting soon. He started to jog the inside track as he tried to search out familiar runners’ faces. There was Bruno Helfstatt – no surprise he made it. The Frenchman was here too. He shouldn’t give me much of an issue. I’ve taken him to places he’s never been before – maybe it’s time for him to revisit the land of threes.
The land of the threes, as he’d taken to calling it. Any miler worth their weight in spikes would tell you the same thing. Once you break four, it’s a whole ‘nother game. To some it was known as the forbidden land, to others, hell. The miler called it the land of the threes. He thought it made the most sense.
The runners began to line up as the ref walked between them, cooing to them as he always did – his instructions more to calm their enormously overworked hearts than to actually instruct.
As he watched the ref walk between them, a runner appeared behind him. Who is that in the beard and that wild hair? He seems so…familiar. Wearing…American colors!? It’s him! He’s here! He’s American! But the moment was too late to change race tactics. He would run out on pace, and win the race, whatever it took. He would do what he’d been trained to do so many times before.
The miler closed his eyes and waited for the Ref to speak. On your marks…