Friday afternoon I drove over two hours one way to race for under 140 seconds, and it was totally worth it. The Nick Symmonds Springfield 800 has quickly become one of my favorite races of the year.
Now in its third year, the event is a straight 800 meter road race hosted by Olympian and former Willamette University runner Nick Symmonds. With separate heats for walkers, and youth, masters, open, and elite runners, there is something for everyone, and when you’re not racing, you can watch the other heats.
The course is absolutely straight and flat, and this year there were volunteers with large signs marking each 200 meter split. My only slight quibbles were the lack of aid stations along the course and no finishers’ medals. Just kidding! You could see the finish from the start, so it would take some doing to get lost on this course.
I arrived at the race site early, having allowed plenty of travel time from Portland. Even though the race has taken place at the same location all three years, I still always leave a little time in case I get lost. (The only time that’s actually happened was when I was driving a group of friends to a race – ironically also in Springfield – and Mapquest let me down. One of my passengers dubbed me “Magellan”, and that’s stuck with me ever since).
Despite being over an hour early for my heat, registration was already set up, and friendly volunteers were quick to give me my number, timing chip, and T-shirt.
For some reason, the shorter the race, the more nervous I get. I was approximately 52 times more nervous for this one than I’ve been for any marathon! I was also concerned about the effects of the long drive on the freshness of my legs. But once I pinned on my number, tied on my racing shoes, and began a light warmup run along the course, I could tell it was going to be a good day. I had an unusually good bounce in my step, and a surprising lack of rust and soreness from the drive. My fear gave way to excitement and anticipation.
Sometimes a perfect song gets lodged in my head before a big athletic event, a song that serves to relax and calm me, and is completely appropriate to the task at hand. (I remember “Automatic” by the Pointer Sisters running through my mind during a basketball game once, and the shots seemed to fall without much effort that day.) This time, as I arrived at the race site my iPod was playing “All Down The Line” by The Rolling Stones, a perfect pre-race “ear worm” as I warmed up along the dotted yellow line that ran the length of the course.
Most of the time, I just run the best I can and let the results fall where they may, grateful for any awards I’m lucky enough to receive. But I have to admit, I really covet the cool Nick Symmonds Springfield 800 street signs that serve as the prizes for the heat winners. Last year, my hopes were dashed when I spotted masters track champion Kevin Paulk warming up, and this year another accomplished trackster , Thomas Kreuzpeintner, showed up to put me in my place. Both runners are friends and each year their presence was a big help in pacing, so I’m glad they were there… But dang, those signs are cool!
One of the great things about this event is the presence of elite runners from the Oregon Track Club. This year they formed a human centipede that ran along with each heat, encouraging kids and adults alike. Nick Symmonds mingled with the kids before their heat started, and they took off like a shot to impress their hero.
After the kids, it was time for the masters to gather at the starting line. Thomas boldly predicted a victory for himself, but the guy on my other side was reluctant to divulge his estimated or hoped-for time. Having not run an 800 since last year’s Nick Symmonds race, I decided to just follow Kreuzpeintner and see how it went.
The horn sounded and we were off. The first 200 meters always seems kind of easy, since you are relieved to finally be racing. I settled in behind the two leaders and tried to relax, a little surprised at how good I felt. Around the halfway point I suddenly felt that I could potentially speed up the pace and take over the lead, but caution quickly took over, and my lack of recent 800 experience and the fear of going too fast too soon held me back.
At 600 meters I was still feeling good and running on the heels of the same two leaders. I followed Thomas and edged ahead of the other guy. Around the spot where I had faded the last two years, three blocks from the finish, I anticipated the familiar sensation of rubber legs. But then I realized, “No, damn it, I still feel good!”, so I tightened up my form, and put everything I had into a final kick. Unfortunately, it was a little too late, as Thomas held me off and another runner who had been lurking somewhere behind pulled by me for second place.
I felt great, I had fun, and overall it was a successful race, but as with all races of a mile or less, in the back of my mind I wondered if I had held back too much. In an 800 there’s no time for hesitation: If you feel good, you have to go now. There’s no room for reflection or contemplation. That’s what makes it so much fun. That, and the pure sensation of running fast!
Now, if I’d only run the tangents better, I might have shaved a few seconds off my time. Again, just kidding! The course is absolutely straight, another reason it’s such a fast race.
Eclectic Edge Racing quickly posted results on a bulletin board at the conclusion of each heat, and printouts of each finisher’s individual results were also available.
After the masters heat we got to compare notes, relax, and watch the open and elite heats. Appropriately, Symmonds out-kicked Ben Blankenship and Andrew Wheating to win his own race in 1:51. I overheard Wheating telling someone he had already done his workout that morning, so at least he had an excuse!
This is such a unique event, and I highly recommend it. It’s a lot of fun to test your half-mile speed on a straight, flat course, but you don’t have to run it hard to enjoy the race. Walk it, jog it, or race it, or just show up to spectate. It’s a blast!
Results (For full results click HERE)
1. Jacob Truitt, 2:08
2. Hal Barnett, 2:33
3. Nathan Tavakolian, 2:37
1. Wren Hamilton, 2:46
2. Emelia Sherman, 2:49
3. Samara Park, 2:54
1. Andi Camp, 2:33
2. Cathy Russell, 3:39
3. Charlie Butler, 3:40
1. Thomas Kreuzpeintner, 2:16
2. Alec Nevalainen, 2:18
3. Joe Dudman, 2:19
1. Liz Anjos, 2:27
2. Lauren Johnson, 2:29
3. Sally Kipyego, 2:30
1. Daniel Lindbloom, 2:17
2. Nicholas Johnson, 2:27
3. Kevin Chelimo, 2:28
1. Nick Symmonds, 1:51
2. Ben Blankenship, 1:51
3. Andrew Wheating, 1:53