Part 2: 2006
20 years later, I was a 41-year-old masters runner when I got an invitation to return to Des Moines to run the Masters Mile at the Drake Relays. The year 2006 was shaping up as one of my best years on the roads and the track, so I jumped at the chance to run another mile on the blue oval.
The field was stacked with accomplished “veteran” speedsters, so once again I knew I had little chance to earn a medal, but they would probably pull me to a fast time and the experience would be incredible.
My flight landed in a downpour and the airport pay phone wasn’t working, so instead of a warm and dry hotel shuttle, I walked the few blocks through the rain to my hotel. I roomed with one of my fellow milers, and we traded stories and advice. In the morning we met the rest of the field and checked in at the stadium amidst a steady warm, wet rain and swirling winds.
While the stadium was still buzzing, the atmosphere didn’t seem quite as electric as it had two decades earlier. Perhaps it had looked different through the eyes of a young, green, adrenalized college student, or maybe the weather kept the crowds away and dampened the spirits of those who did show up. Or maybe watching “old” guys run four laps wasn’t the main attraction. But despite all that, it was still a major thrill to be there, competing again in one of the country’s biggest track meets.
There were seven of us in the field, broken into three groups: Two guys who clearly outclassed the rest of us, three of us who were evenly matched in the middle of the pack, and a couple guys in their 50s who were setting amazingly fast age group records.
As expected, the two greyhounds quickly opened a gap on the rest of us. I tucked in with the other two guys my speed, and we traded the lead to break through the wind and rain for the others. While there was a bit of a predicable headwind/tailwind pattern, it was swirling enough in the bowl of the stadium that an occasional gust would surprise us and knock us sideways for a stride or two. The rain didn’t bother me much, but that wind was a beast!
This time the four laps seemed to go by much faster than in 1986, and soon I was approaching the final turn and leaning into the wind, doing everything I could to hold off the two runners at my sides. I couldn’t quite edge them out, and I ended up finishing 5th out of 7, about nine seconds slower than my college days. Given the conditions, I was happy with my effort, and glad I had accepted the invitation to return to the blue track.
I was disappointed not to find any vendors selling T-shirts outside the stadium this time. We returned to the hotel, showered, and met for a well-earned lunch. We rehashed the race and made plans for future competitions, then headed our separate ways. Back at the airport I was pleased to find Drake Relays shirts on sale, and I snapped up another souvenir from an unforgettable day.
2006 Masters Mile results:
1 John Hinton Fleet Feet Carrboro 4:23.85
2 Tony Young Club Northwest 4:30.69
3 Conor O’Driscoll Westchester TC 4:37.80
4 Tom Smith Team Nodak 4:38.30
5 Joe Dudman Team Red Lizard 4:40.43
6 Steve Gallagos Golden CO 4:44.95
7 Nolan Shaheed So Cal TC 4:47.53