My Life In Race Shirts: Drake Relays, 1986 and 2006 (Part 2)

Joe Dudman started running road races as a sophomore in high school, circa 1980. Since that time he has accumulated over 560 race T-shirts (Yes, he finally got around to counting them!) Some of them evoke special memories and (hopefully) interesting stories. In this recurring series, he recounts some of them for Run Oregon readers.

Drake Relays, 1986 and 2006

Two of my most memorable races occurred at the same venue almost exactly 20 years apart. I was lucky enough to compete at one of the country’s most storied track meets not once but twice, first as a 21-year-old runner from a small college and two decades later as a 41-year-old master.

While it still trails Hayward Field’s classic meets like the Prefontaine Classic, Des Moines, Iowa’s annual Drake Relays, held at the Drake University track, is not far behind Track Town, USA when it comes to famous track events. College teams large and small from all over the country converge on the distinctive blue oval of Drake Stadium every April to compete in a wide variety of races over the course of the weekend.

Part 2 of 2  is my experience from 2006. 

Part 2: 2006

Joe’s 2006 Drake Relays shirt.

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

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