One of my favorite races of the year took place on Tuesday evening, July 5th. The Nick Symmonds Springfield 800, usually held in the fall, was moved up a couple months this year to coincide with an off-day during the U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials being held in neighboring Eugene.
With so many athletes and track fans in town for the Trials, the turnout for the 5th running of this unique road 800 meter race was large and enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was festive. With a variety of waves for youth, walkers, runners with dogs, masters, open men and women, and elite men and women, there was something for everyone, and when you weren’t racing yourself, you got to watch the other runners giving it their all down the straight, flat half mile street course.
Breaking up the nervousness and pre-race tension, one runner ran the open wave in a banana suit. I joked that he was probably looking forward to checking out his banana splits after the race. I’m not sure my fellow runners found the joke a-peeling.
This was the first year I hadn’t already run one or two other races earlier in the day or been suffering from a nagging head cold. I was well-trained, and fresh, and confident that I would be able to give it a solid effort. After watching the walkers, the youth, and the canine waves, it was time for the masters wave. A couple people asked me what my predicted time was, and if I was honest, I would have answered “I don’t have the slightest idea.” But I had to come up with an educated guess, so I told them I was aiming for 2:20, give or take a few seconds.
Finally, the countdown began, and then we were off. After so much anticipation, the race itself was a strange experience, and it felt a little like a dream. It was finally happening, and I was in the middle of it! It was time to trust my training and just run hard. Joshua Gordon, a speedy recent addition to the masters ranks, broke away from the start and pulled away, while I found myself in a pack with two or three other runners. In a straight 800, there’s no time to look around and assess the situation; You just have to look straight ahead and keep pushing as hard as you can, getting clues from the sounds of the footsteps at you sides and on your heels.
While walking the half-mile course before the race seems to take a long time and is a little intimidating, once you are racing the 200-meter split signs seem to come up very quickly. I realized there was no time to hold back, and turned up the pace to move into second. I felt strong through the 600-meter mark, and then tried to hold on and maintain my form over the final two-and-a-half blocks. One runner edged past me, and I crossed the line in 3rd place, with a time of… wait for it… 2:20.21! My off-the-cuff prediction proved extremely accurate!
As I caught my breath and congratulated others finishers, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I had given it all I had. There is nothing more fun than running as hard as you can straight down the road. Usually this comes in the form of a mile, but the Nick Symmonds Springfield 800 is a unique chance to floor it for an even shorter and faster experience.
The grand finale of this fun evening was the women’s and men’s elite heats. The athletes were introduced one at a time at the finish line, then boarded a shuttle van for the short ride to the start. Main sponsor Dole Packaged Foods provided a $5000 prize to the top male and meal finishers, so the fields were packed! The spectators lining the street were treated to fast times, and the 2016 edition of “The Straight 8” was another great success.
You can check out the full results of all waves HERE.