Amidst all the different storylines I followed at the Co-ed State Track Meet last weekend at Drake Stadium, I couldn’t help but notice a pair of familiar situations come up in races by Brandon Phipps and Jay Wolfe of Creston.
The situations were familiar to me, because they happened to me in my final race on the blue oval back in 2007.
In Phipps’ 1,600 meter race on Saturday afternoon, it was assumed that the trio of Boone’s Chandler Austin and Albert Meier and Gilbert’s Thomas Pollard would take the race out fast, much like they did in Thursday’s 3,200.
That was certainly not the case, however.
The three frontrunners brought the field through the first 800 meters of the race in a pedestrian 2:21.
For Phipps, who was gunning for my own school record in the 1,600 meters, this pace was far too slow.
The race actually began at 800 meters. That’s when Austin, Meier and Pollard suddenly shifted from first to third gear. That trio closed in 2:00.
Back in 2007, my race started out almost identically to Phipps’ race.
Everyone in the Class 3A race just assumed that Charles City’s Isaac Wendland would win the 1,600 meters. As a junior, he was already the two-time defending state champion in the event and had been the top Class 3A runner in the previous month’s Drake Relays field.
Wendland was known for his strong kick, so I devised a plan that would give myself a chance to win the race.
The way I saw it, most of the athletes in the race would be willing to run Wendland’s race and attempt to outkick him in the finish, even though that strategy had proven time and again to end in failure.
I had a decent finishing kick myself, but I could not come close to Wendland if it turned into a 400 meter race at the end. I’d have to make my move from much farther out.
That day, we also came through the first 800 meters of the race at a slower pace than I had hoped. Gone were my chances of bettering my own school record and getting the time I was shooting for — 4:24.
At 800 meters, that’s where the race began.
For the first 800 meters of the race, I had sat on Wendland’s shoulder, not letting him get away from me. At 800 meters, Wendland made a move to the front of the pack and I followed.
Time travel back to last Saturday, when Wolfe won the Class 3A 800 meters.
Wolfe got a clean start from his position in the middle of the track on the inside alley and once the runners hit the break line 100 meters into the race, he dominated the field.
For the final 700 meters of the race, it was Wolfe followed by empty blue track and then everyone else.
Back in 2007, from the 800 meter mark until that break line, I bided my time.
Once I hit that break line, with 700 meters to go, I made my move.
It was a move I’d been perfecting all season long. No one expects another runner to make a move 700 meters out from the finish. Maybe a surge, but not a move intended to last the remainder of the race.
I was gone.
Over the course of the next 300 meters, I’d opened up a five-second lead on the field, and Wendland.
Once I hit the backstretch, my legs were still churning as fast as they could go. I glanced up at the video board in the northeast corner of Drake Stadium, at the 200 meter mark.
I could see myself and I could see plenty of blue behind me.
On Saturday, Wolfe did the same thing. On the backstretch, he glanced up and saw plenty of blue behind him on the video board.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and saw some blue behind me, knew I was leaving them,” Wolfe said after his race. “Once I knew I was leaving them, I knew I was going to be on my own so I had to push myself. With 200 meters to go, I was thinking, ‘200 more meters to go to a state title.’”
I saw that blue behind me and I knew I couldn’t let up at all. I knew, no matter how big of a lead I had on Wendland, that he’d be coming for me.
My arms pumping and my knees driving, I made the turn on the third and final curves.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see some of my teammates sitting in the front row of the stands in the northwest corner of the stadium.
I remember hearing them cheer for me, but I also heard a warning.
“You’ve got to go now!”
Then, I heard public address announcer Mike Jay’s voice over the sound system, delivering me one last warning.
Wendland was coming for me.
Down the homestretch I ran, doing everything I could to hold him off.
With about 50 meters to go, I saw him finally pull up next to me. And then, he was in front of me.
I came up 50 meters short of the dream I’d had since I was a little kid — winning a state championship and getting my picture on the wall in the Creston High School commons.
So when I witnessed Wolfe coming down the homestretch on Saturday, I was comforted in knowing that no one would be able to catch him on the homestretch.
When he crossed the finish line with his arms raised and pointed to his numerous cheering sections in the stands, Wolfe not only realized his dream, but mine also.
It’s not easy being the kid who got ran down with 50 meters to go for a state championship.
Rarely is there a day that goes by that I don’t think about it, wondering if there was anything I could have done differently or if I could have somehow found another gear in those final 50 meters.
I’m glad that when Wolfe replays his race in his mind, he won’t have to go through the agony I go through every time I replay mine.
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