The Coolest Race I Ever Saw…

(This blog entry didn’t quite turn itself into the literary masterpiece I had hoped for. So before you continue and potentially waste five minutes of your life on an undetailed account of a middle school mile, I must warn you that on an “entertainment scale” of 1-10, 1 being contestant stories on jeopardy and 10 being pretty much anything Charles Barkley says, this is “Monuments Men,” at about a 5. If you haven’t seen “Monuments Men,” it’s kind of like a weird back-to-the-future-esque prequel to the “Ocean’s” movies, where ringleader Clooney ropes a bunch of his buddies into heisting some stuff from a bad guy. I’d recommend just watching “Inglorious Basterds” again, or any of the “Ocean’s” for that matter.)

 

…and I can’t even remember who won, let alone the winning time. I actually remember being pretty let down by the performance at the time. The race also only had 3 entrants. However, maybe now that I’m older (I don’t want to commit to more mature just quite yet, I still love a good fart joke) I can appreciate that what made this race so cool was not the race itself, but what led to it’s manifestation some 14-15 years ago on the dirt oval at Niguel Hills Middle School.

 

Niguel Hills is a rather large middle school, home to such notable alumnus Carson Palmer. PE was a required daily subject for every student. About once a month, to 99% of students’ dismay, we had a timed mile. The training for this consisted of one lap around the track the other days of the month, two if the teacher was mad at us. There were many periods throughout the day and within each period a few separate PE classes. So, when you ran this timed mile you were only running against kids in your class. There was a leaderboard in the locker room, with the leading time for each period. I had the unfortunate scheduling of being in the zero period PE class, and battled with the soon to be introduced entrant number 1, for the top zero period spot. If you think middle school brains are undeveloped to begin with, getting kids to be active at 7ish in the morning is dealing with a whole other level of zombieness. Every morning we would change in the locker room, and stumble out to our painted numbers on the blacktop for roll call. Side story to really bring this early point home: one morning I was having a particularly underdeveloped brain day. I got to school, went to the locker room, and changed. Only that changing process was underdeveloped as well. As I was walking from the locker room to my number on the asphalt still trying to wake up, I looked down and realized I was missing a pretty crucial part of my PE uniform. I was walking to my number in shoes, socks, my PE t-shirt, and a pair of heart print boxers my mom got my brother and me every year for valentine’s day. If I wasn’t years away from talking to girls this could have been detrimental to that pursuit, but you can’t really ruin a pursuit that doesn’t exist. Massive embarrassment however, did exist.

 

Anyway, myself and another kid, Entrant 1 of 3 in the coolest race I ever saw battled back and forth for zero period mile supremacy, though since he was in a different class we never actually raced head to head. Now entrant number 1 was not the greatest all around athlete, in fact his thing was band. Not to say kids in band are all un-athletic, but he fit the stereotype. What he did have going for him was he hated not being the best, and he had hit puberty. To give some insight into the competitive nature of Entrant number 1, here is the scenario in which I came to run my possibly illegitimate middle school mile PR. It took me years to realize that my middle school mile PR of 5:49 may have been assisted. That year I believe my last chance at zero period mile supremacy came after Entrant number 1’s, and he had ran 5:50. The thought of potentially not having the fastest time of the period did not sit well at all with Entrant number 1. While I was running he left whatever activity his class was doing that day to come scream, “You can’t do it Scott! You’re not going to do it! Slow down!” I just remember thinking, “his teacher is going to be pissed at him for leaving their class” and “he really doesn’t want me to run faster than 5:50!” PE teachers liked me because I worked hard and actually tried during the timed miles, but mostly because I kept my mouth shut. Entrant number one didn’t do at least one of those things. This is what leads my to believe I may not have actually ran 5:49. As I’m closing the final few meters I hear my teacher, Mr.M., belting out 5:46,5:47,5:48, as Entrant number 1’s discouraging remarks are reaching a panicked fervor. “5:49!” Mr. M exclaimed as I crossed the line. How convenient. At the time and for years to come I innocently believed I ran 1 second faster than entrant number 1. If I had to say now, I probably didn’t. I hope I have illustrated Entrant number 1’s unwillingness be anything but the fastest.

 

Entrants 2 and 3 are essentially the same, so much so actually that they are twins. They had a more reserved level of confidence than Entrant number 1. Being the product of a large, stern, Catholic family, they worked hard. At youth soccer practices they could be found running before, and after. It showed, and while I can’t remember specifically what their mile times were, they were a good bit faster than Entrant number 1. Entrants number 2 and 3 were possibly part machine. During Presidential fitness tests they had to be removed from the pull up bar or they would still be there doing them. They were in a different period though, so entrant number 1 never saw them race let alone race them, and he just couldn’t have this.

 

Now, I’m not exactly sure how it all started, but somehow it got brought up that Entrant number 1 believed he was better than Entrants 2 and 3. Despite there being time evidence who was the fastest, it actually was just speculation as to who was the best. Trash talk between the three eventually escalated into a three way battle royale for best Niguel Hills miler. Like an old western the three set a date and met at high noon for a shoot out. Seeing as most of the teachers needed electric cattle prods to get kids around the track 4 times, this was quite a rare occurrence. Three 12-13 year old kids voluntarily running a race just to prove who was the best? Unheard of, especially as this was the generation on the verge of slipping into a coma-like-sedentation induced by a myriad of brain energy sucking devices.

 

I wish I could say that this was a clash of gladiator like epic-ness. But it wasn’t, and I can’t really remember what happened. Although I didn’t participate (I was still going to be a back up NBA point guard, so I didn’t see the point of running when I didn’t have to), I was curious to see how it went, so I was probably the only spectator. Myself and maybe some confused oglers trying to figure out why these idiots were wasting their lunchtime running. What happened in this race wasn’t as important as why it happened, and the why is what made is so cool to me, be it years later. Three kids each thought they were the best, and running is one of only a few sports that you can objectively find out who actually is. I will forever respect the 3 entrants for their willingness to find out who was the best, but more so to find out who wasn’t. Unfortunately, I don’t believe any of the 3 took their running past middle school. Entrant 1 went the Carson Palmer route to the local private school, where I think I remember hearing band and academics had pushed running to the wayside. Entrants 2 and 3 continued on to the public high school where they played football and wrestled.

 

While the 3 entrants didn’t continue their running pursuits past middle school, I’m thankful I got to see their short-lived careers. I didn’t know it at the time, but the competitive inception of this race is really what lies at the core of track and field: the desire to beat people. This desire encompasses the entire spectrum of running, from weekend warriors to gold medalists. Entrants 1-3 were not running for a finisher medal, which will most likely be boxed up and imprisoned in a dark corner of the attic. They were not running for a race t-shirt which will most likely join the finisher medal in the attic until it becomes cool again in 30 years, but more likely will end up on a Goodwill sales rack. And they certainly weren’t running to hold hands across the finish line after meandering 5k through a swarm of flatulent fairies farting clouds of rainbow pixie dust everywhere (or however the color run does it). They were running to see how good they were and test their limits against each other, and that really is the purest form of competition.

 

thanks for reading

scott

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