Vol. 2 No. 3 March, 1997




No matter how tired you were, if you were a real track athlete, you

had something left for the mile relay. All of my high school and

college teammates knew that the mile relay was were you laid it all

on the line. It was the last event of the meet, and often final team

results would depend on the finishing places in this race. This was

the moment you waited for, the one you dreamed about. Running

with three other teammates, all with the same goal, all willing to


everything they had left at the end of a long day of competition. If

you were on the mile relay team you were running for the other

three on your team, not wanting to let them down. More important,

you were running for your school, trying to edge out the other teams

in the overall point standings. Even if you couldn't catch the other

teams in points, you wanted to show the other teams who was the

toughest in this grueling event.

Everyone would line the outside of the track: shot putters, long

jumpers, distance runners, moms, dads and friends who came to

watch. Everyone yelled for the relay runners, knowing how difficult

440 yards of sprinting was, and hoping that a friendly cheer would

transfer some energy to the runners that they wouldn't otherwise

possess. It worked.

I remember well the state qualifying meet my Sophomore year in

high school. I had already placed 5th in the 440 yards with a new PR,

but I had paid for it. I was sick to my stomach after the race, and


of my teammate's fathers had to help me out of the stadium to

recover. People were worried that I was too sick to run the relay. No


I walked slowly back into the stadium, and managed a jog on the

infield. My stomach swirled and I felt dizzy, but my teammates

joined me and we went through our usual pre-race warm-up.

We never talked much before the race, but we exchanged hand

shakes and slaps of the hand. "This is it," and "Let's do it, man," were

the typical exhortations. None of the four of us had uncommon

courage, we were not overachievers, we were just some kids on a

track team. But, we had unity with our teammates, and an unspoken

duty. On this particular evening, I was so tired that I didn't know

how I would manage. I only knew that I had to.

Our lead-off runner worked hard, and as he came around the final

turn he was in second place. I was the number two runner, and I was

amazed that I was now jumping up and down and feeling ready to

fly. I took the baton and heard a thousand sounds of encouragement.

I felt great for the first 330 yards, then came the final


The final one hundred ten yards of an all out 440 hurts in a unique

way. Your throat is on fire, your legs are aching intensely and the

finish line looks a million yards distant. There is a saying in track

jargon that this is where "the bear jumps on your back." I pushed

hard, my legs screaming, my arms feeling lifeless. Nothing was more

important than getting to the exchange zone as fast as I could. I

reached the baton to our third runner and went hands on knees.

As bad as I felt, I knew one of my teammates had it worse. Our

fourth runner had a freak accident earlier in the meet when he was

running the hurdles. A spike in his shoe had somehow turned around

and punctured his foot. We were using half inch spikes on this cinder

track, and the full length had stabbed into my friend's foot. He had

disinfected and bandaged it, but it had to hurt with every step. He

took the baton from our third runner in first place, and, amazingly,

lengthened the lead from there.

We finished well ahead of the other teams. We attained our goal, we

were going to the state meet. Our anchor runner had blood staining

his shoe, I threw up again, and we were as happy as we could be.

High school and college teams around the country are starting their

outdoor track seasons right now. There are thousands of kids

dreaming about the upcoming season, hoping for a place on the

varsity team, setting goals for PRs, looking toward possible


or team championships. And, while it is the 4 x 400 meter relay

instead of the mile relay these days, there are plenty of kids ready


have a go at carrying the baton one lap. If you get a chance, go

watch. Better yet, volunteer to rake the long jump pit or run a stop


Also, if you have an opportunity, try running a relay yourself. You

don't have to be a sprinter on a high school team to do it. Many road

races have relays as a part of their event, and some road races are

strictly relay oriented. Several of us from the Boulder area recently

returned from the Las Vegas Marathon, which includes a relay

division. We put together four different teams, and we all had a

blast. Everyone gained a bit of extra energy and motivation from our

teammates. And, while we all ran pretty hard, nobody threw up or

bloodied their shoe.

Happy Running!

- WG