Posts Tagged ‘jenn stuczynski’

It meant over eleven hours of travel, but I didn’t really care. The line-up of professional athletes at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix made it worth the trip. Plus, I’d get to spend a good amount of that time with my Green Mountain Relay teammate Mike, the Connecticut half of the twin set that is completed by my friend Matt, podcaster of the Dump Runners Club. Mike picked me up at the New Haven train station and drove us to Boston, and we watched the track meet together. I’ve never run track myself–didn’t start running until my mid-20’s–so I love going to meets with people who have competed on the track themselves, as their commentary help me learn more about the sport. Plus, Mike’s pretty hilarious (don’t tell him I said that).

Here are the superstars I got to see on the track yesterday: Jenn Suhr, Maggie Vessey, LaTavia (!) Thomas, Matt Centrowitz (in his pro debut), Andrew Badderly, Silas Kiplagat, Galen Rupp, Mo Farah, Jenny Simpson, Sara Hall, Shannon Rowbury, Meseret Defar, Kirani James, David Oliver, Tirunesh Dibaba, Lauryn Williams, Morgan Uceny, and Delilah DiCrescenzo (perhaps just as famous for the song written about her by The Plain White T’s as for her running).

Mike and I had seats just inside the finish line, and the Reggie Lewis Center is a small arena–it’s a 200 meter track, and the bleachers are maybe 10 or 15 rows deep. We felt like we were right next to the action. The first event was the Men’s Masters Mile–the winner, Charlie Kern, was totally cute (hey, I only blog about the most essential details of the race here). Apparently, he’s a big deal at the distance for his age group.

The amateur races are adorable–the youth relay, the junior miles, and the high school 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 relays. Mike gave the race analysis and I provided the color by critiquing the kids’ hairstyles.

It seems like every track meet I attend, there’s Jenn Suhr trying to break the American Record and the World Record. I don’t understand how she gets so many tries over the bar, and honestly if I was a pole vaulter I’d be so discouraged by her dominance I don’t know if I’d bother to show up. But last night she broke the American Record again (which she set in 2011). So that was cool to be present for.

I was enjoying myself so much that I had great pangs of remorse I have to miss the Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR this year.

The Women’s 800 meter race was exciting not only because of Maggie Vessey in bumhuggers and a racing bra (who Mike thinks is so hot. What’s the consensus here?) but because first and second place both finished with the same time of 2:02.37. Apparently The Maggster had a more aggressive lean at the tape and got the win over Erica Moore (so, less was Moore this time?). Mike was also all jazzed about David Oliver, who ran for his alma mater. When Oliver came to sign programs for the kids, Mike couldn’t help himself, he told me five times what a great guy Oliver was–perhaps the sole criteria being that he’s a Coloradan.

The Women’s 2 Mile race seemed to be more of an exhibition race, a chance for Tirunesh Dibaba to run a low-profile race as she kicked off her season. She won by 30 seconds and lapped most of the other racers by the time she crossed the finish line. Both she and Meseret Defar were like hummingbirds on that track, so slight and sprightly.

So, the men’s 3000 meter race was not at all what I expected. Or rather, Centro’s race was not what I expected. Perhaps I was looking for too much based on the hype of his 2011 performances. But watching him race, I just did not see the zip and ambition in his effort that I’d been hoping to see. It looked like he was just out there looking to hang in there with the pack but at no point did it seem like he was trying to make a move to move up, or flash out towards the finish. He came in seventh (granted he set a PR and beat Badderly, so no doubt I’m being harsh on the kid). The win-place-show was an exciting duel, though. Silas Kiplagat, hot off his win at the Madison Square Garden Open the weekend before, was the favorite but he was bested in battle between Caleb Njiku and Dejen Gebremeskel. 1-2-3 went to Kenya-Ethiopia-Kenya.

The appeal of sprint events is lost on me, but the little girl in me loved the 60 meter race’s post-finish. The women cross the finish line with so much speed that they cannot slow down before they reach the end of the arena, so they run headlong into gigantic mats placed along the far wall. Pow Smash Pow! Now that looks like fun to me–just turn your head so you don’t break your nose.

Talking about hairstyles–not one woman ran in pigtails, though a few kept their tresses unfastened and flowing. Anna Pierce had her hair all entirely hot pink for the Women’s 1000 meter (yeah yeah Mike I know she’s a steeplechaser. Yeah I know you were, too…). Morgan Uceny came in second after having a provisory lead during the middle laps.

In the first lap of the Men’s Mile, Mo Farrah (Mo fucking Farrah!) took a startling tumble, and even though he popped right back up, it took him a few laps to get back in the mix and after tracking in the top 3 for a lap or two was ultimately outkicked by Ciaran O’Lionaird, Taylor Milne and Galen Rupp for 1-2-3. I’d voted (through the text messaging game New Balance sponsored) for Rupp to win. Hey, I’m a sucker for a wonderboy (e.g., Ryan Hall, Alan Webb). In this video on Flotrack, Mo talks about the fall. Mike was so psyched Ciaran won the race, because he’d texted him to win–and Mike ended up winning a pair of New Balance sneakers for choosing the winning racer.

By now you will have all read about Jenny Simpson’s stunning flame-out in the Women’s 3000 meter race. After holding second place and trying to take down Meseret Defar for most of the race, she completely burned out and finished dead last. Sitting in the bleachers, Mike and I could see her strain starting to build in later laps–her face even looked kind of pale and pasty–and to say she faded over the final 4 laps would be an understatement. To her credit, Jenny completely owned up to her performance (how could she not?) in the press conference afterwards, saying, “that’s what it looks like when someone dies in a race.” I was a total fangirl to see Meseret zoom by, basically agog each time she pranced past. I cheered enthusiastically for Hall and Rowbury, too–it seemed like all the Americans (except for Simpson) were happy to hang back at least a half a lap behind Defar, and then ultimately be lapped by her. Hall came in fourth and Rowbury in fifth; again the thrill in this race for me (well, the battle for second place was interesting) was seeing such talent in action just 15 feet from me.

On the drive back to New Haven, Mike got lost (instead of heading towards Rhode Island we ended up by Salem, MA) so I didn’t get home until 2:30 AM! Admittedly, he drove much better than I remembered from the relay in 2010, and I was grateful for his company. Despite the crazy travel involved in getting to the track meet, I am so glad I went. I saw some of our nation’s and world’s best runners do their thing, live and in the flesh, right in front of my eyes. Track meets of this calibre are hard to find around the country, so we’re really lucky in the New York area that we get a few each year. The SuperBowl is tonight, but as far as I’m concerned the Grand Prix was much better entertainment.

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Work was intense last week, and left me feeling razed to the ground by the time Friday afternoon finally deigned to show up. I pushed through one more project, hammering it out until 7 PM, my self-imposed pumpkin hour, at which point I shut everything down, grabbed my laptop and fled as if I were running for my life. 

I took the E train downtown to Madison Square Garden, got my ticket at Will Call, and finally allowed myself to thrill at the prospect of my first-ever track meet. I’ve watched meets on TV, but I’ve never seen racers compete live on the boards, or around an outdoor oval. So I was interested in the peripheral stuff (the pole vaulters doing their warm-ups; the relayers waiting off to the side, the way they break down and reconstruct the boards to create the course for the sprint and hurdle events) as well as simply seeing Kara, Shayne, Bernard and Nick do their thing live at the Millrose Games.

Decathlete Dan O’Brien was the emcee, and he seemed to do a good job. I enjoyed watching the boys’ mile, and the relay events. In both races the winner broke away into a wicked sprint for the last quarter mile. It looked like fun, flying around the banked track to break the tape. 

Then it was the NYRR Women’s Mile. The ladies took the field, springing around for a warm up lap. There she was, my girl Kara, with her long ponytail and her massive diamond engagement and wedding rings (I swear I could see them glint from where I sat). As far as races go, it was pretty boring. Kara defended her title by a large lead, finishing nearly 4 seconds ahead of Marina Muncan–no one really gave her any competition. I liked how, once she was done, she gave a high-five to her student escort–it was the same kid who escorted her to the start line at the marathon in November from the NYRR youth development program. 

Soon after this, the guy in the row in front of me struck up a conversation with me, and before I knew it he’d moved next to me and we were knee-deep in a debate about Alan Webb (Really Great, or Not So Great?) and yammering on and on about favorite elites, running websites, and pet peeves (why don’t the women self-tan their upper thighs if they are going to race in bumhuggers? Why do sprinters wear speed suits when Haile Gebrselassie can set world records in shorts and a singlet?). JPM’s track knowledge was greater than mine (he’d raced in college) but we were equally matched as far as enthusiasm. I’d expected to spend the evening watching the meet by myself, but ended up having a blast with a talkative, opinionated stranger. Cool! 

We watched Jenn Stuczynski win the pole vault; we watched the three shot putters who had won the crowds and the medals in Beijing last year (they pumped us up again, busting out song after song by AC/DC). I thought it looked like a blast to be one of the sprinters who got to smash into the padded wall at the end of the starting-linedashes, boof! They trotted out the oldies, including Eamonn Coghlan, who was on hand to see if Lagat would tie his record seven Wanamaker wins. JPM rattled off athlete PR’s and world records; it was like having a personal factotum, a direct feed of track trivia. 

Finally it was time for the Wanamaker. I was divided; I couldn’t decide if I should root for Bernard or Nick. Mostly I wanted Bernard to defend his title, win his seventh Wanamaker, and redeem his second-place finish at the Fifth Avenue Mile against Willis; but a smaller, slightly mean part of me wanted Willis to win again, to become Lagat’s unbeatable rival. As they raced around the track, I got the chills. These men were beautiful runners, so smooth. Willis in particular–even though Lagat was in the lead, Willis’s movement looked especially effortless. Ah, it was gorgeous. With two laps to go (it was eight laps to the mile), Willis made his move and took the lead, only to be smacked down by Lagat in the final lap. It was almost as if he was racing a child, the way he just turned on the jets and put Nickie right back in his place (second, that is). After all my waffling, I was glad Lagat won (by a little less than one second). It was an historic win, and besides, how could I root against a man who had shook my hand?

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