Long before I started distance running, I was actually a sprinter on my high school track team. In 1998 I signed up for the indoor track squad at Clover Hill High School in Richmond, VA. It was a walk on team, but I still had to try out for different events to see which I was best at. The word "best" would be an overstatement as I was either average, or below average at everything. However, I didn't plan to take track too seriously, and saw it as a means of getting in shape for varsity baseball in the spring. Afterall, as a pitcher with a low 80's fastball, and a student with a 4.0 GPA, track & field clearly wasn't going to be my ticket to a college scholarship.
Either way I found myself at track practice for the first time. My 7.0 second 55 meter dash wasn't fast enough, my 26 second 200 meter dash was okay, but still on the slow side. I cleared 5'2" for the high jump, when most A-squad guys could jump over 6'. I even tried out for shotput, occasionally tossing the 12 lb ball over 30 ft....a full 15 ft shorter than my 250 lb peers. As a last ditch effort to make a single track roster, I ran a time trial for the 400m dash and clocked a pedestrian 1:07 for my first attempt and almost passed out on the spot. With all the A-squad, aka fast guys, already named to specific events, there was a pretty good handful of guys and gals who remained with limited talent, myself among them. We became the B-squad, better known as the slow pokes.
As far as running events, coach Mike Justice had pitty on me, and placed me on the men's 4x400 team. He was convinced I could probably get my 400m time down to around 60 seconds with practice, but we both knew I wasn't going to run in the 50-55 second range needed to be on the competitive team. With that, my first track meet was at Manchester High School on a cool autumn night, 1998.
I was the lead runner for our 4x400 team. I had waited hours for our big event to come around, and had gotten pretty pumped up watching all the other events take place. Our team of guys had spent the last few weeks practicing baton hand offs, pacing, and going through rigorous track repeats. Finally, it was time for action! I took off my green and white track warm up and made my way to the track, gold baton in hand. My teamates gave a few last words of encouragement, something to the effect of "Kick their ass Mike!", and "You got this dude!". Aaahh high school. As I stepped to the starting blocks, I glanced around at the competition, and noticed I was among guys who looked way too fast to be in a B-squad race. Never the less, I crouched down, waited for the gun, BANG!, and was off. I blew out of the blocks with reckless abandon and completely forgot what race, and what distance I was running. After 100 meters I was already in the lead, by 200 meters I was on record pace, and at 250m I was literally 30 feet ahead of the second place runner. I could hear the people in the stands getting louder and louder in wild expectation of witnessing something great.
I was 30 seconds into a 400 meter dash when my body realized in needed oxygen. I had blazed through 30 seconds of anaerobic chaos and that's when the lactic acid starting flowing, the muscles screamed, and the lungs came to the verge of explosion. In other words, Mike went out too damn fast! As I banked around the turn at 300 meters my body felt like it has ceased forward motion. If the first half minute was a speeding blur, the last 40 seconds was an eternity. The world was starting to stand still, as if the rotation of the earth were coming to a screaching halt at that very track. One by one the other runners started passing me. I watched in disbelief as they gracefully trotted off into the distance, meanwhile the sounds of my frantic gasping overwhelmed whatever cheers came from my teamates. I rounded the corner down to the last 100 meter straight away, easily in last place. I jogged along at a feeble pace, embarassed, tramautized, and ready to collapse. The hand off to my teammate was more an act of desparation to put an end to my misery. After 400 meters I wobbled over to the side of the track and flopped on the ground for ten minutes.
I wish I could say I had fond memories of my first race. To be honest, I wanted to quit the track team right then and there. I didn't. I stayed aboard for several more months and ran at several other track meets and invitationals. I'd like to say I got faster, but I didn't. I never ran another 400m event, and found myself sticking to the 4x200 and 300 meter races. Afterall, I ran a pretty fast 200 meters during my initial 400 meter race. That's gotta count for something, right? I ran another embarassing 300 meter dash when I slipped out of bounds at the start and thought I was disqualified. However, the race officials prompted me to keep running, but now already 50 meters behind everyone. Although I almost caught the last place runner, I finished the event dead last, for the second time in three races.
After high school, I would not run again for four years.