Junior Olympic Connecticut Association meet, Willowbrook Park, New Britain, CT, June 15, 2013
Last year, after running the 1500 m at the Region 1 Junior Olympics at Mitchell Athletic Complex in Long Island, New York, my son expressed a desire to train and qualify for the National Junior Olympics in 2013 in the 11-12 age group (formerly Midget age group). We considered the 800 m, 1500 m and 3000 m, and although he excels in all three distances and we agreed that he should develop a good range from middle distance to long distance, he would probably be most competitive in the 3000 m. Based on my research of past years’ race results, I concluded that my son would have to run around 11:12 (6 minute / mile pace) to place in the top five at the Region 1 Junior Olympics to qualify for the Nationals.
There are not as many opportunities to race that distance in middle school meets, other than a few invitational meets and the Junior Olympics, therefore my son ran two 3000 m races indoors at the Armory in New York City in December and February. At the February Armory meet, he ran a PR of 11:46 for the 3000 m. In outdoor track, he doubled and ran the 1600 m (metric mile) and 800 m with PR’s of 5:46 for and 2:43, respectively.
The first step on the road to the Nationals is the JO Connecticut Association meet, held on June 15 at Willowbrook Park in New Britain, CT. Four runners (11-12 years old) including my son lined up at the start, two of them national class runners, and my son placed 4th with a time of 11:37 (9 second improvement). We both had hoped for a time around 11:30 at the Association meet, but more relevant was his 4th place realizing that only the top 5 at the Regionals advance. We trained hard in the three weeks before the Regional meet, with excellent workouts and hopes that if everything clicked, my son would have a shot.
Start of the 3000 m event
Finishing strong with a 11:37 PR
The JO Region 1 meet was scheduled for July 5-7 at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island in New York (site of the Adidas Grand Prix track meet and the High School Fast 100 and Dream Mile events), and my son was absolutely pumped to run on the same track as Henry Wynne of neighboring Staples High School in Westport, who had run a 4:05 mile to place 2nd in the Dream Mile only a month earlier. As the registration closed for the Regional meet, he was seeded 6th with 11:37 and the 5th seed time was 11:02 (one of the Connecticut qualifiers decided not to run). Assuming none of the runners seeded lower than my son would run faster than him in the Regionals, it would still be a tough challenge to place in the top five. He would have to run the race of his life and someone in front of him would have to not run as well as the previous round.
The 3000 m was scheduled for 6:25 pm on July 5 (my son skipped the July 4 fireworks), and it was one of the hottest and most humid days this summer. Temperatures on the track hovered in the high 90’s, and with the humidity it felt above 100 F. The New York Region USATF planned and managed the meet well, but unfortunately couldn’t control the weather (although USATF does control scheduling for Junior Olympics – which could be moved up a few weeks).
Junior Olympic Region 1 meet, Icahn Stadium, Randall’s Island, NY, July 5, 2013
My son started well and ran the first mile in 6:07, a slower pace than our 11:12 target time but given the weather it was a great effort. He was running in 8th place, about 20 meters behind the 7th and 6th place runners, and within 70 meters of the 5th place runner and last qualifier. There was still a chance. With 3 ½ laps to go, I cheered on my son and encouraged him to move up. I could tell he was struggling with the heat and started dropping back. The dream of qualifying for the Nationals was melting away in the heat and humidity. It was emotionally painful for me as Dad and Coach to watch because my 11-year old son had worked so hard – come rain, snow, hail, freezing or hot temperatures, running in the dark at night after Dad returned from work, mountains of homework, it didn’t matter – he was out there passionate, committed and just did it. And he loved it.
The effect of the heat and humidity apparent
Fighting the pain and agony in the final 100m
On this day, it just wasn’t quite enough. The 5th place runner finished in 11:25 (ironically one of the kids seeded lower than my son, who probably ran just fast enough in his Association meet to qualify) and my son ran 11:51 (14 seconds slower than his PR and not close to our target time) to place 8th. I was proud of him for running a smart race and giving 100% effort. As a footnote, some of the other kids ran considerably slower than their seed times, validating the impact of the weather. What mattered to both of us is the experience of setting a goal, planning and executing, running a painful race, learning from it, and going back to work the next day. My son continues to improve year after year, he’s healthy and has not suffered a running-related injury, and running is a passion for him. We’ll make a few adjustments to his future training to close the gap and help elevate him from a regional to a national class runner.