In December 1973, a senior in high school, I found myself at a big meet at the Armory. Not the Armory of today, with its Mondo, banked 200 meter track. Same place, but a large, open wooden floor, generally used for Army jeeps and trucks and the like. Lines had been painted for the 220-yard “track.” There was a small open warm-up area on the east end of the floor and the smell of atomic balm — a smell that still recalls the place to me — a floor below.

This was, as I say, a big meet with lots of teams and lots of heats. I was in the 600 yard run. There were ten heats. All of the fast guys were in the first three. I was in the tenth.

I ended up tenth in the race. Not the heat, but the race. I suddenly believed that I maybe I could actually race these things. I turned into a pretty good quarter-miler after that race. Well, I was a pretty good one but until that one race I didn’t believe it.

NYC Marathon

Now TK is a big Kara fan (and Kara posted on TK’s site), and she’s not alone. (I’m partial to Ryan Hall.) I came upon a Flocast interview with Kara in which she discussed being very down on her running but then responding to Alberto Salazar and what he demanded of her. She came to believe that should could be a pretty good, a world-class runner. And she is.

Here’s that video (you have to click through since I can’t embed these).

One thing Jack Daniels says is that if you’ve run a race in a time, you’ve run that distance in that time. It’s not a fluke. You might have had an especially good day, but (assuming there was no tailwind or such (and those soft PRs on such aided courses are horrible because they are, in fact, artificial)), it was your day. I had that a quarter-century ago on the track. And moving into road stuff, I had similar “especially good days” and they’ve all been stepping stones that gave me confidence going forward.

Indeed, a few years back, after a long stretch of not racing, I had an HM in Central Park in which I started easily not knowing what I could do. I was aiming for a time that automatically qualified for the NYC Marathon. In the race, I starting picking it up, and picking other runners off, when I got to 8, at which point I knew I could finish. I did, nearly three minutes faster than I thought I could. That one race set me up to start believing I could actually be a pretty decent road runner again after so many years.

As the Gershwin boys put it (I had to replace the original video; here’s Ella and Satchmo with a picture that looks to be Portofino; I had a nice run on the road leading there a few years back. I’m working on this on the piano and the musical directions call for playing it “slowly with warmth“):

I think all of us who come into this running business with a degree of seriousness have such moments. I know one guy who found himself running an HM as a work-out in Central Park — no tailwind there and more than a few hills — with ease and clocking nearly a minute faster than he had raced the course a month-and-a-half earlier. Someone else found herself suddenly competing for awards.

These can be a curse. Ignorance may be bliss, and the revelations of a good run raise the bar. Sure, whenever we step to the line we wonder whether we’ll do what we’re capable of doing. Magnify that to our heroes, our Halls, Wanjirus, Lels, Radcliffes, Gouchers.

One final thing about Kara, she’s hurting in that picture. We’re used to seeing world-class runners as they approach the finish line looking for all the world like they’ve taken a stroll in the park. Kara, though, looks almost as bad as I do.