I gave myself one week to recover from flying over to London, and then picked up only one bag and flew to Oslo, Norway.
The Dream Mile is probably the highlight of the European season for any miler, as the world record as been set here twice, including last year’s incredible 3:46.32. Bislett Stadium in Oslo has a mystique about it. The stadium holds 18,000 people, relatively small compared to a USA football arena.
The stands are within one foot of the outside lane of the track, and in the backstretch, they have only six lanes, feeling like the crowd is right on top of you. A spectator can actually reach out and touch a competitor as they run in this outside lane.
There are metal billboards that hang on the front of these four foot high walls, colored in advertiser’s names and products.
Children, the ages of seven, eight and older, lay their chests on top of these walls, hanging their heads over, and use their hands to bang on the signs as the runners go by. They beat in a rhythm on the metal, with parents sitting behind them in their seats, acting more civilized clapping in a steady rate. This effect of hands clapping and metal pounding follows the lead pack around the track, similar to the Wave. It is so loud, that you cannot hear yourself breath when you race.
The time is late, 11:15 pm, when the race is to begin, so it can be shown live in the USA at 4:15 pm CDT. It is pitch dark outside the stadium, and except for flood lights that sit high upon posts around it, splashing the track with light. The track is thus washed with a street light glow.
The runners mill about on the home stretch, near the starting line. Finally, we are called.
“Runners, take your marks,” the starter says in Norwegian. At this point, my mind is racing faster than my pulse. All are waiting for the gun. The crowd leans forwards in their seats, and it is deathly quiet. All wait for the gun to fire. Fingers are moved over the stop watches and wrist watches, to coordinate pressing at the exact start of the gun. (Those who wait to hear the gun are immediately told by their neighbor that the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound, and thus you started your watch too late!).
It is so quiet.
The Gun, and we are away.
My game plan consisted of starting fast, as not to get left in the rear of the pack. This I accomplished, and quickly moved into fifth position. Coming up on the first lap, the rabbit who was leading pulled us through a 55 second opening 400 m. Down the backstretch we flew, the crowd urging us on by increasing their clapping rate as we went by. We came through the 800 m mark in 1:54, and close to World Record pace.
At this point, Steve Cram, the World Record holder, made his bid for victory. He pushed on ahead, creating a gap between him and the pack. I could hear the crowd claps begin to diminish as I went by, because I was still in fifth place. They were following the leader. I knew I had to move up to not only close the gap on Steve, but also stay in the applause vacuum. The visualization of effortless running in this space, urged me to move up. I moved into second with 700 m to go. Again, down the back stretch we flew. Glancing to my right, the crowd whizzed by, faces a blur.
Truly – this feels like flying. No pain – just effortless running.
Up the front part of the track, the gun sounded indicating the final circuit was about to be completed. 2:53.2 was my ¾ mile split -– the fastest I had ever run in a race. Thru the curve the crowd roared now, with their approval! On the back stretch, I felt myself closing in on Cram, and the adrenaline begin to rise. ‘I can win this race! Don’t get too excited – you need to maintain form and relax!’ 200 meters to go. Someone passed me on the outside.
I looked over – Steve Scott, the American Record holder, went by. I put my head down and tried to go with him, but he continued on his mad pursuit of Cram, who was fading even more from his earlier stake to win. 100 m to go, and my body was losing oxygen rapidly. I looked up the straight. I could hear nothing, the crowd was so loud. My head was becoming disorientated, and I had tunnel vision. Only my lane, and the lane on either side, was clear the rest to the sides a blur. I kept telling myself, ‘Hold the form!’ ‘Keep your feet straight.’ The finish line is quickly approaching, oh come on, come on! Finally, a quick lean at the line and it's over.
I walked a few strides from the finish line, with fifty or sixty kids jumping all over me to get my autograph. Slowly, the sounds begin to come back. My mind is swimming in lactic acid. It really hurt. “I must have run under 3:50, because this is how it should feel. But, did I break 3:50 for the mile? My PR is 3:50.59,” I think.
I was having problems signing my signature, still lacking oxygen. I signed each one, very slowly… I am sure the kids must have thought I was never taught how to write. The 'Y' in my name quite often had no tail, just a straight line from the 'e.'
I found my sweats, and jogged off to warm down by myself. After about a half-mile, I stopped. I went down to one knee, with tears streaming down my face. I looked at my watch: it was 12:30 am. The practice track was almost deserted. I asked, “Lord, what did I do to receive such wonderful talents?” The tears fell heavier now. I thanked Him many times, but the question resurfaced – what was my time? I picked myself back up, smiling, and continued on my warm-down.
Back at the hotel, the results were posted. The mile was the last event on the program, so they did not have results after we finished. I quickly scanned down to third place. I saw 3:4x, and I did not need to know the next number. I had run under 3:50!
I looked up again: 3:49.80. A new PR! The 13th man under 3:50 for the mile, and third fastest American. As I type this even today, I can remember that feeling of kneeling on the track, and it brings tears to my eyes.