(*Author’s note: this is a new feature on Burnpoetry, chronicling my attempts to reconnect to my once-favorite sport of long distance running.  For the detailed explanation, click on this link.  This post is the 2nd chapter in a yearly tradition, where I recount one of the most legendary performances that I witnessed during my college track and field career.  I’m going to tie it into my DWUR post to keep moving that new project forward.  For part I of this legend, click here.)

Date: 4/21/2006
Distance: 1 Mile
Time: 4:25 split (I think?)
Location: Kansas Track
Self-loathing: Non-Existent

The next day dawned beautifully; the kind of spring day that causes track fans and athletes to close their eyes, lift their faces to the sun, and smile.  I was, indeed, smiling to myself as I stepped into KU’s stadium that Friday.  Focused on the task at hand, my impending race, 3-Peat had faded to the outskirts of my mind.  As I entered the gate to the stands my once proud, steely concentration promptly imploded like a rundown stadium getting demolished.

It was 3-Peat.

There.  Right in front of me.  His immediacy assailed my very consciousness.

And he was spitting some game.  In fact, he appeared to be trying his damnedest to pimp two girls.

Several things about the situation were notable; that pulled me in and rooted both my feet to the ground and focused my teetering-on-the-brink mind to the present fiasco unfolding before me.

First: the girls were no more than 13 years old.  They appeared to have just gotten done shopping at Baby Gap for Bratz gear and had stopped in to watch a few races before an orthodontist appointment.  Second: 3-Peat’s attempts to win over the affection of these tweenagers was rapidly degenerating into something that even I was shocked by.  He was trying to impress the girls by doing the “Lean Wit’ It, Rock Wit’ it” dance.

I stood there hypnotized by the idiocy of the moment.  3-Peat, his teeth jutting out like a male walrus flaunting the goods during mating season, was trying to impress a couple of girls who were likely there to watch their classmates run in the Middle School 4×100 Relay event.  By dancing.  Given the psuedo-celebrity status I had afforded 3-Peat in my mind at this point, it was akin to watching bigfoot C-walk around a still-living Elvis while an un-shot Tupac served as his hype man.

“Lean wit’ it!” He shouted, oblivious to his echoing cries bouncing off the walls of the stadium (*Author’s note: this exact moment would mark the turning point for me in realizing that all rap songs that have a pre-made dance to go with them are terrible.)  He flailed around like a shark attack victim, looking for all the world like an epileptic who’d accidentally wandered into a laser light show.

The 13-year-olds were unimpressed.  However, I counted myself truly fortunate to have run into a now-legendary KU Relays competitor for what I though was one final time.  Unfortunately I was unable to stay to watch the conclusion to 3-Peat’s “To Catch a Predator” audition tape.  I had a race to run.

And run we did.

We ended up winning the 4xMile in a complete and utter fluke.  It was quite possibly the slowest winning time in Relays history.  (*Author’s note: I haven’t fact checked this, but I feel certain it’s at least close to the truth.)  D-Block, one of my teammates, was his usual petulant self and was borderline offensive when we were asked for some quotes by the KU student newspaper.  My efforts to smooth things over didn’t go particularly well, either, as I was quoted as “Nick Garcia” in the story about our victory.  Apparently in Lawrence, Kansas I look half-mexican.

We headed home that night with a trophy, which our coach commandeered and we never saw again, some pleather-banded watches and what I already considered a pile of great stories.  Not even the Hardee’s food or our assistant coach’s country music singing could dampen my mood.

The final day of the KU Relays is reserved for the best of the best.

Better college competitors, elite-level pros and Olympians alike are let loose to chase after the glory and prestige of another record; another gold.  Garcia, a friend we’ll call Tonto, and I decided that while we weren’t competing we could at least go back and watch some great track races.  We arrived just in time to watch a hotly contested, blazingly fast 800 meter run and I wasted no time in regaling everyone around us with tales of 3-Peat and what we had seen in the last two days.

No sooner had I finished telling my epic tale then the remaining 800 meter races began.  These heats were reserved for the faster, more experienced collegiate competitors and promised to be much faster than the heats we’d run in two nights prior.

We settled in to enjoy some top-notch competition.  A few heats in, my gaze wandering across the runners toeing the starting line, I stood up and removed my hat and sunglasses like an overacting extra catching his first glimpse of the asteroid in “Deep Impact.”

“Oh. . .shit. . .” I nearly shouted the last profanity, drawing more than a few looks from those around us.

“That’s him.  Down there.  The guy I was telling you all about.  3-Peat.”  I croaked out his last name, throat tightening with apprehension at what we were about to see.

“My God,” I whispered.  “I think he’s going for a 4-Peat.”

“How did he even get into this race,” Tonto said voicing what was one of the biggest mysteries behind 3-Peat’s KU Relays mystique.  With a high quality meet like the KU relays there are certain qualifying times that one is required to hit in order to compete.  To get into some of the tougher heats the times may even be checked by relay officials to make sure that they’re legitimate.

We watched with a mixture of horror and awe as 3-Peat began the race, with his patented terrified flinch, and was immediately left flat-footed at the start as the other runners surged directly past him.  It was like watching Vince Wilfork run a 40 against DeSean Jackson.  The people around us who were unschooled in the lore of 3-Peat couldn’t understand why my friends and I were in such an uproar.

I still don’t know how he weaseled his way into such a tough field of competitors but Ray Charles could’ve seen that he didn’t belong in that heat.  And he’s blind.  And dead.  That’s how apparent it was that this Nicole-Richie-On-Diet-Pills, armband-toting goofus shouldn’t have been in this heat.

He staggered across the line with his fourth straight DFL.  Dead Freakin’ Last.  He slumped into the infield, dropping as though hit by some unseen sniper and threw his arms into the air in a sign of utter defeat and exhaustion.  His fourth race of the Kansas Relays, and his fourth disastrous race completed, the man we were now triumphantly calling “4-Peat” appeared content to die on the infield.

After a few moments he stirred.  Once again realizing that we weren’t cheering on another human’s untimely death, we let out a collective sigh of relief and began laughing until our lungs burned.  Garcia was mumbling incoherent sentences and I couldn’t stop laughing except to hack like a pack-an-hour smoker.  I tried to ease myself down from the immense endorphin-high, but I felt like Tony Montana after he nose-dived into the pile of cocaine on his desk in “Scarface.”

Gradually my heart rate came down from 398 beats-per-minute and I relaxed.  My favorite event was coming up in a mere 20 minutes and I was thoroughly excited to watch some more great track and field.

The Elite Men’s Mile race is one of the premiere events of the KU Relays.  Attracting some of the most talented runners from the midwest, and indeed all over the country, this particular year it sported such talents as NCAA Champion and 2008 Olympian Christian Smith, KU Relays legend Charlie Gruber and a grouping of other amazing runners well capable of electrifying the stadium.

Even with such an exciting event soon up on the track, we were still abuzz with talk of 4-Peat and how he’d managed to get into such a tough field of 800 runners at such an important meet.  I felt certain that I’d look down and see that he’d conned his way into the women’s high jump, or was somehow sprinting down the runway to attempt a triple jump against professional athletes.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that the entire stadium was like a big game of “Where’s Waldo.”  Except that Waldo wasn’t wearing his patented white and red sweater, he was sporting neon orange arm bands.  And was an idiot.

Honestly, as my eyes scanned the crowd and the stadium for signs of this elusive creature, there was really only one place I didn’t think he’d be.

“Now on the track,” the voice boomed over the PA system, “the Elite Men’s mile.”

I assured Garcia that we were in for one “awesome” race and he nodded in wholehearted agreement. Toeing the starting line below us were 12 complete badasses.  12 men who could cover a mile in the time it takes me to microwave up a frozen dinner and could cover 5,280 feet at breathtaking, reckless speeds.

But there was a 13th man in the field on this day.

Call if fate, call it dumb luck, call it whatever the hell you want.  Pick a cliche.  But the unlucky 13th competitor on this day was a wily veteran of the Kansas Relays.  He was going for something that most athletes only dream of having next to their name.  The 13th competitor was going for a 5-Peat.

“Gaaaccckkguhghh.”  I could do no more than scream like some wildly incoherent Justin Bieber groupie coming face to face with her dreams.

“Unnghhgh.”  My mouth couldn’t seem to form more than ape-like, Tarzan-styled gargling.

All eyes in the section planted on me and I could do no more than merely point accusingly down at the line, lifting a suddenly-heavy arm and extending my pointer finger like a reluctant witness, fingering a mob boss for the prosecution.

Suddenly, like a beach full of tourists hearing the panicked cry of “Shark!” everyone whipped their heads in the same direction.  Down below us, shoulder to shoulder with NCAA Champions, Nike-sponsored Professionals, and future Olympians was none other than 4-Peat.

Despite having gotten beaten like a dirty rug a mere 20-minutes prior, by far inferior competition, 4-Peat was somehow back on the track.

A hush fell over our section as the runners were called to their marks.  4-Peats twiggy, Calista Flockhart arms dangled loosely near his sides.  The anticipation was palpable.  You could taste it.

*Crack* The gun went off.  4-Peat, having clearly not gotten any better at starting, flinched backwards like a man receiving a guilty verdict in a capital murder case.  The rest of the competitors flew past, immediately gapping him by 50 meters.  Had it been any other competitor, in any other field, the beatdown was fast that I might have been shocked.

Short of teleportation, I’m not sure how anyone could move backwards so fast.  It was like watching that terrible movie, Jumper while rewinding.

The cameraman manning the big screen TV simply couldn’t pan out far enough to keep 4-Peat in the shot.  By the end of the first lap, 4-Peat was nearly 175 Meters back.

Bedlam reigned in our section.

I had become nearly comatose.  Garcia’s mouth was agape, unhinged like a snake downing its too-large prey, and he was sucking in great gasps of air.

I was enthralled.  Had someone offered me 1 million dollars to look away, at that moment, I couldn’t have even understood what they were asking.  4-Peat was moving in fits and jerks like a car running out of gas.  Had there been anyone in front of me I would have shaken them to death in a fit of pure adrenaline.

800 Meters into the race, 4-Peat began looking over his shoulder.

What he saw would’ve scared a lesser man, or anyone with an IQ above freezing.  It was a pack of the finest milers in the country bearing down on him, approximately 250 meters away from lapping him. IN THE FIRST TWO LAPS.

In all my years as a spectator of JV and fun-running competition I had never seen anyone in danger of getting lapped so quickly.  A roar was steadily building in my mind.  We were about to see a new kind of KU Relays record.  One of futility and ineptitude.  We were about to witness the worst beating in the mile race.  Ever.

As the elite runners bore down on 4-Peat I got that sense that he would hold the inside lane until trampled.

It was like seeing a car stall out on the train tracks with a Union Pacific behemoth coming at full blast.  Not even Chris Pine and Denzel Washington could stop this freight train.

Moments from doom, 4-Peat suddenly pulled the ejector seat on his crazy ride to glory.  Seeing that he was about to get destroyed for the 5th time in 5 races, the man we were referring to as “5-Peat” did something disappointing.

He played it smart.

(*Author’s note: Before you think that this story has some kind of happy ending, you should still keep in mind who’s narrating and who the story is being written about.)

Instead of bowing out of the race with his infinitesimally tiny amount of dignity still intact, 5-Peat faked like he blew out a hamstring.

He leapt into the air like a triple jumper in mid-ACL tear, head whiplashing backwards with a startlingly intense g-force, and fell in a sweaty heap of Adidas crap squarely in the middle of lane one.  5-Peat lay strewn face down on the track and appeared to have no intention of getting his broke-ass off the track.

He lay there, a cadaver, until the race officials sprinted over, unceremoniously drug him off the track and dumped him on the infield.

The officials deposited the scrawny carcass near the 50-yard-line and ran back over to watch the exciting conclusion of the race.  5-Peat lolled about on the infield like a whale run aground or a first-time drinker who just went 12 rounds with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

We were all elated.  I repeatedly made a fool of myself by high-fiving anyone around and jubilantly shouting, “He did it!  He did it.  It’s a 5-Peat!”

We left the stadium that day in a daze.

We weren’t sure what we’d seen.  Was this some kind of inane, practical joke pulled by a KU Relays official?  Performance art by an art-school hipster?

How did 5-Peat get into some of the most competitive fields?  Was the government involved in some kind of conspiracy?  We may never know.  I’m still not sure who won the Collegiate 800, the 5k Fun Run, the College Mile, the Open 800, or even the Elite Men’s mile.  What I will always remember, however, is that I witnessed a 5-Peat.

(*Author’s note: sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.  Especially if the cover is really bad.)

FIN

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