Tag Archives: Penn Relays

PENN is a Four Letter Word

PENN may be most beautiful four letter word in the Track & Field dictionary but my senior year in HS as I rounded the final turn and hit the home straight-away of the Championship of America DMR I had a number of uglier four letter words going through my head.

I was in the lead, barely, with 100m to go. I finished 4th.I got ripped. Shredded. Torn up. Woop-wooped at Penn. It was ugly. And it was also crushing, heartbreaking, devastating, cataclysmic, brutal, mean, lonely and not funny in the least – to me. I lost. I was beaten – not once or twice but three times in the final straight at Franklin Field. It was the single most important race I had ever run up to that point in my career. Looking back, it may still be the most important race I ever ran. It’s surely the one race I think about more than any of the others. Penn is a scar.

But, Penn is more than that race or any one race. It is so much more.

Penn is a Fair. We’re in the midst of the carnival that is the Penn Relays right now. Yesterday the ladies took center stage with the College DMR and HS Girls Mile and 3K and DMR Championships. Last night, Franklin Field was taken over by distance running fanatics. Distance Night is race after race of, you guessed it, distance running. 5k’s and 10k’s and steeplechases. It’s awesome, especially if you are a running-nerd and the crowd is almost entirely running nerds.

Penn is Home. If you love this sport and spend time with it and support it and take part in it then when you go to Penn you will spend large parts of your time bumping into people you know. It’s crazy how you can walk around a stadium of 50,000 people and constantly have to stop and shake hands with someone or hug someone else. Track & Field is a small and tight knit community and within that community are a number of families. Penn is like a reunion or homecoming or Thanksgiving. It’s a joy to see old friends at Penn and a gift to be able to head to Philly every year and leave with a few new friends because of the Relays.

Penn is the Race. Every race, and there are 100’s, is the race while it has the track. It does not matter if it is the College Mens Championship of America 4×800 or heat #44 of the HS Girls 4×100 – if it is a good race the crowd, all of it, will acknowledge. The backstretch will stand if a 15 year old is making a big move on the homestretch and the homestretch will stand if there is a battle on the backstretch. The crowd will erupt with woop-woops if someone is getting walked down (know this firsthand). It is hour after hour of racing which is perfect because the crowd came for racing.

Penn is Food. Luckily, I’ve never had a problem with celebrating a beautiful and healthy exercise while gorging on seasoned trash. The Food at Penn is standard sporting event fare – $9 chicken fingers and french fry baskets or $7.50 cheeseburgers. You can get some Jamaican food if you’d like. I steer clear of that. It’s a question of patriotism really. I feel it is my duty to eat incredibly unhealthy American food while I scream, mouth full, U-S-A as the Yanks rock the Island interlopers. If I need to eat very poorly for 72 hours so our sprinters can handle Jamaica at Penn then dammit I will do it. I got a little off topic here. Sorry. I’ll end the food portion here with some simple advice. At some point over the meet leave Franklin Field and get a Cheesesteak. If you don’t people literally yell at you.

Penn is Fear. Stepping onto the track is overwhelming then terrifying then invigorating then terrifying again. If you are a college or HS athlete Penn is most likely the biggest and most exciting stage you will ever perform on. The 1% of the 1% will get to run at Pre and in Europe and at Trials. Everyone else, if they are lucky, get Penn. For so many it is their Olympics and World Championships and Super Bowl and Prom and Broadway debut rolled into one. It’s their chance to feel elite. With all of that comes fear and terror. You can see it on the young runners faces as they take the track. Good. Everyone should experience that panic. What I love is that I have never seen someone walk off the track before they race. They all overcome that fear. They race. Badass.

Penn is Pain. It hurts more at Penn. Probably because you want it more. The effort, the wind, the cold, the heat, the loss – they all are more. Maybe it’s because your senses are aware of everything. And because of that the pain is greater – more real. The elbows are pointier, the spikes are sharper, the pace is more severe, the sprints are faster, the long drives are…longer. Penn just takes more. And when it takes from you, well, it’s painful. But it’s worth it.

Penn is the Wall. “Face the Wall”. You will hear those instructions as you wait in the paddock. Those words mean it is almost time. Soon, you will be on the oval. You will be center stage. Close to 50,000 rabid track junkies will be watching. What they want is competition. They will cheer success and failure all the same. Are you ready? Of course you are! You are already walking to the wall.

Penn is Penn. There is no other meet like it. There are no fans like the ones at Penn. Sorry Europe. Penn is just, well, a really powerful four letter word. Yes, when I think about Penn I have a number of four letter words – fu$*, $hi^, etc., that I remember rolled through my head and heart and soul back in 1994. But, I also have those other four letter words though too – Scar, Fair, Home, Race, Food, Fear, Pain, and Wall. They mean Penn too.

But mostly, I have a five letter and three letter word that I hear over and over again when it comes time for The Penn Relays.

Thank you.

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Johnny Track & Field

My favorite baseball player is Don Mattingly. He was the first baseman for the NY Yankees from 1984-1997. He is now the Manager for the NL Champion LA Dodgers. Many of us Mattingly fans refer to him as Donnie Baseball. Mattingly was the AL MVP in 1985 when he averaged .324 with an AL leading 48 doubles and 145 RBI’s. He was the best defensive first baseman of his era winning the Golden Glove 9 times. He was absolutely brilliant in the batters box. He had both power and discipline. He once hit homers in 8 straight games, a Major League Record. In one three year stretch he hit 96 home runs and only struck out 114 times! Amazing stuff.  He even rocked a mustache. He was The Captain of the Yankees. He respected baseball and played the game the right way. For a young Yankees fan during a dark time for the franchise (the Yanks stunk when I was a kid) he was the one guy in pinstripes that kept the fire burning. He was the Yankee that gave us hope and pride. He seemed destined to someday take his place in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Injuries derailed his career. A bad back made Mattingly’s last few years not only painful for him but painful for his fans to watch. He only knew how to give everything he had but the injuries meant he couldn’t play his best. He retired in 1995 having never played in a World Series. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996. They won in 1998 too. They won in 1999 and 2000 also. His shortened career has not been enough to get Donnie Baseball in the Hall of Fame. It just does not seem fair. I thought of Mattingly the other day as I read about a runner that I looked up to during that same time.

John Trautmann was a complete stud in HS. He ran for Monroe-Woodbury High School of New York graduating in 1986. He set still standing NY Sophomore Class Records when he ran 4:11.8 for 1600m, 9:08.61 for 2 Miles, 32:02 for the 10k and 12:29 at Van Cortland Park. He would run 12:18 his senior year at VCP on a course that had at best terrible footing. He set an overall NY record when he ran 8:05.8 for 3000m in the 1986 Penn Relays HS Boys 3k. That is still the Boys Record at the Penn Relays. He was a beast.

Trautmann took his fleet feet to Georgetown University to run for legendary coach Frank “Gags” Gagliano and the Hoyas. His excellence continued at Georgetown. Trautmann was the NCAA Outdoor 5,000 meter Champion and ran the lead-off 1200m leg on the World Record setting distance medley relay at the 1987 Penn Relays. He anchored the Georgetown DMR in 1991 with one of the fastest splits, 3:55.3, ever at Penn. He utterly dominated the Big East distance events while he was a Hoya. He was an animal.

After Georgetown he continued his tear. He ran a great 13:20 for 5k when Americans simply were not great. He was the #1 ranked American at 5000m in 1992, an Olympic year. He won the Olympic Trials that year hammering past the great Bob Kennedy. The Barcelona Games looked to be a breakout stage for Trautmann. Then he got hurt. His forefoot/toes were in excruciating pain. His training suffered. He could not even finish his semi-final heat in the 5k. He had to stop. The injury never really healed. The pain never left. In fact, it started to affect his achilles. As a runner few could run with and through pain like Trautmann. But, there is a difference between hurting and being hurt. I would find out about that difference a few weeks after an injured and dejected Trautmann walked off the 1992 Olympic track.

As my favorite baseball player was showing up for work every day in pain and one of my first running heroes was limping more than he was running I got injured for the first time in my young running career. I got a stress fracture in 1992. Then I got mono in 1992. Then I severely hurt my hip flexor in 1993. My favorite athletes were hurt. I was hurt. They were not getting any better. I was. I  used them as inspiration. They helped get me out the door to do those 5 minute and then 10 minute and then 20 minute training runs as I tried to come back because I knew they were fighting to get back. They helped get me through those early bad races which turned into mediocre races which soon enough became good races because I knew they were not at the top of their game but they still showed up to play, to race, to train. I watched Mattingly play in pain on WPIX. I saw Trautmann race,injured, at the Colonial Relays at William and Mary in VA. He was limping so badly. I could tell he wanted to be able to do it, without that pain. I remembered what that had been like only a few months earlier for me. I was healthy though. He was still hurt.

They kept trying, until the pain simply became too much. Mattingly retired just as the Yankees re-established their dominance of baseball. Trautmann, the injury not healing, stopped running. A few of Trautmann’s competitors’ especially Bob Kennedy, Steve Holman, Mark Croghan, Rich Kenah, and Todd Williams carried the torch of American distance running. They bridged the gap between the American Distance Running Dark Ages of the 1990’s and the current American Golden Age. Trautmann should have been one of those guys. He might have been the best of the group. He might of been Track & Field Hall of Fame material, a world beater.

He still might get his chance

Trautmann is back. He is healthy, at least healthy for John Trautmann. He is training with Gags again. He is racing in New York again. He is 45 years old. He’s a Master’s runner and he just ran 4:22 for the mile. The World Record for 45 year olds is 4:16.83. He is having his second act.  The focus this Indoor Track season has been, and rightly so, on up and coming studs, American Records falling and runners leaving this sponsor for that sponsor. I’m hoping we have the room for one more great story.

John Trautmann could see the mountaintop back in 1992. It was there, so close, when he dominated the US Olympic Trials 5k. Injury kept him from reaching the apex. He had to walk back down, limp back down really. Most people, once they put in all that work, all those years of effort, after they experience such a setback may keep the trainers out but will pack up the spikes for good.  Trautmann has decided, after leaving the sport and gaining 72 pounds, after working as a successful bond trader, after having multiple foot surgeries, to go after it all again. He never quit. He stopped. Now, he has started again. In a terrific season of Track & Field where we will have Rupp looking to break 3:50 in the mile, Mary Cain and Alexa Efraimson shattering HS records, the Brooks Beast 4×800 trying to set a World Record at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix I have to admit my loudest cheering will be saved for John Trautmann. I’ve owed him for a very long time for inspiring me to come back from injuries; to never give up. He’s reminding me of those lessons again. Now, it’s time to pay him back. I may not be able to put on a Dodger’s jersey for Mattingly, that is asking too much. But this Tar Heel can put on a Georgetown hat, head to the NYC Armory, stand along the rail on that back straightaway and cheer like hell for one of the best who never had a chance to be the best. Until now.

Look out world. Hoya Saxa!

Trautmann will be racing in the Master’s Mile at the NB Indoor Grand Prix Meet in Boston. You can get the info you need on this great meet by clicking here.