We’re back in Carman Hall on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston, IL, with rooms on the second floor, after a dinner trip to Pagliacci’s family style restaurant in Matoon and a trip to the Matoon Walmart.
The six boys with us are currently down in the first floor lounge playing ping-pong and watching the Heat vs. Pacers game on a big screen television. I’m in my room, listening with some concern to a very loud group of boys who share the floor with us. It is 9:30, on our first night in the dorm. I wonder how loud they will be tomorrow night, when many boys are eliminated from competition and no longer have races to run. We have at least one boy that we know will be racing on Saturday, and he will need his sleep tomorrow night.
Earlier in the day we drove a school mini-bus down from Saint Ignatius in Chicago, stopping at the Subway travel stop in Ashkum, between Kankakee and Champaign; we bumped into the team from Chicago’s Jones College Prep there (we would later see them again at Pagliacci’s!). We arrived around 3:00 to Charleston, checked in to get rooms in a dormitory, and then went to the track to practice.
At the crowded and busy track, our distance runners did a few laps, got frustrated by the crowds and did a big lap of the fields, and then jogged back to the dorm. Our hurdler, Conor Dunham, and I set up intermediate hurdles on the 300 marks, and then, while I tried to keep the lane clear for a few moments, Conor ran over two or three hurdles at a time, working our way around the track. Meanwhile, pole vaulter Elliot Gibson worked with Coach Pat Boyle on the pole vault runway, battling a big wind that, even on this hot day, several times threatened to blow over the pole vault standards.
It has been a busy day.
My day started by taking my kids Luc and Maisie to school, a daily task that usually falls to their mother, since she teaches at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. But Peggy went to the Pretty Lake Adventure Center in Kalamazoo, MI, on an overnight camping trip with her seventh grade students, leaving me the school drop off job; Peggy will be home in time to pick them up from their after school program at 5:00. After school drop off, I went to Ignatius to teach my 8:00 and 9:00 classes, before leaving in our van at 11:15 or so with six underclass boys.
Another group of four boys will come down tomorrow with two more coaches, after they attend the Baccalaureate Mass tonight for our graduating seniors. Because I am on the road, I miss that event.
The time on the track was perhaps a highlight. Our boys were all business. They seem focused and serious about the task at hand. By the way, I also snuck in a mile of my own while we were just, just to get my run in for the day.
On the van ride down from Chicago, Jack Keelan and I talked again about our big decision—should he run the 1600 preliminary heats on Friday to qualify for that race final on Saturday? On Saturday, he will first run the 3200-meter run, a race without a prelim, at 1:00 or so. The predicted 95 degree heat for Friday and Saturday plays into our decision. The strength of the field in both races also seems to weigh against running both races and doing well in both. But Keelan has decided he wants to run both—and I am agreed, in part because whatever the decision, Keelan has to believe in it.
We also talked some strategy, and it has struck me that we really have a simple goal for the weekend: In all three of his races, Keelan will try to run the last 800 meters of each race under 2:05. If he can do that on Friday afternoon off a reasonable pace—a 2:10 first 800, say—he can run 4:15 or so, a time which should qualify him for the finals on Saturday. If he can do that off a fast pace on Saturday in the 3200—after a 4:30 to 4:35 for the first 1600 meters—he should have a chance to win the race. If he can do it again on Friday, in the 1600, off a more aggressive pace—under 2:10—he might have a chance to medal in that race, as well.
Our sophomore hurdler Dunham also has a chance to make it through the prelims to run on Saturday. His 38.99 seconds race at the sectional last week was a personal best by a full second; it ranks him tenth on the qualifying list at the state meet. He will have to beat at least one of the runners ranked ahead of him–and all the runners chasing behind him–to run on Saturday.
We have the slowest qualifying time of all the teams in the 4×800 relay, 8:14.95. But we know we can run faster—maybe a lot faster. Last year we came to state with a slower qualifying time, 8:19, and ran 8:01. Our goal tomorrow is to run under 8:00—and beat some teams. We will do this, in part, with a lineup change. Our senior co-captain, Patrick Santino, did not qualify in the 3200 last week, so he is available to run the 4×800. He ran our fastest leg at the Chicago Catholic League meet, 2:01.3, and he can run faster. He will be joined by sophomore Taylor Dugas, junior Elliot Gibson, and senior co-captain Mike Tonner. None of these boys has ever broken 2:00 for 800 meters, but they could do so tomorrow.
Finally, Dunham will also run the 110 high hurdles tomorrow, where he is one of the slower qualifiers; but it will be a good warm up for him. Gibson will also compete in the pole vault; his best vault is 12 feet; the starting height at the state meet will be 13 feet and 6 inches. Sophomore Chris Korabik will compete with Keelan in the 1600 meter, where he also has the slowest qualifying time in the race, 4:28. We expect he will run faster, too.
My day tomorrow should start with a 6:00 am run, a tradition for me here at the state meet and one that I will enjoy more than previous recent years because I am in fact running regularly. We’ll roust the boys at 8:00 and try to get to breakfast before 9:00 at What’s Cooking in downtown Charleston.
More from the state meet tomorrow night!