Friday, March 30, 2007

Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to have taken it upon themselves to take on long-distance running with the thaw in Toronto. Harry, particularly enthused, has gone so far as to sponsor the upcoming Spring Run-Off in High Park, the first race of 2007 sufficient in size for the services of a carnival barker or two at the start line. As the barker bellows furiously about the sponsor, the pancakes, the weather or the number of on-course washrooms, participants may be forgiven for having forgotten that they are not, in fact, advancing to meet Braxton Bragg's troops at the Battle of Chickamauga.

At any rate, there is no sense by which the casual running which accompanies beautiful spring weather leads to running the Spring Run-Off. There is nothing at all conventionally enjoyable or lovely about that race, which plunges down, and therefore trudges back up, two of High Park's steepest hills. Unless Tom, Dick and Harry (and let's not forget Harpreet) run largely to induce vertigo and vomiting, the real joy of the Spring Run-Off may be lost upon them.

It's safe to say that neither Tom, nor Dick, nor Harry are aware that an 18-year old named Daniel Komen ran and won the race in 1994, touching the ground every now and then en route to running 22:35 for 8 km. That course record still stands, as does Komen's legend, his career being the most dazzling yet ephemeral in the history running. Komen is best known for being the only man in history to run two consecutive 4-minute miles, fittingly achieving the feat twice in two years. His 3,000-metre world record of 7:20, set in the aftermath of missing the Atlanta Olympics, not only stands to this day, but has withstood assaults by the greatest runners of this generation.

Just as quickly as he rose to greatness and almost as quickly as he ran, Komen disappeared. He is, after all, only 30 years old today. His achievements from 1996-1998 are striking, but so is his subsequent vanishing act, finished with the sport at the age of 23. So quickly and so astonishingly did Komen disappear that when 1500-metre runner Daniel Kipchirchir Komen recently entered the world stage, many were convinced that the legendary Komen had made a comeback. It was not, unfortunately the case. It may be for the best that Komen's vertigo-inducing feats remain the stuff of legend. His course record at the Spring Run-Off is an insignificant part of that legend, but one that 2,000 Torontonians will be able to appreciate next Saturday. The joy of the Spring Run-Off is the joy of lung-searing competition, of breaking the sound barrier going down the Spring Road hill, of gasping in vain while ascending the same hill and, most plainly, of a primal relief at the finish.

No comments: