Some of us started out as cyclists, but many of us came from other sports. For me, it was running, the two-legged variety (is there any other kind?). While I don't run much anymore I still enjoy a good track meet. Luckily, for me, there is a great track meet, the Payton Jordan Invitational, just down the road in Palo Alto every spring. What elevates this meet from great to almost legendary is that it specializes in producing really fast distance races. Hey, nothing against sprinters and the field event types, but it seems like the distance runners never get any of the glamour, maybe it is tough to get excited about somebody after you have seen them for 24 straight laps. Where's the newness?
But, that's exactly what happens every spring at Stanford. The best distance runners in the collegiate and open ranks converge on Palo Alto and light it up. Just about every race from the 1500m to the 10000m generates some sort of "best" from American records to collegiate records to world, American, collegiate and even high school season bests. And in an Olympic year, when many athletes are trying to meet the Olympic qualifying standards the races are that much more exciting.
The 2008 performances were nothing short of spectacular. Season best times in the Women's 3000m steeplechase started it all off. We saw sub 4-minute mile equivalents in both the top sections of the men's 1500m(3:39/3:40). Then there was the season's leading collegiate time in the Women's 1500m(4:07) and finishing in 10th place was high school junior Jordan Hasay(!) whose 4:17 was the best time in the US for a high schooler. 2007 dual World Champion Bernard Legat won the 5000m in a very fast 13:18, but right behind was University of Colorado's Brett Vaughn with a breakthrough effort that set the season's leading collegiate time and heralded the arrival of another US distance star.
The event of the evening was the Women's 10000m where current US record holder in the 5000m (14:44) Shalane Flanagan had announced before the race that she would attempt to break Deanna Kastor's mark of 30:52. With the help of a pace setter through the first 5000m Shalane and New Zealander Kim Smith set the stage for a second half duel that had the crowd on its feet. With nearly identical splits (15:17/15:17) Flanagan broke the record by more than 18 seconds and with Kim Smith just a second back, New Zealand had a new national record as well. In fact, Smith lowered her PR by almost 45 seconds. Yeah, the Payton Jordan Invitational is great, almost legendary.