Cross-posted from HaveSpikesWillTravel Blog
This Saturday I’ll be racing in the Olympic Development Mile at the 118th running of the Penn Relays. It will be my 6th appearance at the Relays (three times with my college 4×4, twice in the mile), and I anticipate it will be, like every time before, absolutely and without fail, utter pandemonium. With over 100,000 people attending the 3 day racing carnival and with over 400 races taking place, this is the most insane track event in the United States. Warming up for USA Nationals at Hayward Field last summer was downright civilized when compared to the mayhem that is the Penn Relays’ paddock system. The crowd at Pan Americans this fall seemed like attendees of garden party when compared the riotous crowd in Franklin Field.
Hell, even the Penn Relays’ website calls their paddock “controlled chaos.”
Let me be clear. The noise, the crowd, and the intensity are exactly why I love the Penn Relays. If you can successfully warm-up through the packed streets and food vendors, handle the potentially extreme heat or freezing rain that is April weather in Pennsylvania, make it to the starting line and navigate a huge a field of racers, AND race well, then you can race well ANYWHERE. A win at Penn Relays is a win against the odds and a huge confidence boost. My parents and I joke that the Olympics have nothing on the Penn Relays. As far as I know, no Olympic stadium has broken out into a deafening choir of “whoops” when a runner makes a decisive pass on the top turn and catches the leader.
The Penn Relays are like a mini-Hunger Games. There are 23 women in my race on Saturday, just 1 person shy of the 24 tributes featured the books, and only one gold-watch winner. And while no one dies at the Penn Relays, there are a fair amount of injuries. I’ve been spiked twice, fell once, and received a bruise from another racer last year that made me look like I’d been in a bar fight. And if you think the Penn Relays aren’t dangerous, don’t tell this girl:
I’ve also got my own personal Haymitch in Coach Gags to mentor me through the race. Here he is working his coaching magic at the Penn Relays 20+ years ago with Georgetown.
So Happy Penn Relays, Track Fans! And may the odds be ever in your favor!