I awoke Sunday morning to the awful news coming out of Houston. The hurricane gave way to massive flooding. “Worse than the worst case scenario,” they said. After a week of worrying about my friends in Corpus Christi, I couldn’t take it anymore. I texted Gumbo to make sure she was OK. “Leave me alone, you weird old man,” she replied. I figured that was a sign all was well. So I laced up my shoes and headed for my place of refuge:
The track never changes. It’s always the same 400 meters, unaffected by rain or wind or seasons. You can turn off your head and block out the world and just go mindlessly around in little circles. Except.
There was a massage table in Lane 9.
I’ve seen a lot of things in Lane 9. A coach in a lounge chair reading a book. An offensive lineman doing yoga. The entire MCC track team sitting for an hour. But this was my first massage table.
Next to it were two guys. One must have been the massage guy, although he did not appear to be named Olga and looked more like a student. The other guy was fast.
He was wearing a Hoka shirt, Hoka tights and Hoka shoes. I consider myself a student of track and field, so I quickly deduced that he must be sponsored by Hoka. Of course, I was wearing New Balance shoes and New Balance shorts and they enjoy taking MY money on a regular basis, so I guess you never know.
He was leaning on the fence and doing the warmup stuff that fast guys do. Scissors, leg lifts, stretches, all that stuff that’s required when you have a lot of muscles, which is why I always avoided them. He looked fast, but that’s not so unusual. This track attracts a lot of fast guys.
As I did my loops, I tried to eavesdrop. All I caught was him trying to explain Jack Daniels’ philosophy to the guy. “It’s more for marathoners,” he said. A clue! He wasn’t a marathoner. Was he an ultra guy? If so, why the track?
And then, he started running. Just a jog. He didn’t look like he was pushing much, but he didn’t seem that fast. A rich Scottsdale guy who bought out the Hoka store and travels with his own massage table? I had visions of the Monica boyfriend of “friends” who wanted to be the ultimate fighter. Yawn. I went back to daydreaming.
Somewhere during my lap he had lost the shirt and tights. It was just him, shorts, a pair of Hoka Tracers and a backward baseball cap. And he was flying. We’ve shared the track with the Dartmouth track team and the world’s best decathlete, but this felt different. This guy was an absolute rocket. He was doing 400s, one lap around the track, followed by cooldowns. As he jogged past, I could see he had the perfect runner’s body. Totally chiseled, lean, all legs, breathtaking. And when he was in flight, he was a blur. Controlled chaos, a motion perfected by what must have been a million miles of training.
Who the hell was he?
I guess it didn’t matter. On a day that started out so sadly, I had found my inspiration on the track. The world was OK after all.
Mo and I have always joked about handing out index cards at the track for people to fill out. I am too shy to ask, but it drives me crazy. I thought about asking the other guy while he was doing a quarter, but what if I didn’t know who he was? So embarrassing. Besides, it looked like he would be here at least a few weeks, if he had moved in with his massage table. I’d get Mo to ask. I couldn’t wait for her to watch him run.
I left the track to go to work, and it bugged me all day. How could I find out?
The answer came this afternoon as I checked letsrun.
They have a tradition on their homepage of turning it all black when huge news happens. This was one of those days. Three photos and one headline devoted to a runner was all they had on the page, the equivalent of blowing out the front page of the newspaper. And as I looked at the photo, there he was.
David Torrence. A standout at Cal-Berkeley where he had bet a friend that if he could run a sub-4 mile, the friend would have to run a naked mile. Knowing he wasn’t fast enough, the friend said yes. So Torrence went out at 2 a.m. on a city street with a screaming downhill to run a 3:45. That alone would’ve been enough for me.
But he also has a 3:52.01 legit mile PR, 1:45.14 800, 13:16.53 5K. He ran a leg on the world record 4 X 800 team for the U.S. and finished 15th in the Olympic 5,000 in Rio in 2016.
THE 15TH FASTEST 5K RUNNER IN THE FREAKING WORLD!!!! This would explain why he looked so fast.
Letsrun devoted the entire front to him because he was found dead this morning in the swimming pool of his condo down the street from us. They don’t know why. 31 years old.
I went to the track to escape the flooding in Houston and found the joy of a guy running faster than almost anyone on the planet.
And then he drowned.
Life is funny …