The Boston Valentine Shuffle
by Jon Gugala
BOULDER, Colo. - Macklin Chaffee is debating on whether to board a bus in the next five minutes.
At the end of that bus trip is Denver International and a flight to Boston, originally for the Boston University Valentine Invitational indoor meet, which was canceled earlier today by the meet director due to a forecast of up to two feet of snow between Friday and Saturday.
The question is, does Chaffee get on the bus? Because there's a lot riding on it. For the 26-year-old miler and other post-collegians like him, this weekend in Boston was about more than just a time--it's about a place.
The USA Indoor Track & Field Championships qualification window is coming to a close on February 24, and many, like Chaffee, who opened their indoor seasons in earnest in the new year, are in need of that mark (4:01.20 for the mile). The BU Valentine Invite was the critical next step.
"For me, USA Indoors [is] a big chance to get up and compete on a nationally televised event--and do well," Chaffee says, adding that his adopted home in Boulder historically gives him a "natural advantage" when competing at altitude.
But without a mark, he won't be going. And if he doesn't race this weekend, there aren't a lot of opportunities left.
"[Boston] was canceled late enough that I'm striking out trying to get into other meets," Chaffee says.
When he got the news about Boston, Chaffee called Spire Institute in Ohio--they're hosting a meet this weekend. But they're all booked up. So he found one at the University of New Mexico. But it's at altitude, and all their guys are going up to Washington for a meet. The University of Nebraska has one. But it won't be fast enough. University of Washington is hosting their annual Husky Classic, but a last-minute plane ticket's price makes the trip cost-prohibitive.
Chaffee's last chance he feels is at the Armory in New York City on Saturday, where the legendary indoor track will host the Lafayette Rider Winter Games, primarily a collegiate meet.
Jack Pfeifer, the Armory Foundation's director for track & field college meets, says that in response to an overwhelming interest from both collegiate and post-collegiate athletes like Chaffee since BU's cancellation, the Armory meet will start an hour earlier, at 12:00 P.M. instead of at 1, and that the meet will last "as long as we have to."
Co-director of the meet, Rider University's Bob Hamer, says that he received the Boston news after getting out of a staff meeting at 10 A.M., and spent the next four hours fielding phone inquiries about adding athletes--and therefore, additional heats--to the meet. "It's been crazy," he says, adding that already over 100 athletes have been accepted, and he expects that number to go higher before the day's end.
While Hamer says that the additional entries will be preferential toward collegiate athletes, clubs and pro athletes will also be considered.
"It's a difficult time of year, and we're sensitive to that," Hamer says. "We're doing the best we can to accommodate everybody."
But back in Boulder, Chaffee is still deliberating on whether to change his ticket to New York City, hoping that he'll receive confirmation of acceptance in the meet before he boards. Without the Armory meet, he'll be dependent on the good graces of some collegiate last-chance meet director--hardly a guarantee.
It was in Boston in 2011 that Chaffee when sub-4 in the mile, notching his PR of 3:58.8. And it's Boston again in 2013 that has changed everything.
"I know that I'm fit enough to run the standard at that meet," Chaffee says. "I mean, it's an indoor meet. When was the last time an indoor meet was cancelled?"