Tracktown Summer Series Diary: Races just do not go as planned, by Lori Shontz

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The second Tracktown Summer series meet was held in Portland today. We asked Lori Shontz, a professor at the University of Oregon who mentors young writers in sports journalism, to cover the meet for us. Here is the first of her two pieces!

GRESHAM, Oregon - Before their race Sunday afternoon at the Tracktown Summer Series event in Portland, the competitors in the men's 1,500 meters sat down for a talk. The theme: How their race should go.

The plan, according to Ben Blankenship, was this: Robby Andrews, who won his first U.S. title the week before but didn't run fast enough to get the world championship qualifier, would win and get the standard of 3 minutes, 36 seconds, and everyone else would get a PR.

Then they posed for a silly Twitter video and went to root on their teammates.

The race didn't go quite like they drew it up, but it was an entertaining one nonetheless. Andrews didn't get the standard--he stepped off the track with 300 meters to go--but Blankenship and Kyle Merber crossed the line together in 3:37:43. Blankenship ended up with the win by .006.

He said he knew he had won: "I could feel it, just the little peripheral that I had it by just enough."

Merber, on Twitter posting with Blankenship, begged to differ: "Don't believe the clocks. I actually won #FakeNews."

All eyes had been on Andrews, who was already entered in the event and therefore had a good opportunity to meet the standard. Meet organizers helped him out, bringing in two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong to pace the race. ("We can just pull them out of the weeds in Portland," public address announcer Paul Swangard pointed out as the field was announced, nothing the depth of runners who train locally.)

IMG_7515.jpgRobbie Andrews, 2017 USATF Champs, photo by Mike Deering for The Shoe Addicts

Lopez took the field through 800 in 1:55, and while the field was bunched, Andrews was toward the back. "Before the race, we talked about potentially going through 1,200 in 2:52," Blankenship said. "And it seemed a little aggressive."

Andrews, who was running for the San Francisco Surge in the team-focused event, said he did feel some pressure to get the standard--"it's my job to get it," he said--but he realized early on that he couldn't do it when the field went out hard.

"I think that may have been the problem," he said. "I felt a little too good early on--we were out there a little quick. Lopez did a great job--he got it strung out nice and early. I felt bad for San Francisco, but as soon as I realized I didn't have it in my legs, I kind of stepped off and tried to save it for Thursday."

Andrews will have another chance to make the standard at the Tracktown Summer Series Championship on Thursday in New York City. He said he expects to be more recovered from U.S. nationals, which, despite the intense heat, he called more of an emotional drain than a physical one.

"Winning your first national title--honestly, it's humbling," he said. "But it took a lot more out of me than I was expecting it to. Getting second was almost a blessing in disguise the last few years."

Andrews said he got about two hours of sleep Saturday night after the final, then only a couple more hours Sunday night. He flew back to Portland on Monday. "We landed at 8, and I swore it was midnight," he said. "I could have slept for two days."

Blankenship, too, is recovering from U.S. nationals, where he finished 12th. "It felt a lot better than USAs," he told the media, laughing after his win. "Thanks for asking."

Blankenship said he's rooting for Andrews to get the qualifying time--even though if Andrews does not, Blankenship will represent the United States at worlds thanks to his mile run at the Prefontaine Classic. "I'd love to have him get the standard," Blankenship said. "He did his job that day. He got the win."

Blankenship is one of four U.S. runners who have met the world standard. Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz and Johnny Gregorek are already on the team, and Blankenship finished ahead of the fourth qualifier, Clayton Murphy, at U.S. nationals.

Andrews has until July 21 to get the standard, so if Blankenship does get to go to worlds, he won't know for several more weeks. He said that isn't a problem--his training won't change much, although he will perhaps run one more race than he would have if he'd made the world team.

And he said he felt strong Sunday, and he enjoyed running in front of the crowd, some of whom were able to stand on the track and get a close-up view of the photo finish.

"With everybody being so close and intimate, you could definitely tell there was some kind of surge behind me," Blankenship said. "I didn't want to have to work every last moment or every last inch, but it was a great finish. And hopefully the crowd was entertained."

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