The stage had been set for weeks, the only thing that was changing were the athletes out on the track attempting to run the fastest ever mile in the state of Michigan.
It was such a perfect night, putting my thoughts into coherent sentences to write this article, alludes me. Watching elite high school athletes compete is amazing, watching elite college athletes compete is unbelievable, and watching elite professional athletes compete is.. well, I don't quite know how to finish that sentence right now.
Here is a rough timeline of how the night went:
5:30 - I arrived to set everything up so I could enjoy the night. I asked the Saline head coach and meet organizer, Carl Spina, what a dream night would be for him. He threw out 1,200 and we both laughed slightly thinking that was a strech.
6:30 - there weTe 1,000+ people there with the bleachers overflowing and people moving to the grass.
7:00 - People moved onto the track to fill out from the start of the 300 hurdles past the start of the 100 dash, over 200 meters of a small crowd of people.
7:15 - The hill infront of me was overflowing. As I was getting ready to tell people they couldn't sit there, I looked around to find that the entire stadium was overflowing with bodies. All the way around the track, on the infield, in the bleachers, and covering the grassy hills.
8:00 - Everyone goes silent as they wait for the introductions of the athletes. By this point, the track is busting at the seams, as you hear people talking about traffic being backed up along Michigan Avenue all the way to the freeway!
8:05 - The runners await the final commands from the starter. The crowd of 4,000+ goes silent once again.
Complete results can be found here
Watch a live-stream of the race here
Watch an up-close video of the race here
8:08 - Gun is off. The crowd instantly begins to go nuts, as John Dolsen, senior cross country runner for Saline High School paces the pack through the first lap.
8:08+3:56.57 - Nick Willis comes in first place, finishing in 3:56.57. Not quite a Michigan record, but still a good time, and the crowd shows their appreication. Most of them witnessing the fastest mile they have ever, and might ever see in their lives.
8:08+3:57.40 - Dan Clark finishes a close second, with a big time personal best..
8:08+3:58.06 - Miles Batty finishes, just 1.5 seconds behind Willis.
8:08+3:58.97 - Macklin Chaffee outleans Tony Jordanek for fourth place. The two are seperated by just .02 seconds! (See picture on right)
8:08+3:59.30 - Dan Lowry finishes to make this the sixth competitor under 4 minutes!
8:08+3:59.50 - Liam Boylan-Pett sneaks under 4 to round out the top 7.
8:08+4:00.49 - Joshua McAlary comes in just over 4 minutes.
8:08+4:05.73 - Kenyon Neuman and Ian Boyle finish within .15 to take spots 9 and 10.
8:08+4:16.15 - Tony Filipek rounds out the field completing the festivities for the night.
..Or so we thought. Instead, Nick Willis takes the microphone from announcer, Steve Arrivo, and proceeds to thank everyone there including his legendary coach, Ron Warhurst, and the entire crew at the Running Institute. He thanks the crowd for all the support, and although it always seems chessy when you see it on TV, when you are in the stadium, you honestly believe that you helped all of these guys accomplish their tasks. It was a surreal feeling that I will most likely never forget.
All of the athletes proceed to sign souveneirs and take photos with every single person that asks for one. Not only did the fans get to see a world-class distance race without paying a dime, they also got to meet each of the athletes.
To top it off, the promotion to have Nick and the entire Running Institute team visit your high school practice becomes difficult to name a "winner" so Nick decides that they will go to all of the teams that showed up to watch and make their presence known. An absolute class act from one of the truest gentlemen in the running community.
That's what made the night so special. Not just because we got to see some fast times, but because we got to watch the heart of distance running in southeast Michigan lead an enormous event, comprising some fantastic talent, in a race on a high school track on an amazing summer night.
Nick Willis, you have spoiled us, and we look forward to anything in the future that you put together.