Three elite Comox Valley Road Runners teamed up with Michael Lax of Victoria to annihilate the men’s national 55-59 4×800 metre relay track record.
Local athletes Wayne Crowe, Keith Wakelin and Danny Keyes accepted the challenge of their Victoria teammate to attempt to take down the previous national record of 11:51 at the Christie-Phoenix Insurance Victoria Run Series meet, held July 23 at the University of Victoria track.
Race director Christopher Kelsall did an excellent job to make sure that all of the necessary details were looked after so that the record attempt would be valid, including precise measuring of the handoff zone and the presence of officials from BC Athletics to oversee the race.
A muggy hot evening with a stiff breeze on the back-straight awaited the athletes as they began their preparations and warm ups for the upcoming task.
The 4×800 metre relay requires a blend of speed, endurance, precise timing and the guts to endure the burning pain of lactic acid build-up in tired legs. These were all on display as each runner put in everything they had to make this day successful.
All of the athletes came into the race dealing with injuries that hampered training and threatened to hamper race performance. Such is the curse of being a competitive Masters racer. The outcome was uncertain until the last runner safely crossed the finish line.
In this event each athlete races two laps of a 400m track and then passes a baton to the next racer. Each baton pass must occur within a designated zone on the track with automatic disqualification for any transgression. Precise passing of the baton is crucial as dropping it would result in lost time and the potential of missing their goal. The race is over when the baton crosses the finish line.
Keith Wakelin was the lead-off runner. Any thoughts of recent knee surgery were quickly forgotten as the starter’s gun banged and he began sprinting two loops of the track, well ahead of record pace, to the screams of the fans and his teammates.
He then smoothly thrust the baton into the waiting hand of Wayne Crowe who was quickly accelerating through the exchange zone. Crowe firmly gripped the baton and moved swiftly around the track with onlookers and teammates urging him on. He pushed through a niggling hamstring injury, to pass the baton into the welcoming hand of Michael Lax within the crucial exchange zone, even further below record time.
Lax took off with speed that surprised even him. Any hint of the limp he exhibited earlier in the evening had vanished and he ran like a man possessed, further adding to the assault on the soon to be forgotten record.
The final runner was Danny Keyes, who eagerly awaited his turn to anchor the attack on this epic challenge. Keyes blasted out of the exchange zone, baton safely secured in his right hand, with only one thought in mind, to bury this record so low that any other future challengers would think long and hard before attempting it.
Keyes ignored his painful Achilles as he raced towards the finish, with a determination that shut out everything except for the task at hand. A look of pain and ecstasy came over his face as he sprinted the last metres toward his screaming teammates at the finish line.
Then came the announcement blasting over the loudspeakers, “New Canadian record in a time of 10:15.12.” The challenge had been met, and the record was crushed in the process.
In spite of the hurdles they faced, every team member performed to the highest level and are rightly proud to be Canadian record holders. When asked how the team had managed to so spectacularly succeed in their quest Wakelin simply stated, “Muscle memory, adrenaline, teamwork, and of course, spikes”.
Also competing at the Christie-Phoenix Insurance meet were Mike Bridges and Darren Skuja. Bridges ran an excellent race, breaking the magical 10-minute barrier in the 3000 metre race with a gutsy sprint to the finish and a time of 9:59:06. CVRR coach Skuja showed he still has it by running his own 800 metre race in a very good time of 2:33:79.
The next challenge for our local runners will be when they join an estimated 10,000 other athletes at the upcoming Americas Masters Games, beginning Aug. 27 in Vancouver.
There they will take on some of the best in the world as they race in a number of events ranging from 100 metres to half marathon and another national record attempt in the 4×400 metre event.
On the local scene, the Comox Nautical Days Four Miler will take place on Aug. 1. For details go to www.cvrr.ca