Let me offer a different perspective on what was surely a disappointment for Lalang and Bor.
I’m 40 years old. Before Saturday I’d never run on an indoor track or competed in any official track race. I entered the UAB invitational with the hopes of breaking my unofficial PR in an official setting while not getting lapped by the college kids.
I warmed up with my buddies in the parking lot. We saw the Army studs - Lalang, Bor, and Rotich - doing their warm-up. I jokingly wished them luck, as if they would need it. They were gracious and wished me luck as well. When my buddies finished their warm-up, I caught up with some runners from Southern Indiana University who had been running just ahead of us.
One of my favorite things about running is the camaraderie that exists among fellow runners. Whether it’s a major marathon, a local 5k, or even just a training run, I can always find a kindred spirit. When I approached the Southern Indiana kids, I asked them if they were in the slow heat with me. I was hoping they would say yes and were shooting for a similar time so that I’d have someone to share the embarrassment of getting smoked. Unfortunately for me they said no, pointed to the Army guys, and said they had the pleasure of getting drilled by those studs in the fast heat.
One of the kids, who I later learned was Titus Wanders, said he just hoped to be able to see the Army guys finish. Even if he had to look across the track, if he could just see them finish then his day would be complete. I laughed and told him if I were in that heat my goal would be to only get lapped once. We chatted some more as we finished our warmup. I learned he’d been to Birmingham to race before, that his team arrived late the night before because their bus driver got lost, that after the meet they had to sit around for hours before driving home 6 hours into the wee hours of the morning, and that after all that he had a 2 hour drive home. A lot of effort I thought for roughly 4 minutes of running. Little did I know it would all be worth it for Young Titus. After finishing our warmup we wished each other good luck in typical runner fashion.
The women’s heats went first, followed by the fast men’s heat headlined by the Army guys. I got a spot trackside by the finish line. I didn’t want to miss this. As expected, Lalang, Bor, and Rotich go straight to the front, clicking off 30 second laps like it was nothing. Watching a Kenyan in full flight is truly a thing of beauty and these guys were no exception. They ran stride for stride in a single file line, taking turns in the lead like a well-oiled machine. By the 800m marked they had what appeared to be an insurmountable gap over the rest of the field and we’re cruising towards a 1-2-3 finish around the 4:00 mark.
Then something weird happened. From the chase pack emerged a sole runner. He had not the smooth stride and compact arm carriage of the leaders but appeared to be laboring with every stride. His arms lurched forward in a motion that did not seem sustainable. Who is this guy? Is he crazy? Turns out it was Titus Wanders and he was not crazy. He was going for it.
At first the crowd took notice, but beyond a few teammates, there was not much commotion. As the laps go by it’s clear that Titus is closing the gap. With 2 laps to go he’s within striking distance. The cheers are getting louder. The Kenyans appear to be slowing. Titus Wanders labors on.
As they reach the bell lap, Titus finally reaches the Kenyans. He’s done it. He closed an impossible gap. But Young Titus does not hesitate for a second. He goes straight around them and takes the lead heading into the first turn of the last lap. The Kenyans never saw him coming. Titus carries the lead down the back stretch. The crowd is in full frenzy. I can hardly contain myself.
As they enter the home stretch, one of the Kenyans - Rotich - is able to nose back into the lead. They battle all the way to the line, with Rotich outleaning young Titus by two-tenths of a second. But Titus claims a couple big scalps in Lalang and Bor, who congratulate him as he grabs his knees and gasps for air. When he stands, his face tells a story of disbelief and exhilaration. His fellow competitors, including yours truly, rush to give him high fives. The crowd - mostly runners with similar dreams of glory - cheers in worthy admiration of his gritty effort.
So here’s to you Titus Wanders. You may not have gotten to see all the Army guys finish, but that’s because two of them were behind you. Well done my friend. Keep up the good work.