Places of Work – Millrose Games 2024

Gonzo journalism at the Millrose Games

By Tim O’Hearn
February 23, 2024

Let’s start by saying that I don’t know much about the 115 iterations of the Millrose Games preceding this day. Two years ago, I watched a bootleg broadcast. Last year, finding a “live feed” on YouTube was a joyous discovery. It featured a landing page with a superimposed timer ticking down toward the official start of the meet. At 0:00, the clock simply reset to 30:00. Joy was fleeting. I was then directed to a video titled Livestream – Millrose Games, New York hosted by World Athletics. Upon clicking the link, I learned that the uploader had not made the video available in my country. My country being the one that includes New York state, where the games were taking place.

For the 116th running of this storied track meet, I was lured to The Armory in Washington Heights by the premise of not wanting to leave anything to chance. I was lured to The Armory in Washington Heights by the premise of event tickets that cost as little as seeing Barbie. Yet, the seat I purchased cost as much as spending the night with her.

Section 410–Row A–Seat 8.

Though sitting in the front row of a movie theater or concert venue is often indicative of general psychosis, occupying a front row seat at the finish line of an indoor track suggests a divergent pathology. Outsiders tell me that those who compete in this sport are suffering from psychosis and that anyone paying money to sit near a starter pistol that will run frightfully hot is, surely, the crazy one. To this I say–I am a perfectly stable superfan. 

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And mine is a participative seat. Close enough to the running surface that I could vocalize lap splits and be received with some fidelity. Close enough to the runners that, on a quieter day, I could grouse comments under my breath and be heard, and before long I would be tapped on the shoulder and asked why I was heckling a Masters track practice on a Tuesday morning. In a country where fandom welcomes taking out a second mortgage to obtain a “front row seat,” I certainly have mine, literally and perhaps also in the allegorical sense. Additionally, if the United States had a track & field league, then this event would be classified as being in “the big leagues.” On this day, the imagined severity of the event demands donning an oxblood suit coat and leaving my basket of spoiled produce with the coat check attendant.

The only clue that this armory has converted to peacetime operation is the lines of the beautiful Neo-Romanesque archway being bisected by scaffolding. Unobstructed, its height and width allow for clean passage of chariots towing catapults. Inside the Armory, the scurry of the New Yorker transforms into a march of sorts. Ascending the two floors within either entryway bastion is done as a platoon in which all are stripped of rank. Affixed to the octagonal framing are white plaques and blue plaques memorializing battles fought, won, and perhaps captured by fully-automatic timing systems. Closing one’s eyes in the stairwell, it’s the sounds, smells, and surface of the journey to middle school gym class–with the requisite excitement of dodgeball day or the Presidential Fitness Test. Opening the eyes while passing the second floor reveals that it’s not a second floor at all, but the hypogeum of a colosseum refurbished by a genius named Dr. Norbert Sander. Rank begins to be discernible as drills are performed and the firing of blanks becomes audible; staring into the second floor is like peeking at a forbidden ritual.

The Armory (Kevin Morris photo)

The main floor of the Nike Track & Field Center at The Armory is something of an aircraft hangar. It features a vaulted ceiling supported by monumental steel trusses painted an attractive shade of red, some blend of the clay of the synthetic running track and freshly trickling blood from a spiking. Tracing the ceiling is an HVAC system sufficient for a foundry with a humidifying misting system well beyond what I encountered in the produce aisle. Between the track level and the upper level, where I’ll be sitting, there’s a ribbon board, a thin continuous digital display hundreds of feet long. Over the center of the track hangs a jumbotron, an incredibly crisp one, which apparently is known as the Armory Cube.

Up yet another set of stairs, I relax my shoulders and slink to my seat, feigning that I don’t spend several hours in this facility each week while attending flight school. Sunlight brightens the overstorey as I begin inspecting my surroundings before the professional races start.

Fill out the shoe survey and we will enter you into a drawing a free pair of shoes.

They say the upper level fits over two thousand spectators. During my life, I have encountered many estimates of crowd capacity and attendance that seem wholly incompatible with spatial physics. This number is one of them and seems outlandish to me. Before me, and underneath me, a military parade saunters on. Uniformed men and women carrying the implements of warfare, fiberglass lances and Theraguns among them, are now easily identified. On sergeant’s orders, they emerge from the undercroft. Thanks to electronic roll call by way of the live results page, the spectator is not left to wonder about the finite number of athletes competing, nor left to doubt that this fortress on 168th Street can support them. 

The athletes are corralled before being led to starting positions in solemnity. It’s from these neatly arranged places of work that the gross domestic product of our sport is generated. The foremost capital expense is the running track, a banked oval with a turn radius approximating seventeen and one half meters. The raised metal bar on the inside of lane one that appears to be holding it all together is the rail. The rail bears the microscopic trenches of war carved by pyramid spikes not exceeding one fourth of an inch.

The track’s banking, which resembles the steepness of a velodrome only inside my head, helps runners generate centripetal force on the turns, especially as they get farther from the rail. Altogether, a bouncy synthetic surface, a standard turn radius, and an optimal bank angle create conditions for fiery footraces, especially in the middle distances. The record books and those plaques adorning the stairwells show that this six lane track is a fast one.

Inside the oval in this hangar are four runways and one apron, tended by a small squad of rakers and flaggers. Two parallel runways protrude slightly with the most subtle of launchpads approaching plots of arid soil. Truth be told it’s really one large sandbox with a temporary cover in the middle. It was freshly watered this morning, as I’ve observed on most race days, but never does a flower blossom. There are shoots, however, fleshy limbs at grotesque angles. This afternoon, the long jump will not be contested, and the elite high school fields plucked themselves from the triple jump pit earlier in the morning.

Sprinters need straightaways, and indoor track architects sometimes need to get creative. At the Armory, there’s a ten lane flat miniature track inside the 200m oval. It’s used for the 60m dash and hurdles and some other bizarro distances depending on the age group. The notable feature of the sprinter’s track is that it intersects the banked track, usually at both ends. Theoretically speaking, a sprinter delaying the deceleration phase could run straight up the banked turn and use it as a ramp to launch into the bleachers or the throwing cage. Due to this occupational hazard, comically large foam pillows are used to lull the sprinters to sleep in case they can’t slow down after crossing the finish line. Though it’s empty today, the throwing cage…

My concentration is broken. Not by the starter pistol but by a bellowing. An unmistakable bellowing. A baritone voice. The vocal projections of a man who had made careful study of the acoustics of every athletics venue in the land. This man was a drill sergeant dictating the energy of the contest. Though the sound was imagined to be coming from the so-called perfect seat, he was impossible to locate. A deity, almost, with a swirling spiritual loft to his word. And there was only one word–


My posture straightened and my eyes snapped to the track. An order; an edict. Maybe I would hear it again, the stern encouragement that encircles every facility at a pace that matches the cadence of runners’ footstrikes. The supporter’s vigor. When you hear it–


You walk faster, cheer harder, slurp Coca Cola as if it is a frozen beverage. Those trackside, they move. The osmotic pressure between the track participant and track spectator. The zeal, the subtle agitation (the implication that someone isn’t moving to a great enough extent), the mystery of never being able to find the actual guy and look him in the eyes, and the fact that once a movesayer has been enlisted, only one can exist for the remainder of the meet. A forbidden term for nonmilitary. Every human has a primal desire to howl at the moon, to see how far the best-effort monosyllabic yelp can travel, yet there can only be one, and there appears to be no word in the English language or any language that matches the potency of “Move!” at indoor track meets.

Now there’s a real clock ticking down to an official start time for the professional competition. I can consider the belligerents without rehashing what has been incredibly deep pre-race coverage. The common contested events are the 60m dash, 60m hurdles, half mile, two mile, and proper mile. The concluding races being the men’s and women’s Wanamaker Miles, which draw competitive international fields.

With an eye toward recency, I am anticipating a rematch of Jess Hull and Elle St. Pierre’s dogfight in Boston last week. With an eye toward the future, the athlete in the meet nearest to promotion, the best chance to ascend to superstardom, is Julien Alfred, who is competing the 60m. She’s from St. Lucia. During the 2023 World Championships, she qualified for the finals in the 100m and 200m. Undeniably world class, she didn’t podium in either event. Her performances capped a historic season during her fifth and final year at the University of Texas at Austin.

For St. Pierre, returning after giving birth in March 2023 and apparently being more frequently referred to as “ESP,” mainstream sports commentators lean heavily into her having grown up in rural Vermont working on a dairy farm. Her dogged racing style typifies what it means to be a professional middle distance runner–a damn good one–and if these same qualities are possessed by all American dairy farmers and their associates, it’s no wonder that I am such an ardent supporter of the dairy industry. In a country that seems to be at war with cow’s milk, I welcome ESP’s commercials for chocolate milk that are played at random on the Armory’s jumbotron during open practice sessions.

Jess Hull, on the other hand, is the (tin)foil to ESP. Hull, an Australian, grimaces cartoonishly as she runs elite times. I don’t get the impression that she wakes up before dawn to milk the cows but whatever she is doing has been working for her. In establishing rivalries, the fans need something to latch on to, maybe that Hull garnishes her coffee exclusively with oat milk. Regardless of what she’s drinking, she’s now a consistent sub-4 1500m woman and she placed 7th in the World Championship in 2023 in a final that was terrifyingly fast. The race between these two women at the New Balance Grand Prix in Boston on February 4 was the only race this season that I’ve replayed.

It could be said that Yared Nuguese and Josh Kerr are the stars of the show on the men’s side. Their placement in two different races has been irksome. Imagine going to a shopping mall to see Santa Claus. An authentic Santa Claus set up shop in the atrium—great. Later you head up to the food court to find out that another Santa is located next to the food court on the mezzanine level. So there are two Santas at the mall. Even if you have time to sit on both of their laps, at the end of the trip to the mall you’ll be left wondering which Santa was real. In the same way, Kerr and Nuguse will be featured in two matchups that each have potential to be declared “the race” of the indoor season. However, delaying a direct clash, potentially until the Olympic Games, guarantees that the best men’s race at Millrose cannot possibly be the race of the year, even if a world record falls.

Nuguse is a bashful brainiac. His talents are so immense, so improbable, that the fan can only wonder what the USBC Hall of Fame would look like if he had never left his high school’s bowling team. Kerr, a Scot, is the defending world champion in the 1500m. In stature, swagger, muscle composition, and affinity for sunglasses, we are cut from the same cloth. On the track, though, he is my domineer—by nearly 20%. He attended an American college and trains in America. However, he credited his superior championship form to having given up Chipotle, which is an affront to what it means to be American.

The venue is nearly at capacity, mostly with Americans, I’d imagine, with extra bleachers erected and some spectators clasping a chest-high railing on the outer perimeter of the track. At least one hundred people (but up to five hundred, for all I know) sit at the far curve of the arena peeking through the fence of the throwing cage, all too aware of why their tickets cost five dollars and ninety cents. At the left armrest and right armrest of my throne are pairs of empty seats. I imagine them soon being filled by retired pros in the twilights of their lives, visiting New York to catch a few hours of track, maybe for the last time. The opening ceremony is underway and the TV window has begun. The real bootleg feeds are being separated from the fake bootleg feeds. I’m oscillating between two feeds of my own, the video projected on the jumbotron and my personal viewing angle of the podium that has appeared in lane three directly below me. As I decide to look below, a man named Max Siegel is introduced to the crowd. The crowd goes silent and then there are delayed, yet audible, boos. From behind me, Siegel is deemed “the worst ever.”

The women’s 60m hurdles goes off as some fans are still waiting in line at the concession stands. 7.67 seconds later–before a soda fountain can fill a large cup with Pibb–Devynne Charlton has set a world record. I’m stunned, section 410 is stunned, the announcer first enunciates “world record” punctuated by a question mark in size six font. But it’s not questioned, and there’s no doubt of the validity of what was just witnessed.

Devynne Charlton (Kevin Morris photo)

Now the masses rush to their seats and I patiently await my dignitaries. Those sitting at the end of row A stand up. The seats next to me are about to be filled. I straighten my collar. I end up flanked by student athletes from Columbia University. Somehow, these boys have acquired prime tickets. Telling them of the world record that was just missed, I realize how difficult it is to articulate a superlative sprinting performance. Charlton was fired out of an arquebus and hit the finishing mat as if it was ballistic gel. Er, she started well and finished strong.

Watching professionals warm up for an event that combines world class speed with world class technique is at times harder to explain than a race performance. Watching Daniel Roberts ram down hurdles as he performs an unnecessarily reckless routine makes me glad I’m up here and he’s down there. The crowd reacts to each slap as they would to a boxer’s overhand right. Roberts cleans up his act for the race but it’s only good for second behind Dylan Beard. Cordell Tinch, whom I idolized for most of 2023, is fourth, separated from Roberts by a hundredth.

Julien Alfred outclasses her competitors as if they were me and my immediate family members. She runs a devastating 6.99 to set all types of records. However, not a personal record, because her personal best is 6.94, which was run at high altitude where the air is thinner. Irrespective of conversion factors, her 6.99 fits neatly into the all-time performances list.

The men’s 60m dash. Someone with floor seats taunts Christian Coleman with a “Hey Coleman!” as sprinters settle into their blocks. They settle. JT Smith flinches, the gun is fired and then a second gun is fired. Smith is cleared to line up again and presumably told not to flinch again, which hits differently when said by a man who may have access to a cache of weapons. Coleman wins to continue his comeback trajectory in this Olympic year.

Immediately after the race, the jumper’s mat is picked up by a squadron of officials and carried to the inside track lanes. It’s moved with the same gusto and technique as the frame of a house relocated by the Pennsylvania Dutch. There is now video proof of such exploits. The women’s high jump will be contested in the center of the track. Yaroslava Mahuchikh looks shorter in person. A Ukrainian flag has been draped over the ribbon board.

Next up, there’s a seemingly out of place U12 girls 400m race. It’s out of place because, come on, imagine being a twelve-year-old girl, making the trip to a preservation of the early 20th century military industrial complex in the largest city in America, warming up in the windowless steerage that is somehow located on the second floor of the building, then being guided to the track level just to be told to wait until Christian Coleman and eight of the most explosive men in the world decide to get out of your way.

I remark “oh, what, are they going to go sub-sixty?” The winner runs fifty-seven mid. I graduated high school without such a time credited to my name.

The men’s 800m is my favorite event to watch. It’s my favorite event to compete in, too, and I’m usually looking to open in fifty-seven mid or thereabouts. Today, it’s not the marquee event, as it seldom is indoors, but it has a special meaning to me. My teammate Luis Peralta is running in the race. Now, I’d deem Luis a training partner in the same way that a barn cat would deem Seabiscuit a training partner. We’ve put in some reps together but chiefly it’s nice just to have a cat around sometimes. I’ve seen things in practice that formed my understanding of what it means to be an athlete of international relevance. And, I’ve never felt more confident in making an armchair prediction—Luis will win the race.

I say it aloud. Luis will win. Row A mulls it over. Then, the logic follows, Luis will beat Bryce Hoppel. He has the honor of starting on the inside of lane one on his home track. Set. Brief hold. Pow! The pacer CJ Jones cuts in after the turn and takes the field through 100m in just a hair over 12 seconds. Luis holds the pole position behind him and Hoppel loses his balance for two steps as he settles in on his shoulder. On the straight now, the pace is a bit faster than the speed limit on open practice nights. I strain as I yell for Luis. The split is 24.49 through the first lap and the field is strung out. Not just strung out—two men find themselves gapped before the 300 mark. Almost immediately, they’re coming through again in what looks like it’ll be sub-51. The pacer Jones strafes into lane two, almost daring the field to relieve him of his duties early. Luis holds the rail. Jones pushes past 400 from the outside of lane one and only starts to drift out and slow on the back straight.

The men start shifting gears as they drive toward a four-second positive split. Over the final quarter, that is. Going out in 51 behind a pacer demands a 55 or better for the elite man. This isn’t the mile. The energy system utilization is different and so is the supposed optimal pacing. Books have been written about the anguish that is distinctly attributed to running the half mile, but those authors had no idea they were writing about running the half mile.

I know all the signs of fatigue now. No man in the field exhibits a single one of them. They’re running taller. Tension in the crowd. No tension on the face of CJ Jones as he jogs toward the 500m marker on the skirt of line two. Behind him, Bryce Hoppel goes. He has a step, maybe a step and a half, on Luis. Into the curve, Noah Kibet makes a reactive, ill-advised pass attempt into lane two. Luis fends him off and Kibet is stuck in lane two. Kibet rushes onto the straight and commits to beating Hoppel to 600m. My voice has gone. I can only say “let’s go” strung together with “—bro!” Luis is still there, still going, still moving. Less than a second separates first and last as the line is crossed for the penultimate time.

Kibet is really working now and he spends the entire turn in lane two in a desperate attempt to ride the rail. He gets there. There are still 150 meters to go. The six competitors are lined up with no space between them. Surely, though, with different plans for how to cross the line first.

Hoppel and Kibet establish a small gap. It’s a two-man charge. Now Hoppel is forced to try to pass on the outside on the final turn. Move! They’re past the sandpit for the last time and it turns out Hoppel’s hourglass is the only one that hasn’t fully emptied yet. How cruel that this is actually an “easy” pace for them at any moment except the present one. Kibet follows Hoppel. The next four gut it out, various degrees of acquiescence, various degrees of monstrous human performance. Only about a second to the winner. Luis actually sneaks a glance up at section 410 to see his wily barn cat. Mark English runs the fastest final 200 and leads Luciano Fiore, Luis Peralta, and Sam Ellis to the line in a tight finish.

Bryce Hoppel wins 800m (Kevin Morris photo)

I’m transfixed. What was his time? I don’t know where to look beyond the winning time displayed next to the finish line. My internal clock has paused, estimating the result is not possible. Onefortysix? Onefortyseven? I ask the Columbia guys what the finishing times were. They point me toward one of the video boards. Oh, Luis has set a national record for the Dominican Republic.

Down at the track, he’s characteristically not tired at all. He’s communicating with someone outside my field of view. He holds up his thumb and fingers in parallel, squeezing an ethereal closeness. He was that close. So was I.

The women’s two mile field lines up directly in front of me. The world record of 9:00.48 is probably out of reach but there are several national records on the line, namely America’s, Great Britain’s, and Japan’s. America’s is most exciting because there are seven patriots running excluding the pacer. It’s extra exciting because this distance is not run often and it might be years before the right field with the right pacer is again assembled.

I blush when I realize that I recognize almost all of the women who have lined up for the race. These are some exciting names, I’ve been watching some of them compete for years now since before they were professionals. There are two young Ethiopians that I don’t recognize, hip #10 and hip #7. They are Medina Eisa and Melknat Wudu, respectively.

Eisa, hip #10, set to run the staggered start from the outside lanes, is incredibly nervous. My seatmate says so, and it’s plain to see. For the one-turn staggered start in this race, one group of runners starts quite a bit ahead of the starting line and must stay above lane four, the break line, before cutting in on the backstretch. This prevents the logjam of the entire field rushing to the rail within the first few steps. It helps ensure that more competitors run the true distance of the race. Set. Eisa is standing inside the break line. That’s not right, we agree, and some of the women standing next to her seem to redirect the official’s attention toward her. Everyone stands up straight. She corrects. It’s her first day in this new place of work and she hasn’t attended orientation yet. Set. Her friend Melknat Wudu, behind the natural starting line, loses her balance and stumbles over it. The runners are ordered to stand up again.

Set! Eisa takes a huge step back and then a tiny step forward, visibly trembling. The gun goes off. Eisa immediately cuts in, avoiding the inconvenience of the stagger, but she only makes it as far as lane two, having misunderstood whatever instructions she received. With this move, she avoids running about ten meters of distance. Surely, the race will be called back. Frantically, we shout, trying to get someone’s attention. The race isn’t called back. The majority of the women who started back on the starting line and encountered an errant course-cutter on the opening turn, surely noticed something was amiss. I don’t know if trying to articulate that-girl-cut-in-early-and-she-should-be-disqualified-before-she– is a good use of breath during a race. Some of the women know and maybe they file away the information for later, but there’s no way of knowing who knows about the impending disqualification, which forms our hypothetical.

“Watch her win.”

Laurie Barton paces the field through the first kilometer. Alicia Monson, predictably, trails her. This is the boring part of the race, at least according to network executives. Nobody at the Armory agrees, as friends text us to complain that there is a commercial break during the race.

Barton yields to Monson. Monson is trailed by Laura Muir and the Ethiopians. Nikki Hiltz is yo-yoing behind them. A good pace. Past 2k, the front four have separated. Records are certainly a part of the conversation, save the world record and the Ethiopian national record, which happen to be one and the same.

The Ethiopians are wildcards for the domestic fans. Muir is widely known for having a furious kick. Monson is known for getting outkicked, but only at the absolute pinnacle of competitive track racing. The American record in the two mile is within her wheelhouse and it doesn’t look like Hiltz is going to steal it.

On the back stretch past 800m to go, the Ethiopians–known for teamwork in high stakes track races–make an outside move. The move doesn’t have much conviction yet somehow snaps Laura Muir back one position. Soon after, Muir yields to another pass. Meanwhile, Monson is still leading, wondering when she’s going to have to move.

Around again, right in front of me, Muir makes her move for the final quarter. It’s confident. It’s a bit early. She’d later admit that she thought she was in danger of not hitting the World Indoor standard for the 3k. The race has fundamentally changed. In seconds, Monson is ten meters back. The Ethiopians are scrambling to keep up, but they’re there! Bell lap. Monson isn’t even in the frame. There’s some dread in the stands. One of the top three is going to be disqualified, and it’s not going to be Laura Muir unless she throws an elbow. A runner is being lapped. Muir has it, surely. How can you outkick Laura Muir in a 3k? Onto the homestretch. What?!? Muir swerves into lane two! She gets passed by someone in lane three! Muir then enters lane three for some reason! She’s lost convincingly.

Only thing is, she has lost to Medina Eisa. Hip #10. I cringe.

Medina Eisa (Kevin Morris photo)

There’s no DQ on the board. The records begin filling in, though. NR for Muir. NR for Monson. Even an NR for the Irishwoman Roisin Flanagan. Tanaka of Japan ran well, too, and I’m surprised to see that it isn’t a Japanese record. That’s probably an error, just not nearly the biggest error.

The race has exceeded its billing, it’s the madness of indoor to an extreme. It’s not clear if the winner has won. To add insult to injury, nobody seems able to procure an Ethiopian flag for the poor girl. Muir rocked it. Monson clocked in and clocked out. I’m dying to shout down to Laura Muir and tell her what’s happened. The finishing order is being honored for now. There’s something profoundly sad about stepping off the track and not knowing. That happens a lot in this sport. 

Before I know it, the men’s two mile has lined up. Those behind stagger strike me as knowing what they’re doing this time around. Spoiler: it’s Josh Kerr and Grant Fisher, Fisher holding most of the American distance records for events that aren’t the men’s indoor two mile. They appear to argue with an official regarding which seldom-used line is the correct one to stand behind.

They’re off. A choppy start. Cole Hocker, a fantastic talent who can probably break the American record and has the potential to win the race outright, runs a bizarre opening curve, at one point positioning himself above the yellow line. He didn’t start with the staggered runners. It’s the opposite of the Medina Eisa fiasco–Hocker ran extra distance for no reason.

But the boys settle in. Haz Miawad handles pacing duties before handing off to AJ Ernst. This is a neat race in that the world record is 8:03.40. So, plausibly, the field will be led out at eight flat pace. Maybe we’ll see the first sub-8 two mile indoors. Except that pesky extra 18 meters on the first lap, it’s just straight 30s, straight 60s, the easiest multiplication for any mid-distance runner to calculate.

Strong pacing from Miawad, his gold chain knocking hard enough against his clavicle that I wonder if precious dust is flaking off and if I can collect it the next time I’m on the track. A line of fast men follow him. Just not into lane three, as he was relieved of his pacing duties at 1k. 2:33 or so. I declare this to be slow before being reminded of the extra distance. I still think it’s off by a second or so.

Ernst cranks out laps until they’re through in 4:03 or 4:04. It’s Ernst, Fisher, Kerr, and what materializes as a distant Cole Hocker. Ernst strains and peels off about five minutes into the race, potentially three to go until the crowd gets some answers. It’s Fisher and Kerr, not dissimilar to Monson and Muir. Muir is the kicker, Kerr is the kicker. Monson is the aerobic monster, Fisher is the aerobic monster. There’s more here. Much more. Kerr is the defending world champion and his mouth runs as much as his legs do. Fisher recently changed coaches and training environments. Then, another change, the two hundred after the pacer dropped was covered in under 30 seconds. The record chase is on.

Another lap, Kerr gives him a few more inches, or, in his country, centimeters, of space. Is he struggling to hang on? Another sub-thirty. Hocker is a distant third. Another sub-thirty, or thirty flat, I don’t know. Sub-8 is going to be rough but the world record has been reeled back in thanks to Grant Fisher’s valiant effort.

With a quarter mile to go, it’s either Kerr kicks or Kerr fades. Looking stronger in the second position now, Kerr has held on to the opportunity to dictate the race, and he’s expected to make a decision at any moment. Oddly, it’s a win-win. If Kerr outkicks Fisher at this over-distance race, then he’s the favorite to win the Olympic gold in the 1500m. If Kerr fades and manages to run under 8:10 people will grab his en-route 3k split or conversion and declare it a positive sign. This is someone who proved the haters wrong in winning World Championship gold and is well on his way to proving that he is an elite, versatile distance runner. Now he’s on pace with Grant Fisher, one of the best distance runners in the world. And–is that a cheeky grin? For Grant, who generally is a smiley guy, an American record here validates his new coaching setup. The closer he is to sub-8, the greater momentum he will have toward running a truly special 5k outdoors as he begins his hunt for the global medals that have so far eluded him.

Kerr moves before the 300m mark. The crowd rises. We’re smiling. It’s what we came for. Fisher picks up his cadence. I increase the cadence of clapping my hands together. There’s separation. I don’t know who I’m cheering for. The bell comes at 7:33. A 30 nabs the world record. A 26-something breaks eight!

It becomes clear that Fisher’s closing gear is a 30 flat and that Kerr is his domineer. Kerr will win the race. If the guy shouting “move!” is still in the stadium, nobody can hear him. I’m doing mental math with 100m left. I might as well be graphing the trajectory of an artillery shell on the back of the Millrose Games playbill. The record will fall but I’m incapable of estimation. The eight-minute barrier is less than fifteen seconds away. He throws his frame into the final turn.

Kerr’s on the finishing straight. He looks back with the aggression of a junkyard dog that is considering turning around and mauling a squirrel for the second time. He’s aware of what he’s done. Still with acute control of his limbs, he peeks at the stands, points at someone, then breasts the tape. He did the same thing when I watched him win the Fifth Avenue Mile. I’ve taken a picture. Now I have two pictures of Josh Kerr gesturing in my general vicinity. Grant Fisher has a picture of him setting the American record. He’s the third fastest in history. Hocker’s closing gear ends up being close to Kerr’s, and he finishes just two seconds behind Fisher in what must have been a lonely exercise.

Josh Kerr wins 2-mile (Kevin Morris photo)

At 2:24 PM, just before the high school boys 4 x 200m, we get the news we’ve been waiting for. Medina Eisa has been disqualified from the two mile for not running the full distance. I end up explaining what happened to some people in my section as well as some friends watching from afar. Laura Muir is declared the winner and an injustice has been righted. Medina Eisa has been fired on her first day of work.

We stand for a beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. No instruments. Not a cell phone in sight. Hands on our hearts, we’re all patriots. It’s a bit redundant, or unnecessary, considering the facility might be the most distinctly American creation I have ever laid eyes on.

The female milers are taken down to the far end of the homestretch. No, that’s not right. The camera crew standing near the finish line is puzzled as well. Then the women start marching toward us, one by one, with superlatives and awards attached to their names beyond what most people could ever wish for, guided by five cannons firing sparks into the air. This is the Wanamaker Mile.

St. Pierre and Hull are toward the back of the procession. I can’t identify facial expressions from so far but Elle, who, again, is a mother, looks every bit the mother prepared to scold a child. In front of ESP is Hull, who is deceptively upbeat. In front of her is Josette Andrews, who has had some great Millrose performances. Part of my fascination with her is due to her husband being Robby Andrews, an 800m specialist who inspired me as I was just getting started in that cruel event.

Lined up and ready to race, the women on the stagger also seem to be questioning which line is the line they should stand behind. I wonder if the official considers cracking a joke about cutting in early. It’s a clean start, it’s a professional start. Now, hopefully, there won’t be a commercial break for this one, since it’s half the distance of the two mile, but you never know.

Sadi Henderson, the pacer, takes them through 409m in 32 but there’s a gap of nice fresh Armory air behind her and the field hasn’t fully committed to the pace. Another lap. Nothing really happens. Sadi is through in 64 and she starts slowing to let the field catch up. The next lap is slower. Who is it? Hull followed by ESP. Followed by Susan Ejore, which is, at least for the moment, pronounced by the announcer as “Eeyore.” I’m distracted thinking about the Eeyore pronunciation, profoundly amused. The race heats up. It’s Christopher Robin, Piglet, Winnie the Pooh, a gap, Eeyore, another gap, and a very bothered Josette Andrews chasing Eeyore’s tail.

Sadi steps off and the Columbia boys and I, now comprising a unit with formidable track knowledge, appreciate that the race is the flip of what happened in Boston last week. Instead of St. Pierre fending off attacks from Hull, it’s Hull front running and preparing to fight off St. Pierre. What a delight.

Everyone is on record watch. The indoor world record is “only” 4:13.31 and they’re barely off pace. Andrews avoids getting swatted by Ejore’s tail rips into third place. If she can close this gap–this gap–my eyes snap to the leader–1209m in what looks like 3:15. Closing in sub-sixty would be outrageous for the leaders and Andrews will probably need a 62 to contend.

By the time I complete that thought, it’s our favorite couple and nobody else. Hull leading St. Pierre. Who makes the decisive move? St. Pierre moves into lane two and the crowd, knowing what’s about to happen, is fanatical. Unlike the Boston race, there isn’t a fight for the rail. There aren’t multiple tries. ESP gets it and leads at the bell. Punctuated by each footstep, it’s yes–yes–yes–yes–yes–no for whether Hull remains in the picture. Hull has been dropped. Shades of Grant Fisher, she maintains a good pace. St. Pierre leans into a cattle drive on the homestretch. Her finishing sprint redeems the disappointment of having gone home a loser last week. There’s no question now, she’s Got Milk.

She’s got the American record, too. 4:16.41 with a bombshell close of 61.33. Next, Jess Hull with a national record of 4:19.03. Ejore with a national record. Yolanda Ngarambe and Marta Perez, too. Maia Ramsden of Harvard, who was running a race inside of a race, ran 4:24.83, to just miss Katelyn Tuohy’s collegiate record of 4:24.26.

Elle St. Pierre Wins the Wanamaker Mile (Kevin Morris photo)

It’s a foregone conclusion that the men’s Wanamaker Mile will be won in under 3:49. As the sparklers begin to shoot, section 410 is speculating not just how far under he will go, but who will be the man to do it. Nuguse is thought to be the only one to have a shot at the world record but if the pace is off or nobody picks up after the pacer drops, Hobbs Kessler, Mario Garcia Romo, and George Mills are dangerous. Adam Fogg, also known as FOGDOG, who qualified for this field by winning the mile race at the Dr. Sander Invitational on this same track several weeks ago, is the dark horse.

Again, at the stagger, I observe the professional men gesturing to what I’d imagine is the break point where the cones are. Nervous energy prevails here, surely, but in the hypogeum everyone must be talking about the perils of breaking too early. The pacer, Derek Holdsworth, knows, though, and smoothly guides the runners to their desired formation. By 209m, that formation is a straight line. By 409, there are gaps forming. Nuguse, Kessler, Mills, Garcia Romo.

Holdsworth carries the big guns through in sub-1:53. He waves them through. The world record is 3:47.01 and they’re actually ahead of pace. Now it’s Nuguse leading. Only a maniac would try to pass him here. To bear the load of running a world record mile from the front. But, that’s often how it’s done. The margin so slim, not even a single lap can be off; Derek Holdsworth deserves a raise. No change in order. The front three separate and Garcia Romo is forced to lead a tentative, befuddled chase pack.

With 600m to go, Fogdog makes a break for it. I can’t believe it. The crowd acknowledges his effort. He has separation from Garcia Romo. He catches them! But this reveals an inconvenient fact–Nuguse slowed down between 1009 and 1109. The chase pack has almost caught them as well, and 1209m in something like 2:52 means the world record will demand closing in 54. A single lap was off.


Fogdog is searching for his bone, and instead of latching on to Mills, he continues running as if he is going to pop off the curve at any moment. It’s impossible, dog. Settle in. Though, depending on the next split, the race of his life could catapult him to an improbable victory. That would be like winning a sweepstakes for a free trip to Las Vegas and then leaving Las Vegas driving a Rolls Royce.

There’s still four. We start to speculate that Nuguse is tired and that Kessler will be the one to move. Nobody moves with 300 to go. Fogg has had a brief recovery window but he looks rough. George Mills moves at the bell. Okay, we’ll take it. Everyone who wasn’t already standing stands up. The closing bell rings and rings and Nuguse’s stride is long and Mills’ is short as he trips trying to pass Kessler. Dang. Kessler and Mills are temporarily hobbled. Nuguse has separated. Fogdog is salivating at yet another move in his favor. 1509m in 3:34? We have to thank the glorious early pacing, but the indoor 1500m record could have been scratched today. It’s unlikely Nuguse can close in twelve point to break the record but the pace is close enough to support our collective fantasy.

Fogg won’t be running twelve point, but he’s well established in fourth place. Kessler climbs up the side of Mills. Mills appears to look to the left and then the right and accept third place. It’s too late. Nuguse has it. He has something. The crowd shouts him toward history. Kessler rappels toward the line but it’s all about Yared. The stride is still massive. The turnover is still there. He misses it.

Nuguse wins Wanamaker Mile (Kevin Morris photo)

We remain standing, applauding, not registering the outrageous 1500m conversions that were just run by three men who aren’t yet in the primes of their careers. The top four actually are all under 3:50, with Adam Fogg staking his claim to the most epic progression seen so far this season. The runners are grateful. The fans are grateful. Short of a flyover conducted by the Air Force, we’re all wrapped up here. And the mile’s a popular distance. Next year we’ll all come back for the 117th running to chase those eight perfect laps.

Soldiers lay down their arms. The starter pistol is reholstered. The broadcasts–legitimate and bootleg, foreign and domestic–cease. Those virtual spectators can’t see what we see now. It’s not so much a mad dash toward the doorways as it is a respectful rapid exit, an enthusiastic procession. Worshippers leaving church—we’re all the same religion again. We’re shaking hands and mumbling peacebewithyou. We’re all heading to Denny’s. The plaques embedded in the stairwell walls are cool to the touch now. The embrasures of narrow windows are open and air is flowing. The fresh breeze has no appeal. Suddenly, indoor is good, and the outside is undesirable. One floor down, there’s a rush of fans exiting from the track level. I see Nuguse’s teammate Joe Klecker and for some reason I overtake him on the stairs. Nobody is on the second floor, in fact the doors are open and the warmup track looks inviting. I pick up my vegetables at coat check; I didn’t need to throw rotten tomatoes after all. 

I pass through the archway and turn in the direction of the 1 Train. My body is limber now. Each rotation of the legs awakens the muscles slightly more, and, with those, the dynamo of the track fan. I fantasize about racing. The brushing of shoulders, the abrading of forearms, the lancing of elbows, the clipping of heels. Daydreams of the middle distance runner. My cue ends up being not a gunshot or a “go!” but a conversation in which one participant is using a cell phone that sends text messages in green bubbles. An exasperated exchange concluded with an “—I’ll be right there!” That’s all it takes. The woman starts running before ending her call. 

I start moving, too. A pathetic jog to some arbitrary finish line. Perhaps the departure time of the next train, displayed on the jumbotron right above the staircase. Weaving through the crowd, I notice the hobbling gaits of the senior track fans. Upon being passed, they notice mine. I continue, with thoughts of flinging myself around the ninety-degree turn to the subway entrance, even generating centripetal force by swinging around a vertical scaffolding beam. I hesitate and avoid earning my own DQ. The turn is rounded gingerly, the board says that the next train to South Ferry will depart in 1m. Hustling down the stairs, I’m on my way to another place of work bordered by rails. One landing. Another set of stairs. Turnstiles and a group of elite highschoolers being swiped through by a chaperone. A singular tap of my phone. Beep. Go. Click-click. Past the turnstile now. I see policemen and quite a few others. My phone still in my hand, I stride into the path of an ambling cop, swipe dramatically, and present to him a photo of Josh Kerr setting the world record.

“Move!” He barks.

Tim O’Hearn is a software engineer who lives in the West Village. He runs with Central Park Track Club. Strava He can be reached at timothy.joseph.ohearn@gmail

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