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June 6, 2017

The five stages of racing Edward Cheserek

Every self-respecting, competitive NCAA runner has, at least once, stepped to the line, looked to their left or right, seen Edward Cheserek and thought, “Shit, I’m racing for second.” But inevitably, there would be a moment — even just a moment — during a race where you would think, “Oh my god, I’m going to make history today and beat Cheserek.” In the three years that we overlapped in college, Edward and I raced a handful of times. “Raced” is a generous word. I started races at the same time as him. He always beat me and I learned a lot about myself.

Here are the five stages of racing the 17-time NCAA champion:

  1. Stepping to the Line -“Okay, here we go. Ammar, you have the perfect race plan. All you have to do is….”

Depending on who you are, there is always a mix of dread and delusion when you step to the line with Ed. The dread comes from a place of insecurity and doubt. “How is this race going to go? Am I going to be the one that has to put myself out there?” Then there’s the delusion. “I’m prepared for anything. I have the BEST kick in this field.” But regardless of all the well-thought out plans, pump up music and pep talks, Cheserek gets to decide how the race is going to be run, whether it’s fast or slow. If he decides to go with a brave soul that wants to run away from the pack, the race is going to be fast. If he decides he’s going to chill for a bit, then the race is going to be slow. He determines this.

2. First ¼ of the race – “Well, well, well, I’m just going to sit on Ches”

At this point of the race it’s pretty clear whether it’s going to be a barn burner or just another dawdling race. But regardless, if you’re a competitive runner that wants to win races, then you’re thinking: “I’m going to sit on Ches and he’s going to take me to the promised land.” Regardless of how you feel about Cheserek, he is a savvy racer. He’s really good at picking his spot and staying there. He’s not going to make any big moves unless he has to and he makes HIS move when HE wants to.

3.  About midway

Holy shit…this guy refuses to lead. He won’t. It doesn’t happen. Once at regionals he pushed my teammate to the front to make him lead the field. Remember the 4xMile at the 2015 Penn Relays? He literally brought the field to a WALK because he didn’t want to lead. This was always one of the most infuriating things about Ches. I know it’s misplaced and I sound bitter and I should just be faster, blah blah blah. But it’s still infuriating when his refusal to lead is obnoxious.

4. Getting into position – ”I have the best kick. Today is the day”

Here is the point of the race where you reminisce on every time you broke 30 seconds for the 200 at practice. “Remember that time you ran 53 at the end of your workout, Ammar? Well, here we go. Do that. Today. Be a legend.” Because most men are fueled by a mixture of testosterone and confidence, everyone believes they have the best kick and that today is the day they use it to out kick Edward Cheserek.

5. Finish line

“What happened? How did Cheserek get so far so quick?” Like I said, when Ed decides to go, he goes. It’s just as surprising to watch on the track as it is when you’re watching in the stands. There’s no warning. No wind-up. Like a Transformer, his arms come out and he flails his way to a 22-second last 200. It’s poetry in motion. And then you cross the finish line, dazed and confused, in eighth place wondering if this sport is really for you. Like any athlete, you make a note to check the game tape later, to convince yourself that you made a mistake and that next time, with a little fix, you’ll beat Edward Cheserek.

Cheserek won’t be on the starting line for the upcoming NCAA Championships and his predictability and unpredictability will be missed.

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