With the World Championships in Eugene this summer, the annual exodus of American distance runners to Europe didn’t really take place. Hell, even before the last couple of years of Covid-complicated summers, the overseas middle-distance mass migration had started to lose momentum.
There’s a much better domestic circuit for Americans now than there was even a decade ago. And admittedly, a lot of the non-Diamond League European circuit races would treat you like crap, hardly pay out any travel or prize money, and then line you up to race a bunch of guys you’d spent the entire year racing against back home in the States. That wasn’t the case with the Morton Games — my absolute favorite meet on the circuit.
I definitely agree with there being a need for more domestic opportunities. For one, the logistics are much easier and oftentimes less expensive. Additionally, from a shoe contract perspective, the visibility at home is probably “worth” more. But when I think about any regrets that I might have from my career, one of the biggest is that I didn’t take even more advantage of my travel budget or the willingness of certain meet directors to fly me across the world. Now a married man with a child and a career, there aren’t quite as many chances to pop over to Sweden to do a quick 800 and eat some meatballs — why didn’t I do that race when I was 25 and able?
After spending much of my rookie spring injured, I felt like I was finally coming around after the 2014 US Championships. I was unsponsored and without an agent, but took a chance and sent some emails to meet directors and booked a one-way ticket to Ireland. Fortunately, it paid off immediately. I won the Cork City Sports mile in 3:56 for my first personal best at the distance in four years. Then three days later, I made my way to Dublin for the Morton Games, where I took two more seconds off, going 3:54 in Santry.
One of the most popular features of the track there is that the Clonliffe Harriers clubhouse sits at the 200m mark. In addition to locker rooms and showers, it also houses a beautiful pub with a great view and walls full of track memorabilia. After an abbreviated cooldown, all the athletes head up for pints of Guinness and to start a night of festivities that inevitably ends at Coppers. There are a few good reasons why two days later I ran 4:06 in Letterkenny…
Now when describing my previous life to co-workers, I think of when I was sitting in the Leuven square drinking a Stella I bought for a Euro and trying to figure out what race I should do next. It was the best possible way to spend my 20s, and the opportunity cost of the money spent vs. money won all seems negligible now. I had some good races, but I made some great memories.
While running fast makes up most of the roving athlete’s job, there are other factors that might make a particular meet a good one to beg one’s way into. For instance, the Morton Mile was always important to me because I got to race in front of family and friends. (I learned the hard way that it was better to make the trip down to my wife’s family farm after the race, rather than before. As a native Long Islander, performing even mild manual labor for a pre-meet might as well be my kryptonite.) And as a track fan, the appreciation that the Irish have for the whole sport, but the mile in particular, made these meets an even bigger draw.
Even if there were fewer Americans in the field than normal this year, the meet still delivered an incredible show with brilliant announcing and the first Irishman in Andrew Coscoran to win the mile since 2004. Convincing athletes to stop worrying about the clock and focus on winning is easier with 52 years of history behind it. But having your name etched alongside the likes of Kip Keino, John Walker, Steve Ovett, and Eamonn Coghlan is something that pacing lights could never give you. I was so close…
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