I started my running career in high school. Although we were the most successful team in our school, winning state and county championship banners for our gymnasium, most students and faculty probably didn’t realize cross-country and track teams existed. This, combined with my love of stupid jokes and cynical sense of humor, lead me to invent my proudest (okay, only) original joke to date:
Q: Why is it always so hot at a (cross country / track) meet?
A: Because there are no fans!
Har har! I know you’re just rolling with laughter. Even if you aren’t (come on), you understand the truth behind it. While it may be due to the high number of meets and races run throughout the year, or the supposed banality of watching someone run, most running events just don’t attract spectators.
Thousands of fans line the streets of countless cities every year to cheer for marathoners (THANK YOU), but nothing comes close to running at the NYC Armory. Nothing. I was lucky to have several high school races on the Armory track, and those races are still some of my favorite memories, goal performance or not.
The Armory has a gorgeous, high-banked track, athletes and fans cheering from both ground level and balcony seats. Runners fly around the track as high jumpers and pole vaulters soar in the infield, and throwers compete behind nets next to the track. The noise of the crowd is deafening, the heavy smell of Tiger Balm nauseating, and the sweaty humidity almost unbearable. It’s beautiful.
Until last Saturday I had never gone to the Armory just to spectate. No warm-up through the streets of the Bronx (“Sorry coach, my warm-up was a little fast. You understand.”) or anxious sweating in the corral until my race(s). On February 11, I went to the Armory to see the Millrose Games, a track and field meet for qualifying high school and collegiate runners, masters, and professionals. I had seen the Games at their previous (but not original) home, Madison Square Garden, in years prior, and loved the opportunity to see up-and-comers I had read about and professionals I idolized, but something was missing.
Millrose attendance at the Garden had been dwindling, and the event was barely staying afloat. And then the Armory Foundation moved Millrose to the smaller, magical Washington Heights venue for the 2012 running of the Games. February 11, 2012 marked the first of many successful Millrose Games, and it was a sight to be seen.
Over 5,000 spectators packed the Armory to watch their loved ones, friends, teammates, and idols challenge the existing Millrose records at this historic event. We watched countless highlights, including world 1500 champion Jenny Simpson’s narrow defeat over Shannon Rowbury in the Women’s Metric Mile, reigning Olympic 400 winner LaShawn Merritt smoking the Mel Sheppard 500, high schooler Edward Cheserek’s 13.57.04 5000, and high jumper Jesse Williams clearing the bar at 7 feet, 7 1/4 inches. The two most talked about highlights were Matt Centrowitz’s 3.53.92 Wanamaker Mile victory, and a four-time Olympic gold medal winner Bernard Lagat’s new American record in the 1500.
Somewhere between cheering on my feet for the umpteenth time and nervously biting my nails during bell laps, I realized what had been missing at the Garden: the incredible spirit of the Armory. The 2013 Millrose Games hopes to boast London Olympic celebrities, and I will surely be there, cheering my head off for the pros and students.
Next time you have an opportunity to watch a track and field or cross country meet, I beg you to go. Not all are as monumental as the Millrose Games, but they are all as magical.
Plus, we don’t want the competitors to get too hot, do we?
Be a fan.