Kelly Hayes, a spotter on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, is attempting to to complete “The Running Decathlon” which consists of the ten most widely-run track events. His goal is to run each race “half as fast,” or in twice the time, of the current world record in each event. And he will attempt to run these races in the footsteps of those who set the records on the very tracks, and in the very stadiums where the records were set.
His “quest” serves as a platform to raise funds to purchase a $90,000 exoskeleton Bionic Suit, which allows those with critical spinal injuries to rise from their wheelchairs and actually take assisted walks. Think Tony Stark from Ironman. He is relying on donations to the Bridging Bionics Foundation to make this a reality.
Follow Kelly on his journey, which begins in Rome on July 7, 2016, here, on Facebook, Twitter and at race2walk2016.com where you can make a 100 percent tax-deductible contribution towards the purchase of an exoskeleton Bionic Suit for the Bridging Bionics Foundation. One hundred percent of your donations will go towards the purchase of these suits.
Please turn Kelly’s steps into dollars. And we will turn dollars into steps for those who want to walk again.
As I stood at the start line in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, site of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games, waiting for the gun to go off, I had no idea if I would achieve my goal.
Running in the shadow of the great Moroccan runner, Hicham El Guerrouj, who set a world record in 1999 for the Mile Run seemed daunting at best. And I was only trying to run half as fast as El Guerouj’s mark of 3:43 that had stood for seventeen years. Could I do it?
This was race number one of my Quest, something I call the Running Decathlon. My goal is to run each of the ten most contested track events in twice the time or, half as fast, as the standing world record in each. It may seem somewhat pedestrian, but when you throw in the fact that I am 60 years old and plan to run these races on the exact tracks where those records were set, in places like the Stadio Olimpico, and the Berlin and London Olympic Stadiums, it seems a little more challenging.
When I took the track shortly after dawn on a hot, muggy Roman morning, still jet lagged from the previous day’s flight, the time of 7:26 kept pulsing through my consciousness. I had been concentrating on those numbers for a few weeks as I trained for this moment. I am a daily runner, a streak runner, who for the last five years has plodded along on 10-minute miles. And even though I had a 7:32 under my belt, that one was at home and truth be told, it had a downhill slant to it. Still, I thought, “This is a fast track. I have new spikes and if I can just stay with my pace setter, Gabriele Pattumelli, who had been recruited to help out by the stadium, maybe I could get close enough to the 7:26 to not embarrass myself.”
When El Guerrouj set this record on the same date, July 7th, that I was running on, he was on the precipice of being acknowledged as the greatest distance runner in the world. Fifty-one weeks before, he had run away with the 1500m in this very stadium, setting the record for the Metric Mile. On this date, he would run stride for stride with Kenyan Noah Ngeny, who was there to be his pace setter, but instead stayed in the race for keeps. El Guerrouj finished two strides ahead as both runners broke the world record in times that have not been duplicated since.
This was all in my mind as stood in the exact spot on the outside where El Guerrouj started his record mile. As the Italian starter pulled the trigger on the gun, I sprinted towards lane one and the first curve behind Gabrielle feeling incredible excitement and energy. The 65,000-seat stadium was empty, save for couple of handfuls of workers who were there to set new turf for the AS Roma and Lazio football clubs that call the stadium home. With each lap, they cheered and clapped and encouraged me in their native Italian.
I had worked it out with Gabriele that I thought we should do 1:50 laps and let me gut it out down the stretch. Though neither of us spoke the same language, he seemed to understand. So when we finished lap 1, the one with the extra 9 yards, in 1:32, I was a little concerned. But feelin’ alright, I continued on just a few steps behind the easy running Gabriele, who has a 4:00 1500m to his credit. Lap 2 was nice and easy, and when we got to the third lap I thought, “Just keep your form, don’t fall apart until the last lap if you are going fall apart.”
There was no bell, but the bell lap was a total joy. I ran with great form on the two curves and felt no pain as I got to the final 100m.
“Go Kelly, go!” Gabriele implored as he slowed to let me pass.
I lifted my legs and pumped my arms, hoping to get to the line in, say, 7:30.
When I crossed the line, I looked instantly at the timer. “7:05.76” he shouted across the track. Victory was mine.
At least in the first race. Nine more to go including a trip back to Rome for the 1500m this week.