Imagine going to New York City for the first time.
Imagine staying in Times Square for the first time.
Maybe you’ve done it before.
Maybe it doesn’t mean much to you. Even if you don’t think too highly of Times Square, you’d have to acknowledge that your first time there was a spectacle.
The buildings are taller than what you’ve seen before. The lights are brighter than what you’ve seen before. The people (not the tourists) walk faster than what you’ve seen before.
D.C. is no small town either – but Gallery Place is no Times Square.
D.C. streets don’t seem so big when you go to New York, though. It takes a trip to New York to see that, of course.
When GW went to New York this weekend, they went to New York for the first time.
They came for a big meet. The Armory Track Invitational is New York-big. The second-ever sub-four-minute indoor mile by a high schooler was ran there this weekend. Loudoun Valley, Va.’s Drew Hunter broke the record with a 3:58.25 mile. The New York Times was there to cover the event, as was Sports Illustrated and Runner’s World.
The Armory Track Invitational has a record of being big-time: In its 16th year, it has seen American Olympians like Bernard Lagat run a 3:49 mile in 2005, Shalane Flanagan run an 8:33 3,000-meter in 2007 and Galen Rupp run a 13:01 5,000-meter in 2014.
The meet also hosted schools like the Southeastern Conference’s South Carolina and Mississippi State, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Duke and the Big Ten’s Wisconsin to run at the nation’s top track – the venue of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Walking through the Armory, consumed by its history and its sheer size – high-arching ceiling, event seating and a Jumbotron worthy of the Verizon Center or Madison Square Garden – junior Seamus Roddy, a Pittsburgh native, put it plainly: “I’ve never seen a place like this before.”
A couple weeks away from the team’s second-ever Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championship, the Colonials are breaking records almost every time they compete.
Three new school bests were set this weekend in Manhattan: freshman Taryn Milbourne broke her own school record in the 200-meter dash with a time of 27.34 seconds (good for 66th place out of 70); junior Carter Day broke his own record in the 1000-meter despite a subpar tactical race leaving him boxed for most of the homestretch, with 2:29.73 minutes (placing 11th out of 22) and senior Ryan Tucker broke his own record in the 3000-meter with 8:24.75 (third out of 21).
Roddy ran the 1000-meter. He was the first competitor to go for GW this weekend. In the second event of the day, as the crowd was still filing into the Armory, Roddy won his heat, with a time of 8:44.45. Running the race from behind, Roddy jockeyed with the lead group until 600 meters to go. He then made a decisive kick to the front and sped away from the competition, for good, leading him to the finish line more than a second ahead of the rest.
“A guy from Mississippi State was there. You see that and go, ‘Alright, obviously this means something to those guys if they’re flying halfway across the country to come race here,’” Roddy said. “Any time you beat any of those guys, it’s a good feeling.”
GW then competed in the 60-meter dash, resulting in the No. 67 (Milbourne with an 8.46) and No. 70 (freshman Kennedy Whittington-Cooper with an 8.66) finishes out of 71 competitors. Neither sprinter got a great jump from the block. It’s been difficult for GW to properly train because of Winter Storm Jonas, which canceled competitions and altered practices.
“There’s only a certain level of expectation you can have, especially with track being brand new,” assistant coach Chelsea France said. “Most of these kids have never been to New York before, or the Armory, period.”
“It’s a new experience, especially going on the Subway today. We’re trying to take baby steps. We’re going to stay positive and just focus on the things ahead. I’m really excited for this team going into A-10s. This is just a benchmark with some adjustments that we need to make.”
When GW competes, it sets records. At the A-10 championship at Rhode Island from Feb. 20 to Feb. 21, the Colonials will likely set records there, too. That doesn’t mean they will place well, though. The Colonials did not field a relay team at the meet this weekend, nor any field event athletes.
But as France said, it was the team’s first time up against this kind of competition. The goal was to compete. It’s not so much about times, but just running against those with fast times, as a means of growing the program.
“It’s something we always wanted to do – get a group of people and get them going up here,” head coach Terry Weir said. “Last year being our first year, it wasn’t the right time.”
But this year it was, after a fairly successful cross country season that saw the team place higher in the conference championship than in recent years. A major portion of the team did not make the trip up to New York, but those who were able to have had a chance to compete against competition they never would have seen at more local races in D.C.
The Armory can intimidate, with placards full of records and various paraphernalia, the stuff of track-lore, lining the walls.
“It’s nice to get into the competitive sphere like this. Just to see those high-level athletes and just get on the track with high-level athletes,” Day said. “It takes a meet like this to really get to that level.”
After running the 1000-meter, Day, Chris Shaffer (2:33.42, 16th overall and second in his heat) and Jordan Pantalone (2:36.42, 18th out of 22 overall), hung around in the warm-up pit, still taking in the Armory.
“For me personally, it’s about soaking up the experience racing against all of these big schools, from when we started running in middle school and high school, just to be here is pretty cool in and of itself,” Pantalone said.
And for Shaffer, it was his first time on the track, and first time ever running the 1000-meter.
“I’m from Florida so all throughout high school, I didn’t have too much experience with indoor tracks,” Shaffer said. “I’ve watched hundreds of races on this track. There’s so much history here. It’s really awesome to race here and be a part of it.”
And by the way, the talk about first time in New York and Times Square – that was the case for some of the athletes. Staying in a hotel in Times Square, going out at night for a team dinner and a team photo, the trip acted as more than the usual road trip competition and more like a big team trip abroad or across the country.
Adding in running against some of the best competition they’ve competed against, it makes it tough to judge the team on its times and placing at this stage. Last year, the runners were mavericks practicing on the Georgetown community track. This year, they’re still doing that, but slowly adding on to a program in its infancy.
“For a lot of them it’s the first time being in New York City, being around Times Square, just having them look around with their jaws wide open. I think so far it’s been a fun trip,” Weir said. “It’s always fun when you’re running well.”