It is Friday night, and Nate Virovoy has pulled into his driveway.
Stuffed to the brim with pasta and desserts, he saunters into his house and heads directly for the refrigerator. No, Nate doesn’t have an eating problem, and no, he is not a member of the football team. In fact, he can run a 5 minute mile.
Before every track meet, Virovoy feasts on a plate of chicken parmesan, a classic Italian dish. It doesn’t provide any known nutritional value, but he sees it as a good luck charm. After downing the chicken parm, he gets ready for bed, making sure he gets a good night’s sleep before he has to wake up to make the seven o’clock bus ride to the University of Rhode Island.
Virovoy is a four year member of the Lewis Mills Indoor Track team, and has earned the status of captain. For this event, he is running the 1600 meter race. One mile, eight laps, and one goal in mind.
The ultimate goal of any indoor track athlete is to qualify for the state championship. For the 1600, the qualifying time is 4 minutes and 55 seconds. Virovoy’s season best is 4 minutes and 59 seconds, a mere four seconds off the qualifying time. With only a few meets left in the season, pressure is mounting on him and his fellow athletes to get the required times.
Saturday morning is frigid. Virovoy steps out of his car, locks the door, and heads for the snow-white school bus. As he exhales, his breath crystallizes in front of his face. He steps onto the bus, peers left and right, and drifts as far back as possible. He slumps into his seat, preparing for the three hour ride ahead.
To get amped up for the race, Nate listens to inspirational tracks such as Rap God and Lose Yourself by Eminem, Power by Kanye West, and Remember the Name by Fort Minor. He looks around the bus and out the window as he listens, with a laser-sharp focus in his eyes.
As soon as the team arrives at URI, Virovoy starts his pre-race routine. He begins with some stationary stretches off to the side; your basic side lunges and calf raises. He then heads over to the track to do dynamic stretches, such as butt kicks and high knees.
Over the PA system, the announcer belts out, “First call, mens 1600.” Nathan quickly gets up and heads over to the blue tent designated for checking in. There, he receives his numbers: one to go on his chest, and one to go on his hip.
Knowing that race-time has descended upon him, Virovoy goes through yet another ritual: a pre-race breath of fresh air. He steps outside into the crisp January air. The sky is gray and overcast, but it doesn’t matter. It could be purple and raining unicorns, for all he cared. He had one focus in mind: making states.
Just before he goes out, he comments on his mental state.
“I’m a little nervous, but not really. After a while, you get used to it,” he explains.
On cue, all the runners get called over for final instructions. Virovoy and 19 other runners, all great, all striving to win, line up at the starting line. Nate tries to get loose, shaking his arms and legs around and jumping up and down.
He looks to his left and right, starkly studying his challengers.
The judge calls “Runners, take your marks.” Nate gets into his ready position, leaning forward slightly with his right leg extended further than his left leg.
“Set.” He sways back and forth, painfully anticipating the sound of the gun.
Bang! The gun is fired, and the runners stampede by in a large mass. The first few laps go well for Virovoy. He is holding a position in the top half of the runners, and is in a good position to make a push.
However, that positive energy all changes around lap four. He is boxed in by his fellow runners, and any chance at escaping this moving prison would certainly add precious seconds to his time. He would just have to roll with it until it opened up. Before that lap, he was posting split times of about 37 seconds. Now, his splits were around 38-39 seconds, a crucial difference.
With three laps to go, he finally escapes the trap and begins to slightly accelerate, trying to make up for lost time. He is visibly winded, but determined.
One lap to go.
Now everyone is going 1000 percent, using every last ounce of energy. In Nathan’s head, he has no idea what his time is. All he knows is he has to run his butt off. And he does. He accelerates as the last lap goes on, pushing into a full sprint for the final straight away. He passes a fellow runner, and crosses the finish line. Immediately, he puts his hands behind his head, and walks around in a daze. He bends over, hands on his knees, and peers up at the scoreboard to see the results.
He finished in eighth with a time of 5 minutes and one second. There would be no states on this day.
After congratulating a few of his fellow athletes, he heads back over to the team’s encampment. His face cherry-red, he downs a cool bottle of water. He is disappointed, but there no anger. Coach Josh Krampitz comes over, congratulates him on the good effort, and describes what he saw in the race. Virovoy understands and nods his head as his coach speaks.
“I felt decent during the race, but getting boxed in killed me. I could’ve held the pace I was going at for those two laps,” Virovoy says.
Despite a disappointing result at one of his favorite races, Nathan Virovoy still looks forward to competing in future races and eventually making states.