Inside ZAP Fitness: The Life Of An Aspiring Elite American Runner

A Special Night

Zap athlete Dave Jankowski plays the drums during down time in Blowing Rock, NC. Photo: Gerry Melendez

On most nights, even Fridays, the runners are in bed by 10:30, but tonight is special. It’s distance night at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. The men’s 10,000m will be streamed live on the Internet at 11:50 p.m. (EST). American record-holder Chris Solinsky (26:59) and American all-time No. 2  Galen Rupp (27:10) are in the race along with a murderer’s row of Africans. It’s going to be epic. Warrenburg, Jankowski and Simpson gather with Atkins and Driscoll at the house they share with Warrenburg to watch.

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“Where’s Rupp?” Simpson asks.

He’s not there. An announcer says he’s scratched because the pollen count is too high. The guys are deflated. But at least Solinsky remains.

Solinsky drops out of the race at 3,000m. Tim Nelson, an American with a 27:22 PR who’s in the race as a pacemaker, also quits. Alistair Cragg, an Irishman, is the next and last white man to go. Only Africans—and Mohammed Farah, a Brit by way of Somalia—now remain. Farah sneaks from the back of the lead pack to the front, leads the last three laps, and wins with a European record time of 26:46. The best 10,000m time among those watching is Jankowski’s 28:27. He’d still have a lap to go.

“See, we can beat the Africans!” Simpson jokes in reference to Farah’s citizenship.

Nobody laughs.

Despite the late bedtime, several of the runners wake up early Saturday morning so they can squeeze in a run before they go zip lining at noon. Rea shows up at 10:30 a.m., just before they leave. He bestows on Jankowski a $75 coupon for Hawksnest Zip Line in Seven Devils. Jankowski throws up his arms and celebrates in a taunting manner as Driscoll, Cherry and Simpson groan. Zika Rea won the coupon two weekends before as the first woman to finish a small 5K road race in Boone, N.C.

They pile into Jankowski’s Toyota Corolla and begin the 45-minute drive to Seven Devils. Halfway there, Jankowski receives a text message from Rea, who reports that McKaig just finished fourth at Freihofer’s in 15:52. She will come home with a $2,000 check. Erb finished 15th in 16:54—out of the money.

On Sunday morning Simpson says his goodbyes in the parking lot, where the runners have assembled to start the drive to Moses Cone Memorial Park for their long runs and a new week of training. Simpson’s father, John, has driven up from Morgantown, W.Va., to ferry his son and his possessions home. “I love you, man,” he says to Atkins, stretching his lips in cartoonish fashion and speaking through clenched teeth. Atkins responds
in kind.

The runners cram inside Jankowski’s car and leave for the park. Simpson still has a few more things left to pack in his dad’s car. He will be long gone by the time his former teammates return.


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