PHILADELPHIA — The Penn Relays are its own type of monster. Its claws are not always from the fierce competition one faces upon entering Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania. Rather, it's the pressure of waiting until its your moment to perform. Those minutes take an eternity while the athletes are corralled and organized prior to their event. Stretching and doing their best to stay limber, and slowly but surely they creep closer to the track.
But when the moment finally comes to perform, to put all that training and preparation to work, nothing else matters.
"It's a little hectic and everything, but once you get out there you're fine. It's nervous until you're out there and then it's like every other race,' said Methacton 4x100 runner Kevin Capizzi.
The Warriors, who finished with the top time in the heat at 43.72, were later disqualified after one of the members of the relay stepped on the line. An unfortunate end, but they held their heads high.
"I know I got great teammates to rely on, so they'll get me through it,' said Methacton's Griffin Bilicic.
Norristown, however, finished just six-hundredths of a second behind the top team in their heat — pulling a 43.56 behind Northwest's 43.50. It was neck-and-neck down the stretch as anchor Tyrone Leach led the Eagles to 37th place in the High School Boys' 4x100 Large School Relay competition.
"Our main goal was to get good handoffs and make sure everything went smoothly,' Leach said. "I knew that we were going to be in the mix from the start, so my goal in the anchor was to just win it.'
To fully understand the sequence of herding the athletes from over 250 different schools into a paddock and then into their particular spots on the field needs to be seen. Once the runners make it through the long wait in the shade where they try to stay warmed up and limber on a breezy afternoon, they queue up behind Penn officials with numbers raised for each of the orders of the runners. The next time they meet will be a brief interchange of the baton from one runner to the other.
Almost an hour can go by before the runners take their positions. But once they're on the track, they have to get set within seconds of the ending of the previous heat. Such as the case with all the competitions in track and field — it all comes down to that one moment.
In the girls' 4x100 small school relay championships on Thursday, the Upper Dublin girls team finished in 74th place out of 340 teams. They were lucky enough to skip out on the pressure by virtue of arriving late to the lanes.
"As soon as we got in line we were all business. No outside stuff, we were all in our zone,' Sydney Christian said.
Then to compete on the track next to some potential collegiate or future professional athletes was nothing that intimidated the young female runners. Rather, it served to renew their sense of purpose.
"It gives you an inspiration to be one the collegiate athletes out here running and representing the state of Pennsylvania,' Christian said.
The Methacton girls team finished in 21st place with a sub-50 time of 49.34, while Norristown was close behind with a time of 50.57. Junior runner Dymon Lee, who leads a young Eagles team consisting of three freshman, used her experience running at the Penn Relays to help calm her younger teammates.
"I try to stay positive and talk to my teammates, try to pep them up — give them good vibes,' Lee said.
And then, for as long as it takes to get set up and start the race, it's all over in less than a minute — less than 47 seconds if you're really good — but the memory of the tournament as a whole lasts forever.
"My nerves are going from the moment I wake up until the moment I'm done,' Lee said. "It's like every year I come here my numbers get lower and lower, but I still have that feeling that I just want everything to go perfectly, that I just want to be as good as I can be.'