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Following Drake Relays director Blake Boldon in his first relays

DES MOINES — Blake Boldon’s Saturday morning started well before dawn, as did many of his days recently in his first go-around as director of the Drake Relays.

There were tasks to be done at the office and in and around the center of the Iowa track and field universe.

By mid-morning April 29, the 38-year old Osceola native had been all over the Drake University campus and then some.

As he was moving from event to event, and to different aspects that make the Drake Relays work together, a radio headset in his ear and his trusty cellphone were constantly buzzing.

There were questions about this part of the Relays; a coach had a question about a race; there was a misplaced banner for the finish line of the Drake Relays Road Race; banners that were supposed to have been put up at the finish line before the race, but somehow as the 5K was in progress, the elaborately designed banners were in an office a few blocks away at the Knapp Center; questions from others involved in the meet.

Up and down, and around Drake Stadium Boldon kept going.

And going.

And going.

He kept on his feet, stopping to talk and chat with various meet officials. At times, they talked about various parts of meet and various questions that arise.

Boldon’s day started at 5 a.m., with tasks such as picking up his radio.

He then went over to Drake Stadium to do a few things.

Boldon was so early, he ended up unlocking Drake Stadium.

This is a brief look into what is day was like on April 29 in his first Saturday as director of the Drake Relays.


7 a.m. — He checks into the road race check in at the parking lot a block south of Drake Stadium.

Things are running well there as he checks in on various operations within the tent.

Temperatures are unseasonably cool, with the thermometer in the mid 40s with a north wind as race time approaches.

“This is wonderful,” Boldon said. “This feels like a road race.”

He helps hand out a registration form to a last minute walk in. 

7:14 a.m. His phone goes off. There has been a miscommunication of where runners are supposed to drop off their belongings. The truck was not near the start of the road race. Runners are directed back up in front of Drake Stadium for the truck.

7:20 a.m. Boldon is approached by three people. 

One is an old friend from Boldon’s days in Indianapolis. 

They catch up for a few minutes, both surprised they ran into each other in this location.

Maureen Borto asks how he’s doing.

“I’m more tired now than after I was in Indianapolis,” Boldon said, recalling his days as director of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. 

She was a key person within the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Advisory Committee, working with the charity efforts of the marathon in Indianapolis.

“When it came to that part of the job to get that committee up and running, she was instrumental. She was a rock coordinating volunteers and doing a lot.”

Borto is also a Drake alum.

“She hasn’t been back to the Relays for a few years, and because it was my first Relays and she hadn’t been back, she decided to get a few friends and come back for a reunion,” Boldon said. “I got her and two friends tickets so they could come and enjoy the meet.”

Boldon was shocked when he ran into Borto.

“I was surprised,” Boldon said. “I was so proud and happy to get her tickets.”

Borto was excited when she found out Boldon was going to be the director of the Drake Relays.

“She was the first person in Indy to express anything but disappointment,” Boldon said. “She expressed excitement because she’s a Drake graduate.”

Borto was one of many people over the weekend of the Drake Relays Boldon reconnected with, even in passing.

“That’s not unique about the Drake Relays,” Boldon said. “Whether it was for the Drake, the NCAAs or the U.S. Championships, if I’m up here on campus, I run into coaching friends.”

After a few minutes, he and Drake assistant athletic director for development Patrick Tomka walk up toward the start line of the Road Race’s half marathon in front of Drake Stadium.

They talk about how many are participating.

There’s over 857 participants in the half marathon that starts shortly.

Half an hour later, the 5K will start, with 825 entered.

They chat.

Boldon noted he’s learned to delegate.

“There’s some calls I give to other people,” Boldon said. “I learned to do that a few years ago.”

They talked about expectations for the half marathon and 5k.

Initial expectations for half marathon were around 300. 

More than double have shown up.

They ordered 1,000 tee shirts for both.

A change that worked well, and drew more runners was giving a medal for completing both the Grand Blue Mile, run on Tuesday in downtown Des Moines, as well as either the half marathon or 5K.

7:25 a.m. - He arrives at the start line of the Road Race. There he’s greeted by his boss, Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb and Drake president Marty Miller.

Miller steps up to the podium. He thanks Boldon for what he’s done, his vision for the Relays and looking forward to what Boldon will do in the future.

7:32 a.m. - The gun is fired and the half marathon is underway.

Boldon hangs around at the start, chatting more with Hatfield Club and Miller, awaiting the start of the 5k at 8 a.m.

In the meanwhile, Boldon’s phone buzzes several times.

He’s talking with meet officials about what to do with the men’s special high jump and men’s special pole vault.

Rain is in the forecast for when the events are supposed to be held early in the afternoon.

He tells the official he trusts his judgment on what to do.

Contingency plans are made to hold the event in the adjacent Drake Fieldhouse if it’s raining too heavy. 

An elite level high jump competition was set to take place, including Rio gold medalist Derek Drouin of Canada, fellow Canadian Mike Mason, and 2016 United States Olympians Ricky Robertson and Trevor Barry.

They want to hold the event inside Drake Stadium, but the combination of 45 degree temperatures and rain would make for awful conditions to contest those events in.

“Knowing Iowa weather is subject to change any moment, we wanted to wait as long as possible,” Boldon said. “Derek Drouin and his Canadian teammate Mike Mason both expressed full intent to jump outside in the conditions. They wanted to jump in front of the crowd, be announced in the Stadium. With the Fieldhouse adjacent to the Stadium, we wanted to ensure a safe competition. We don’t want to risk injury, slipping particularly with the pole vault.”

“We decided to air on the side of caution.”

7:48 a.m. - As Boldon’s on the phone on the south side of Forest Avenue, public address announcer Mike Jay pipes in on the Drake Stadium speakers, talking over what’s upcoming inside the stadium.

8 a.m. — The 5k is underway. He hangs around there for another couple of minutes.

Then he makes his way back toward the check in tent. There he helps with teardown, taking apart boxes, breaking down tables and other cleanup.

He goes over how it went there. Everything went well according to those there.

8:18 a.m. He’s on the move again, heading back toward Drake Stadium. A couple minutes later, the phone goes off again.

This time, there’s something amiss.

The banners for the finish line of the half marathon and 5k were not set up. Somehow, they were still in an office in the Knapp Center, several blocks from the finish line.

For Boldon, it’s a rare moment of noticeable frustration.

“We put all the effort and design into them then to have them sitting in the office,” Boldon noted, a bit disappointed.

8:30 a.m. - The banners are brought from the Knapp Center to the finish line on 25th Street. He and a couple of staff members attempt to put them up in between finishers of the 5k. Unfortunately, it becomes a futile effort. The velcro on the banners are not sticking to the velcro on the scaffolding. 

That attempt is given up. Now, it’s time for a quick bite to eat, a sausage and egg croissant.

8:35 a.m. - He runs into former Clarke classmate Eli Stover.

This is about to be a special morning for the 1997 Clarke Community High School graduate.

Stover is all set to propose to his girlfriend Kara Palczewski. 

A few friends have signs pointing out to Palczewski as she comes in.

At the end will be Eli with the sign ‘me’ and a ring.

8:42 a.m. - The first finishers of the half marathon are coming in. Boldon and another hold up the tape for the winner. Terence Attema breaks the tape in1:08:56. A couple of minutes later, Jake Sutton crosses the line as the runner up in 1:11:17.

As the half marathon finishers come in, he greets them. 

9:56 a.m. - Palczewski comes across the finish line. Stover greets her. They share a huge embrace. He drops to a knee, shows her the ring. They are surrounded by Boldon and a couple of reporters who have been tipped off to what was going to happen.

She starts crying. Friends nearby look on. She flashes the ring to them.

They are both excited about what is to come, their future life together.

10:05 a.m. - Boldon is back at Drake Stadium. He talks with someone about having a chaser for the university men’s 1,500 race. 

Boldon has someone who volunteered, who is a Drake guy.

They discuss the pace the chaser would be expected to set for the field. 

10:10 a.m. - Boldon makes his way over to the throwing areas. 

The discus is going on.

Near the walkway that connects the east and west end of the stadium, there is a video board showing fans watching the throwing events what is going on inside the stadium.

It’s a new feature this year.

“I haven’t seen how it works,” Boldon noted.

10:15 a.m. - As Boldon is upstairs in the top level of the press box meeting with various people, the weather changes.

Rain begins to fall.

It isn’t heavy, but is enough for those in attendance to put on their rain gear.

10:45 a.m. - Boldon heads back downstairs. He is approached by University of Illinois coach Mike Turk. They talk for a few minutes about things.

As Boldon is talking to Turk, an older gentleman stands in the rain waiting for the conversation to end.

It is Boldon’s longtime friend, and longtime Drake Relays worker Al Ravenscroft.

Ravenscroft has manned the long jump pit.

The two friend share a friendly visit.

Boldon and Assistant Drake Relays Director — Relays Operations director Carolyn Hill and Boldon are frequently in touch about various things that have popped up.

11 a.m. — Boldon checks in with officials in the storage area on the northeast side of the stadium.

A gentleman tells Boldon it’s been a good show, nothing has been out of the ordinary.

It is a sign the meet is going very well, even with the horrible weather.

Boldon steps away for several minutes for various phone calls.

11:30 - Boldon makes his way across the track and infield. He walks into the mix zone and media work room underneath the southwest corner of the stadium.

He introduces himself to the assembled media who are busy working on their stories, editing photos, editing their videos for their outlets.

“Thank you for making America’s Athletic Classic an important part of your coverage,” Boldon said.

He walks upstairs into the press box and does the same thing to the writers and Sports Information people working on stories, imputing statistics, updating social media feeds. 

Noon — Boldon walks into the upstairs box. There he grabs a quite bite to eat during the break on the track.

12:15 p.m. — Hill comes up to the box. They talk over different things about the meet.

Boldon compliments the work Hill is doing.

“You’re solving problems,” Boldon said. 

12:30 p.m. - Boldon’s tasks require him to spend time paying attention to the elite athletes competing in events later in the afternoon.

4:30 p.m., the 108th edition of the Drake Relays is wrapped up.

He says goodbye to the athletes. He walks a block away to the Tennis Center, makes sure the drug testing center is going well.

5 p.m. - He walks back into the stadium, begins to take down banners, some Asics banners, begins reinventorying things.

He walks up to the skybox tent in the north end of the stadium. He talks with people in the HyVee tent, enjoys a bite to each.

8 p.m. - Boldon’s day is done.

The Drake Relays have run smoothly, even with awful weather.

And for Boldon, a time to breathe a sigh of relief.

It was a meet well done.

Note: More on Boldon’s thoughts about the Relays will appear in a future issue of the Sentinel-Tribune.

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