How come there aren’t any 800 meter white oval stickers on cars? How come when 20- and 30-somethings make their quarter-life bucket lists they never say, “I really want to race a 400!” How come it always has to be a marathon, or at least a half marathon? You really want to run 26.2 miles?
Yes, it’s true that speed is the first to go as we age. And if you are not running world competitor times under 2 miles, finding open track meets is somewhat of a challenge, especially if you are not fast. But as Rosemary encouraged us a few weeks ago, opportunities do still exist for ANYONE to test their fitness on a 300 meter oval for all to see.
I’ll be thirty in two months, and the last time I ran a mile on a track was my senior year of high school. Even then, I was inexperienced and slow. Eleven years later, I found myself toeing the line of an indoor mile at a local low-key meet with a bunch of college underclassmen.
Just as I expected, but too naive to go against the grain, the young ones and I went out too fast with an 80 second quarter. My soft 400 meter PR is 78. This first lap felt incredibly easy though. Thoughts of blowing up mixed with thoughts of trying my hands at a 400 at the next meet. I slowed down immediately afterward, hoping to save somewhat of a gear for the pain that was about to set in.
My 800 meter PR, set in high school, is an even softer 2:59. I crossed 800 meters in this race in 2:57. When I heard that split, I wondered why I regretted slowing down, knowing I could have crushed my 800 PR. But I had 3 laps to go. And soon there was the pain. The dizzies. The weakness in the arms. And the staleness in the legs. I wanted to drop out so bad.
But I pressed on, promising myself that I could be the voice for the hobbyjogger wanting to explore racing in track meets. The pain for the next three laps was so uncomfortable that I forgot all of my mantras. “When is this shit over?” was all I could think.
And then it was. After a 2:57 800, I died to a 3:27 800.
Comparatively, my entry into this open meet was like a 4 hour marathoner toeing the line with a bunch of 2:45 marathoners. At times, I felt naked. Like a freakshow. Good thing I look young for my age, right? But at the same time, I felt so energized. After I finished, I didn’t even care about the time (6:24) or place (last). All I wanted to do was try to test my mettle at a 400 or an 800.
I would’ve known by now if I had any potential to be an elite middle distance runner. I don’t. And I don’t expect to somehow break through a barrier to someday bust out a 2:10 800. Or even a 5:10 mile. But what’s stopping me from trying to be as fast as I can be in these events? I ask again, why all the focus on 5ks, 10ks, halfs, and fulls? Why not have a little fun and be a sprinter for a season?
It’s my goal to race a couple more open meets this indoor and outdoor season. I hope to document my experiences and possibly inspire others out there that are curious about the track and field side of the sport. As much as I felt out of place (self-imposed), the college community is still extremely supportive of us slower unattached runners, as are post-collegiates who just want to keep running fast for as long as they can. If more people get the courage to try, it not only helps keep the opportunity for open meets available, but it positively supports our sport of Track and Field.
Anyone else want to join me in this winter’s Salty Challenge?