One of the coolest parts about living in northern Manhattan is that I live just steps away from The Armory, an historic building that houses a raised and banked 200 meter mondo track where local college programs train and race, where NCAA track stars are born, and where big meets like the Millrose Games attract pros from not just around the US, but also around the world.
Being a track spectating neophyte, I prepared by reading Catnip’s guide to spectating, reading up on Allyson Felix and Molly Huddle and got super pumped when Shannon Rowbury announced she was going to try for a new American Record in the mile. These main events weren’t happening until later in the day, but I got there before noon to make sure I was there to watch the open events too. It’s lucky I did, because the highlight of my day came early, with the Women’s Masters 4×400 relay.
I love relays – having a team means more people have skin in the game, which means they scream louder! But it’s also exciting to watch a race change with each handoff. In this case the leading team in the 40+ division, Texas-based Southwest Sprinters, came in first with a truly impressive showing from their anchor. But it was the women in red and white from the We Are Athletes team who gave me chills. They came in 6th place overall in masters but took first in the 50+ division with 5:01:22. These women were so. pumped. and it was awesome!
I spoke to runners Mary Lenzi (leg 2) and Karen Conkling (anchor) about how they got to run in a big event like Millrose. “Anyone can do it,” said Mary. “We’ve been doing little 4x4s at USATF meets [at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, New York] and coach said we could go to Millrose.” They kept working at their relay craft at these meets, practicing handoffs and strategy.
It struck me that it was so easy for them to make this happen and with road race participation at an all time high, it’s surprising that more of us aren’t taking to the track.
Is it the cost?
We’ve all seen the climbing cost of road racing in recent years (even the Olympic Trials Marathon charged athletes $30 for registration), so it seems like cost shouldn’t be that much of an issue when it comes to indoor track, but for me it is the largest barrier. A few weeks ago after a blizzard blanketed my usual outdoor track, I decided to give the Armory a shot. I winced at the $15 one-time admission fee just to work out in the outside lane while college athletes whipped around the inside. Seasonal membership, which you might think should be more cost effective, is $300 for an individual.
I could simply sign up for races, the way the We Are Athetes squad did. If I put together a team for the 10k relay, we can race for $20 apiece. Call me cheap, but I feel like twenty bucks is a little high in dollars to miles. That being said, many colleges have track meets that allow open runners and charge much less than the average road race to participate.
Is it access?
I know it’s unique that I’m so close to an awesome indoor track that’s available to the public (even if that availability comes at a hefty price). Most people don’t have that luxury; if they want to work out on an indoor track it most likely belongs to a college or university. Sometimes these facilities are open to the public with a membership or during certain hours, sometimes not. No matter how you slice it, most of us have to be highly motivated to access an indoor track to run on one. Maybe since most indoor tracks are out of our sights, they’re out of our minds?
If you can get access to a track, it’s much more likely that you’ll find one outdoors, which can be great for fresh air and for not losing count of laps on your way to a mile. But training on a 400m track and switching to race on a 300m or 200m track can be a challenge, physically and mentally and also, outdoor track season usually corresponds with spring road race season, races for which the barriers to entry are much lower.
Is it speed?
Or maybe we are thinking about it, but our thoughts are simply tuned to running long, not running fast, because that’s where we place the value in running. Think about what it felt like the first time you ran three miles the whole way without walking or stopping. Then it was time to try a 10k. Got that down? Go for a half! Soon enough, you’ve conquered a marathon and anything less than 10 feels like a breeze. So what the heck kind of good does it do to haul ass for 200 meters, especially when you might come in dead last out of a small field?
I think that latter is certainly an issue, at least it is for me. I’d love to enter the mile at the next NYRR Night at the Races, but when faced with signing up I had visions of my last track workout, and the panic set in that I might be the only one who couldn’t break 7 minutes. I’m struggling to be brave and just go for it, because trying new stuff, especially scary stuff, is one of the best parts of running.
But here’s the thing, even the best track stars come up short. Shannon Rowbury didn’t beat the American record on Saturday, she came up 4 seconds behind. And Molly Huddle, queen of the road 5k, wound up coming in second. And Kadecia Baird took a spill and wound up with a DNF (and possibly an injury) during the 400. In racing, shit happens, even to the best of us. Sometimes, like the We Are Athletes team, you have a great day and you come in first even when you didn’t think you had. And sometimes you come up 4 seconds short.
The best part is that the indoor track season is young. There are more races to come.
Are you a track star? If not, what’s stopping you?