Ever have one of those days when you’re jamming to circa 1999 Ludacris in your Subaru Outback and a car full of 20-somethings look over at you and you realize you’re not that cool anymore? Imagine lining up for your first college track race … as a 32-year-old.
Sometimes your racing routine needs a dash of something new, like that fresh Aaliyah CD stashed in your car visor. Inspired by Catnip and Ginger — and snubbed by a very-short 5k earlier this season — I ran my first track 5000 in April.
As a high schooler, I ran two seasons of track during which I mediocrely sprinted. If forced, I occasionally went “long” by jumping in on the 4 x 400 meter relay.
I also avoid the track for speed work because it’s just so. many. laps. But after a while, after you’ve accepted 12-mile treadmill runs as normal and ran six miles of speed work on the track out of necessity (and by that I mean lights and water in January), 12.5 laps starts to seem like not so many. Especially if I don’t have to count them.
When I reached out to a college track coach — who is younger than me, by the way, and did recently wallop me by three minutes in a 10k — she was a little, um, dismissive. “In my experience, running on the track is a lot different than racing on the roads.” Well, sure. But that’s not to say racing on the track is different in a bad way!
And I’m not the only Salty who thinks so. Last spring, Poppy ran a track 10,000 after a 16-year hiatus. In March, Spearmint set a new PR at the Stanford Invite. Catnip ran an indoor mile last year; Ginger has hit the track a few times, too!
Here are five things I learned from my long-distance track debut at age 32.
1. Automatic Age-Group Win
Okay, they don’t give those out at open college meets, but who cares? Actually, they don’t give out anything. No plastic medals, no mugs, no crappy t-shirts eight sizes too big. And you know what? It only cost me $25. That’s a fair deal.
2. Logistics Heaven
The start and finish are in the same place. I left my bag on the bleachers and my warm-ups and training shoes in the infield. You can’t get lost — just keep turning left. There are no potholes, curbs, train tracks, road-killed animals (saw someone’s recently deceased pet at mile seven of my last marathon, barf). Someone else is counting the laps for you, there’s a giant clock with your overall time, and someone will tell you your split every 200 meters. (Pro tip: you might want to know what those should be in advance, because the math gets damn hard halfway through.)
3. Fixed Crowd Support
Your fan base doesn’t have to chase you from point to point, heck, they can be eating a hot dog while you’re racing! They will get to see you 13 times during a 5k! There will also be coaches and teammates all along the infield cheering, cajoling, and possibly berating you. You’ll get some great motivation, even if it’s not intended for you, and you might have a few moments of distraction thinking, “Wow, I’m glad that’s not my coach,” or “If you think it’s so easy to catch the lead pack, why don’t you come out here and do it yourself?”
4. No Giant Bibs
Just hip numbers that you stick on yourself, probably chest and hip. No longer do you need a chip-embedded bib the size of your entire torso. Pay attention, though, and put them in the right spot because the camera system used to ID you needs them to be there! (I used to work for a timing company, so speaking from experience here!)
5. No dudes wearing headphones and Vibrams cutting you off and then slowing down right in front of you before cutting the course by shorting a corner on the sidewalk
Isn’t that reason enough?
Have you run a track race as an adult? Would you?