Another Salty Challenge: Find Your Inner Speed Demon

Half crazy :-)
Where’s the track love? (Photo credit: Mad African!: (Broken Sword))

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.

English: Harvard University Gordon Indoor Track
Don’t be afraid of me! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Whew. Those college girls really wear you out!

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.

English: I took photo of bowlers in San Antoni...
They have bowling leagues for all ages. Why not track leagues?!(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone else want to join me in this winter’s Salty Challenge?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. I always thought I’d do some track races when I was in tip-top shape, but maybe you might get me to a meet this spring. Why not? If I can do one overweight and slow, then when I head back in a year when I’m fit and fast, I’ll be completely unintimidated, right?!

  2. Funny you posted this today — I was just thinking about indoor track last night! Last year I ran as short as 800m open, but also ran the 400m leg of the DMR. It was crazy, but so fun and I took down some old (very soft) PRs. One of my goals for the spring is to get another DMR together.

    Salty — Columbus has so many D3 schools that it’s pretty easy for us here to find races. I’d recommend checking out the calendars of a couple nearby small colleges to see if they are hosting anything as well as where they are scheduled to race. Some have better websites than others, so cross-reference. For some reason it seems like outdoor meets are harder to find and get into, though.

    1. I agree on the outdoor meets. There are some road trip options in the spring at Duke and Hillsdale that I believe will take open athletes. Thanks for tips, too! We will have to get a list together!

      1. Yes, Hillsdale is great! They have heats ranging from ~16:30- 21:00+ for women and the track is magically fast. However, other than the championship heat, the 5ks are on Thursday night and Hillsdale is in the middle of nowhere. Jesse Owens at OSU is another option with a qualification of 18:05. Not sure what the mile/1500m standards are. Ohio U usually hosts 1-2 meets.

        I’ve not had any luck getting into Toledo, BGSU, or any D3 outdoor meets.

        Maybe we can run a central Ohio vs. NE Ohio DMR somewhere? 😉

  3. Nice work! I can’t even imagine how intimidating this must have been, but it sounds totally worth it. I’ll have to see if I can find a meet at which to rock my 4 minute 800 🙂

    1. It was fun! Depending on your location, some of the bigger cities have track clubs that put on open meets for the community.

  4. I have never ever run on a track. At my school in the UK, we had a track marked in chalk on the grass which was wonderful but leaves me wondering what track feels like! I am planning to meet up with a running friend in the next few weeks at a track in SF to give it a go. Should be hilarious, I have to admit.

    1. Can’t wait to hear about it! When I was in England over the summer, I was very impressed with their British Milers Series. I think the US can learn a little bit from the Brits in the track department! I was amazed at how many community runners showed up for a Wednesday night track meet, very cool!