Remember that indoor track meet? You know, the one I botched out the wazoo? The one with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the spectator who adopted me and told me not to give up on life even though I was probably so humiliated I might be tempted to throw myself in front of a 60-meter hurdler?
Yep. I remember it, too.
Hey, chica. What’s up? Weather pending, I plan on running steeple at the SLU track meet... If you are interested, they have a 5K Friday night. Outdoor track…
The text was from Lisa—the same Lisa who hoodwinked me into running the infamous indoor track meet.
She knows I’m weak! I thought as I read her message, its alluring ellipsis points alluding to the infinite possibilities. Another collegiate track meet. Last minute. Local. Outside, even. I stood there, staring at my phone. Slowly, my face unfurled into a diabolical grin, like the Grinch just before he stole Christmas. She also knows I want another shot…
Isn’t it wonderful having friends who bamboozle you into doing things you would never do of your own volition? Lisa is a self-avowed trackster. She breathes track and field. She lives for chasing people down and leaving them in her spiked dust. She carries the track mentality with her at all times—in every race, every workout, on the track, on the road, in sprints, and in marathons. She’s not afraid to hurt. In fact, I’m pretty sure she likes it. If her quads aren’t on fire and her lungs aren’t burning and she’s not on the verge of puking, we’ll she’s doing something wrong. She is fearless, and she races like a stick of dynamite with a short fuse, always on the verge of exploding. Sometimes she does.
But most of the time, she just wins.
As I read her text, all the feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment from the indoor meet two months ago flooded over me in one giant swell. It was like the race had just happened. I had just blown it. And I wanted nothing more than a do-over. This—this text, this meet—this was my chance to requite the race that had gone so wrong. This was my chance to release the pent up frustration and recover a modicum of track and field pride. This was my chance to apply what I had learned, to be bold, to be ruthless, to race. I began typing a response to Lisa, my fingers flying furiously across the screen.
Hi! Maybe interested.
I mean, let’s not get crazy here.
You can’t just commit to these things Johnny-on-the-spot. There are many factors to consider, like “What is the wind speed going to be that evening?” and “I may have scheduled a dentist’s appointment” and “Oh, I forgot, the light bulb in the hallway fixture needs to be replaced and I don’t have a stepladder so I’m probably going to stop by Home Depot after work.”
Three days and hours of fraught, ambivalent contemplation later, I was signed up for my second track meet of all time.
“So, should I throw caution to the wind and go out gung-ho?” I asked a running buddy who also happened to be a former Division I track athlete. The race was in two hours. I was ready to sacrifice my body in glorious revenge. If I imploded in 800 meters, so be it. My question was simple courtesy. Of course I would go out gung-ho. Gung-ho is what tracksters do.
“Probably not a great idea, depending on your definition of ‘gung-ho.’”
This was an unexpected kink in the plan. To that point, my strategy was the following:
1) Eat Honey Stinger Waffles.
2) Consume a packet of GU.
3) Go out gung-ho.
Now, with step number three eliminated, my entire strategy for running the 5K consisted of $6.47 worth of astronaut food.
“You can run gung-ho, but you have to be smart,” he continued. “You’re still running a 5K. And if you go out at a pace completely out of your league, it can make for a long day.”
“Your body is able to do what it’s able to do. You know your extremes—the fastest you might be able to run and the slowest you’ve run. No matter what happens, your time is going to fall somewhere between those two extremes.”
“Okay. And I’m in the middle of half marathon training, so this is a bonus workout, really.”
“Right. Your legs are what they are. So, go see what they are. The only way this race can be a negative is if you let fear and stupidity get in the way. Those are the only two things you have to avoid.”
“But a lot of people don’t.”
He had a point. I have been guilty on both accounts. On multiple occasions.
“Basically, everything I just said can be summed up by this: Don’t be afraid and don’t be stupid.”
Mr. Speedy Pants concurred in our traditional pre-race powwow.
“The key to track is making judgment calls on the fly,” he said. “If the pack goes out a few seconds per lap faster than you can run, try to hang with them. It’s better to have a pack than run on your own. At the same time, if they shoot out of a cannon, hang back and wait for people to start dropping. You don’t want to sabotage your race in the first 800 meters. Be smart. Go on instinct. It all depends on how your feel and how the race breaks.”
“Don’t get caught up in the clock. Once the race breaks up and you settle into a rhythm, start trying to pick people off. Be smart and run hard. You’re in the middle of half marathon training, so you’ve got no expectations and nothing to lose. Go out there and see what happens.”
“Okay. Thanks, coach.”
“Sure, kid. Let me know how it goes.”
I hung up the phone, uncertain as to whether I had just imbibed an hour’s worth of track advice or an episode of Dr. Phil.
I reviewed my mental checklist for the upcoming test.
Don’t be afraid and don’t be stupid, I recited as I shoved another waffle in my mouth. I feel like I should use this advice off the track as well…
Two hours later, I was standing on the track at SLU, smack dab in the middle of a waterfall start and flanked on either side by collegiate athletes.
The race official raised his arm, starter’s pistol in hand.
“Runners! Take your marks!”
To be continued…
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.