My Night at the Track
By Jennifer Luitwieler
I've trained for four marathons without ever stepping foot on a track, a feat of which I had been unabashedly proud, until recently.
My reasons excuses were clever and numerous.
While I grew up cognizant of the existence of track and people's desire to run around in circles, I paid little attention to chatter about it. Though my family members ran different distances, I could not possibly tell you what was short or long or fast or slow. Basically, when people spoke of track, I heard Charlie Brown's teacher: "Blah blah blah metric system. Blah blah blah repeats. Blah blah blah intervals. Blah blah blah math." All that to say, I didn't know a thing about a track, its length or why it could be something people did on purpose.
Furthermore, it's common knowledge (I believed) that track workouts were strictly the domain of elite runners, of which I will never, even in my wildest fantasies, be. For this reason, it seemed clear that I had no business dragging my Lycra-clad self anywhere near a track.
Finally and plainly, my ego was far too large to permit me to attempt running at the track. Not with other people around. People who would surely focus on my paltry effort and scoff at my stride. I didn't know the rules. I didn't know how to do it. And because I'm an adult, I can choose what I want to do. You're not the boss of me.
Enter Advanced Marathon Training (AMT). Frustrated in four attempts to hit a certain marathon finishing time, I registered for AMT, having heard the good results my buddies had seen. Turns out, a key feature of AMT is track workouts. AMT does track when normal people are in bed, but it just so happened that last week, the morning workout was cancelled. It seemed track would hunt me down and find me.
I had no other choice. I had to go to Track Night. I swallowed my pride and showed up at TU with my water bottle and my Garmin all ready to go. I kept trying to make my face relax, because I was pretty sure my eyes betrayed my fear. I was with the cool kids. The fast kids. The track kids. I hoped I didn't do it wrong.
Clusters of runners made their way effortlessly along the outer lanes of the track as the sun set against Tulsa. The coordinators Bobby and David eventually gathered the lot of us on the soccer pitch inside the track. There, Bobby led us through some high knees and dynamic stretches while I craned my neck, searching for any familiar faces. My heart leapt when I spotted a woman from my Saturday group. I resisted the urge to glom onto her. I resisted the urge to just run whatever she was running.
Both Bobby and David repeated that night's workout, broke up the pace groups and offered to answer any questions. My pride roared up and prohibited me from asking any. I followed a group that sounded roughly like my pace to the far side of the track where Bobby lined us up and sent us off. I pretended I was a shadow, trying to make myself smaller, unnoticeable.
I noticed a pretty big group that wanted to run a different workout than was planned and I horned in on their conversation so I could hear the rules of the track. To whit: run two wide, in lanes one and two. Pass in lanes two and three. Use the outer lanes for recovery intervals and basically just don't be rude.
My mouth grew dry and my heart raced even before I started running. And then, I gave myself over to what I had come to do. I had my plan. I knew how to run, and I belonged there. Just as much as anyone else. People even smiled at me. Talked to me. Encouraged me. Imagine my surprise. I watched as the sky darkened, and I reminisced about my college days when I saw the intramural soccer team playing. I listened in on conversations. I thought about what I would make for dinner.
And when I finished, I ran my mile cool down in the opposite direction. I felt cold winter on my face and the warmth of my muscles.
I made it through track night, and I liked it. Though I still prefer running in the dark.