Those of us that ran track and field in high school or college feel quite at home doing intervals on a running track.
That’s not the case for many people who did not have that opportunity. They seem to dread the track for many reasons.
First, the track usually means that you’re there to do a speed or interval session, and that hurts.
So people would rather avoid it.
Second, the track is an empiric environment. You know exactly how fast or slow you’re going because the measurements are precise.
Third, the track involves repetition. Some feel bored by doing multiple laps.
I cannot say that track was my favorite running sport during my scholastic and collegiate years. Cross country was more fun. And yet I had some success in track, even winning races and setting school and conference records.
Some of my best indoor and outdoor track times still reside in the Top 10 category of all time records at my college.
But the thing one most remembers about time on the track is the workouts. We did track workouts for cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track. The fact of the matter is that there was no escaping it. But when you’re out there working in the company of other runners, it’s like the track is a reality separate from the rest of the world. A really hard interval can drain your strength entirely away. Then you wait through those precious seconds of recovery, or jog around the track to the next one, and do it all over again. It’s insane in some respects, but also the most tangible thing you’ll ever do.
Track running is far different from cross country or racing on the roads. You learn how to run right next to each other, for one thing. There is contact going around the curves.
I ran the steeplechase, an event that involves hurdling 35 barriers over 3000 meters, and seven water jumps. You had to gauge your space and speed pretty well in approaching those hurdles. Otherwise you could get tangled up and fall, or drag a leg and strike a knee against one of the 4″ X 4″ solid wood barriers. And that hurts.
Pace per mile
But what also hurts is the effort of trying to run a specific pace that is faster than you’ve ever run. Still, there were moments when that sort of effort turned into a magical romp around the track. There is nothing quite like being fit and racing on a good track. The footing is great. The spikes are light and the sensation of leading an event on the track is like nothing else on earth.
So the track sometimes calls me back. Last evening I had 45 minutes in which to work out before picking up my wife from the train, so I buzzed over to the middle school track where we do our workouts. It is a black rubberized oval in an open landscape. The running surface is responsive and great for doing intervals.
I ran 6 X 400 meters at 1:38. No faster. No slower. That’s just over 6:30 pace for the mile. I’m not very much faster than that currently. But I wasn’t dying either.
Over the next few weeks I’ll push that average pace per quarter mile down to 1:30. That’s 6:00 pace and a good way to induce the type of anaerobic training necessary to lower my race pace in general.
Aging on the track
As I’ve aged, it’s been difficult to watch my speed seep away. There was a time when I ran a workout of 10 X 400 at 60-63 seconds per lap. At the lower end, that’s four-minute mile pace. I once went through three quarters of a mile in 3:09 before tying up the last lap to finish in 4:19. That was during college.
A part of me dearly wishes that I’d run a competitive mile post-collegiately. The summer of 1984, I ran my 5000 meter PR of 14:47. It would have been fun to apply that fitness to the mile distance, because a 4:15 was very possible for me. Perhaps even a 4:12, given the workout I just mentioned.
But those days are gone. Lost to the past on the timeline of a runner’s life. I still love going to the track even if I’m not as fast as I used to be. It stuns me that the intervals I run these days are not even as fast as the pace at which we ran our 20-milers in college. It almost feels like that must have been a different person doing that.
The track calls me back to remind me that I am still that person. A bit slower in some respects, but still in love with the speed I can generate, and that’s still better than many.
See you in lane one.