Track Hack-athon

When I joined UofT Masters Track in 2011, I had no track experience. I had just run my first marathon and want to do something other than road racing. To this end I contacted a coach at a local running store to see if there were any clubs around town that did more than road workouts. And that’s how I was directed to UTTC Masters and started my weekly routine of running around in circles.

At my first track meet, I ran the 1500m. It was a foreign distance and I had no idea how to pace or what kind of pain I was in for (ie. a lot of pain). I think I wrote down my seed time as 5:30 and Coach Paul suggested I try to stick behind a 60 year-old man, who was known to run pretty even splits. Let’s just say, that day someone had her ass handed to her by a 60 year-old man. It was awful and awfully painful. I vowed never to run another track race again.

Fast-forward to 2017, and I was back at the track. It was all due to some big talk about a 4x800m record-breaking relay team with some friends, which started back in the summer and had led to several messages of doubt, uncertainty, and eventual acceptance that we were indeed going to form a 4x800m team. Throughout the exchange it became clear that no one really wanted to sign up for this race and it just became a matter of no one wanting to be the one who backed out. Our stubborn pride saw that we would sign up for the meet (in order to participate in the relay, each runner has to sign up for an additional event at the meet).

I decided to race the solo 800m prior to the relay, since I really didn’t want to do the 3000m (15 laps around the track –holy crap and no thank you I’m not crazy), and the mile was right before the relay. My other relay-mates took part in such eccentric events as the high jump, the make-shift indoor steeplechase, and the 400m starting in blocks. By the time we finished all of our strange and solo efforts and the relays rolled around, we realised that we would be the only team racing. It seems that no other club or athlete wanted to participate in the 4x800m race, which was very odd to us since that was the sole reason we were there.

So, off we went. Team Top Shelf in their solo-relay-world-record-breaking attempt at the 4x800m. And, to be honest, we weren’t there to break any records; we only told our fourth runner that lie in order to coerce him to join our team and also because we are kind of assholes.

It was a successful relay in that we did not drop the baton and that we finished under 10:00.

After that meet, I was happy that I had returned to the track following my earlier vow never to race track again (let it be known that I had broken this vow several times since 2011 and I should never be held accountable to such vows around racing). It was a fun day, amongst great friends, and I seemed to have come out of it with any injury-related pain. It was then that I vowed (again) not to run another track race, at least for a few months.

One week later, I was back at the same track. It turns out, the following week was the Provincial Championships and this meet counted for club points. There was a championship title on the line as well as a big-ass trophy. So, in the name of points and of upholding our club’s reputation, I decided to break my one-week vow and sign up yet again for another track meet.

Because my participation in this meet was point-motivated, I mulled over how many points I could possibly get without risking too much injury and decided that I would do three events: 1500m, 3000m, 800m. The timing of these events, along with the fact that I would be the only one in my age group for all three events (which meant the maximum amount of points by default) made me think that it was a really really great idea. Really great. One of my best. However, as the day approached and I woke up early on race morning to down some carbs, caffeine, beet juice, and all the other pre-race slurry, I was filled with an intense feeling of regret and the strong urge to crawl back into the safety of my bed.

I think what I was dreading the most was the 3000m race (again, 15 laps is a lot). In previous attempts, I had not been that successful; I think my PB was around 11:30  which is 3:50/km pace, and although that is not by any means a fast pace, it always felt like such an excruciating experience, one that I hated and one that made me hate myself.

So, before the meet when I asked my coach how I should approach my triple-race day, he suggested that I feel “comfortable” in the 1500, attack the 3000m, and run the 800m on tired legs. Attack the 3000m. Attack the 3000m. I could keep repeating it and deep down, I knew it made sense, but I am pretty sure I still scowled openly at my coach. I think he just figured I was experiencing some GI-distress.

Part One:

1500m – 5:17

I’m not sure if “comfortable” would be the word to describe my experience of this race. It certainly felt better than the first time I raced it back in 2011 and ate some shit. There were three ladies ahead of me and I thought about booking it and tucking in right behind them; however, I knew theirs was a pace that would certainly feel uncomfortable, which would leave me in a compromising position for the rest of the meet (at least I think it would have. Maybe I would’ve felt fine? Who knows. Maybe you know.). It was fine. I did a few laps of recovery and rested a bit before the 3000m.

Part Two:

3000m – 11:17

A PB. It was a surprising PB. I was chatting with a friend of mine recently about trying to feel relaxed during a race in order to maximise efficiency and I mentioned that in all of my PB races, I went in without feeling too much pressure or having any high or specific expectations. I suppose the fact that I knew I’d get the max amount of points for our team helped alleviate some of that pressure, along with the fact that I knew I’d be racing three times in one day and would inevitably be slower than if I had been focusing on a single race. I was wrong. In my heat, there weren’t any runners close to my seed time (11:35) as I was in a group of mostly 60+ year old runners. Sure, I had been in a race before with a 60 year old runner and had barely lived to tell the tale, but you know what they say: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Or something like that. Based on all of the seed times, I knew I’d be running alone.

I did indeed run alone for all of the race. My first kilometer split was 3:47. I checked in to how I felt: I felt okay. So I continued along at around the same pace. The second split was 3:46. Pretty steady, and again I felt okay. With five laps remaining, I decided that I was getting a bit bored of running and wanted the race to be done and over with; however, with five laps remaining, I knew that I still had to run five laps. Make sense? Based on how I felt, I that that I could push it just a little bit harder, and I was right as I finished my last split in 3:44. A small difference but I was happy with the finish and the race as a whole. It was the first time that I felt so comfortable in a 3000m and was able to stay calm mentally and just tick off the laps, five at a time.

Part Three:

800m – 2:32 high

At this point in the meet, I was tired, hungry, suffering from the morning’s beet juice, etc. slurries and wanting to be done with it. I usually can’t eat much during these meets because I’m nervous and also because I hate the feeling of food sloshing around in my paunch. Instead of food, I opted for a vending machine lunch of Starbursts and some old coffee that I had brought in a thermos. Before the race, I was unsure whether or not I’d wear spikes at all during the meet since I had a bit of pain in my left foot, but because it seemed to feel okay after the 3000m and I wanted to get the meet done and over with, I felt that racing in spikes would expedite the completion of the day. I tucked in behind another lady, and just trailed behind her the whole way. It was with 150m to go that she started to pull ahead, and all I could do was go with her; sadly, I was unable to unleash a monstrous and crowd-pleasing kick to push past her, but I crossed the line and I was done.

It was an exhausting and surprising day. Some of the best moments at track meets include cheering on teammates doing silly things such as steeplechase, high jump, and shot put. And then the other great moments are when your teammates cheer you on when you’re doing silly things like the 1500m, 3000m, and the 800m.