Anatomy of a track mile

“It’s all about that third lap,” I said sagely.  I was standing on the shoulder of the UNC track, wobbling on one leg with the other in a quad stretch, dispensing unsolicited advice to a teammate who was running her first track race.

The mile.

And then it occurred to me that I should probably shut my trap because, well…when exactly was the last time I raced a track mile?

It had been a while.

Return of the pink zebra spikes!

Last summer in NYC, I track-raced twice: one 1500 and one 800. Although I wasn’t training specifically for middle-distance stuff, I had been doing speedwork every week, and as it turned out those were two of my best races of the year (according to the AG% tables).

And they were also my funnest (it’s a word now, right?) races of the year.  I love track meets!

So it was with a mix of excitement (love da track!) and nervous anticipation (but I haven’t done any speedwork since February!  whoops!) that I approached yesterday’s weekly Godiva Summer Series meet.  I’d signed on for the mile and the 800.

On the drive out to Chapel Hill, the chatter in the car centered around the usual question: “So, what do you think you can do today?” Of course, I’d thought about this.  And I’d picked nice round targets: 6:00 in the mile and 2:50  in the 800.

Godiva meets are pretty low-key.  They generally break the distance events into three heats and runners self-seed themselves based on their expected finish time.  Men and women and kids, all together.  For the mile, heat one was 7:30-plus, heat two was 5:30-7:30 and heat three was under 5:30.

Heat two, I will own you.  I tried to talk myself up as I jostled for a place along the waterfall start, bumping elbows with the throng of high school kids and grizzly old men.  I can still run a six-minute mile.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been doing any speedwork and have been slogging along at nine-minute pace for the last two months.  I can do this.

With a quick Runners-Set?-Bang! we were off.

It may have been a while since I’d raced a track mile, but I remembered how this game was played.  Lap one: feels easy, probably too fast.  Lap two: start to feel the burn.  Lap three: pure agony.  Lap four: kick it in.

With a bit of jockeying, I found myself in fifth or sixth place by the time we hit the backstretch.  First female.  Cruising around the turn, it felt downright easy.  Split 1: 1:24. 5:36 pace.  Yep…I remember how to play this game.

Through the 600M mark, I held on to my position.  But I could hear a couple of people right on my shoulder.  I fought them off through the turn, but coming back around the front straightaway, my ass got passed.  First a guy, and then a girl.  Damn it.  Split 2: 2:52. 5:44 pace, 1:28 for the lap.

Oh, the dreaded third 400.  Here’s where the fun happens.  It’s only 400, I told myself.  Just run a 90-second quarter here.  Hot on the first chick’s heels, another tiny girl cruised by me.  Eff her, I thought bitterly.  Eff me and my 30-year-old hips. Stay with me, twee girl.  Why are my lungs burning?

And then, somehow, the evil third quarter was over.  Split 3: 4:30.  6:00 pace, 1:38 for the lap.  Gaaaaaaah.

Time to kick it!  Twee girl and her pack had opened up a ten-foot gap on me. I tried to close it, but she was picking it up too.  Shit.  She was holding strong, but a couple of the other guys in the pack were dropping off.  I picked off one on the backstretch and another one in the final 50M, where I did my best impression of a sprinter.  Finish time: 6:02.  1:32 for the lap.

Sofa king close.

I went out too fast.

Or did I?

I think you have to go out hard when you’re racing a short race, like a mile.  Maybe I could’ve held back to the tune of a second or two, but I don’t actually think I raced this poorly.  Rather, I think I’m out of (track) shape, and I just don’t have that additional gear – the one that would have allowed me to shift down and hold on to my pace, rather than losing ground – in that third lap.

While I’m bummed that I missed my goal by a couple of seconds, compared to last year’s effort, I feel okay about it.  Last summer’s 1500 time of 5:30 is a 5:52 mile, so I’ve lost 10 seconds.  That seems like a reasonable penalty for being a lazy-ass this spring.

And what of the 800, you ask?  Nailed it.  2:50 on the nose.  (Last summer I ran 2:44.)

The 800 is a painful race.  It’s a damn sprint.  And I kind of love it, even though it makes my entire body feel like it’s made of lead.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

So, a successful night at the track. Although I certainly didn’t set any PRs, I’m reasonably satisfied with where I am, fitness-wise.  Which is to say: I’m right where I expected to be.

And no matter how old I get or how much my ass expands, it’s good to know that some things never change.  That third lap is always a bitch.

On to the next one, eh?


26 responses to “Anatomy of a track mile

  1. I haven’t run in a track meet for a looooong time! It does sound fun though.

    Congrats on some great races!

  2. Those are a blast! Have been doing them since ’05 or so. Did the Twin City TC all comers last night in Winston per current work location (800 in 2:27 going 75,72). Gonna get over to Chapel Hill for a sub 5 mile attempt by summers end. Enjoy it while it’s cool!

    • Give me a shout when you’re gonna go out there and I’ll try to match my schedule up. Love your website, BTW!

  3. Dude, I think it is pretty damn impressive that you can still run a 6 minute (+2 seconds) mile after not doing speed work for FOUR MONTHS. Can you send some of your track love my way? Whenever I think about races shorter than 5k, I feel ill inside.

  4. Awesome job Shelby! I broke out into a cold sweat, and felt my stomach knot up thinking about a track race. I hate them. Speed like that is a gift. Keep making the most of it!

    • My stomach was in knots the whole time too…something about just being on a track with the guns going off! It was fun though! You should find an all-comers meet and jump in there, you’d kick ass!

  5. Congrats speedy! Those are great times. I would have been happy with those back in the day let alone now. I admit, I got that nervous pit in my stomach reading this, too! The tear drop start….the elbows….ahhhhh!

    • Oh there were some elbows in the 800. Some chick wearing a shirt that said “DIVISION I” on the back. Like…really? Imma throw one your way just for that.


  6. I did my first mile race since high school this year and it was agonizing. I honestly didn’t prep myself for it at all, and figured I’d just do it for fun. Fun it was not. I won’t even tell you my time, but just know it was not near 6 min… felt good to challenge myself though

  7. Oh, I miss racing 400s and 800s. 1600 was always too long, but give me a quarter mile and I’m a happy kid. Of course, no way I’m hitting 62 seconds any longer, but oh well :) Kudos to you on the times though! (And dangit, I wish I had known – I was stuck in lab until 6 or so, so probably could have come and harassed you during your race!)

  8. I’ve never done this, but it sounds fun. I’m impressed with your speed and I like those sneakers.

  9. Nice work!! I have a track right next to my house. I like running on it once in awhile but it’s hard for me to keep track of the miles! Any tips?

    • I am usually keenly aware of how far I’ve run if I’m in a workout or race (because I’m counting every meter until the end. haha). But if you’re just running a regular ole run, you could always switch directions every mile (so every four laps)…then you only have to count to four each time…

  10. Nice job on the mile! I’m going to do my first real track race at some point this summer. I’m kind of scared of it, I think.

  11. Racing a mile sounds like absolute torture to me!! BUT if I had pretty shoes like that I might consider it 😉 nice job on nailing your projected times!

  12. The thought of me trying to run a 6 minute mile makes me want to puke…I’m glad at least one of us can think of (and even run) 6 minute miles without throwing up! Congrats on the races, and omg your zebra spikes make me want to take up track races…almost 😀

  13. I like this report. You ran fast. And you doubled, which is insane. And the third lap IS the crux of the issue. And I think maybe you did start off too fast, because a 14-second spread is kinda mega, but whatever. You closed like a champ!

    • Well…yeah, I probably went out a little too fast. I was thinking 86-88. I kinda wanted to just get out there and out of the crowd though…there were like 40 people in the heat and since it was such a spread, a good chunk of them were running 7:00+.

      I need to get back in to doing track workouts!

  14. Wow nice job! Haven’t run the 1600m in 10 years….I kinda doubt I could pull a 6:20 today. You’re a speedster. And your shoes are awesome.

  15. Great job, that’s awesome! So speedy! Digging your shoes too btw.

  16. There’s just something that seems fun about running around a track in obnoxious shoes. I could get into that.
    I think I ran something like a 6:30 mile once, when I was 15 years old. So naturally I tell people I can run a 6:30 mile even though I’m rocking the 11:00s these days. Snoogins.

  17. I think you are SO brave for running track on 0 track training! Wow. The thought just stresses me out (but then, I have no fast-twitch fibers). Good job:)

    Those spikes, however, are awesome enough that I might be willing to humiliate myself by running 800m if it meant I could have them.

  18. Where did you get your shoes?