“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.
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?