My long awaited return to the track

My long awaited return to the track

I often think that running has been a part of my life in three phases. The first phase started in primary school, with beating the boys around laps of the school hall, and grew into nine years of athletics and cross country competitions. After a few highlights including Little Athletics state medals and two junior nationals events, it stalled somewhere after the City2Surf in the year after I left high school (2002).

Despite a random appearance in the 2004 City2Surf, phase two didn’t kick off until 2007. When my company at the time organised a c2s team, I got involved to recruit runners, telling them how much fun it is. When I felt sick at the end after struggling to a personal worst of 78 minutes, I decided to train properly for it the next year. That launched a few of years of semi-serious road running, where I had some decent results – a sub 60 in the City2Surf and my first half marathon in about 95 minutes. Phase two also included the “I could” stage – “I could run a sub 90 half. I could run a sub 40 10km”. However, travel got in the way, and my interest in running goals faded.

After a couple of years of backpacking around Latin America, phase three began. I decided the time had come to achieve some of the things I had always talked about, starting with beating my dad’s long standing City2Surf PB of 56 minutes. A broken foot in the 2013 event meant a small delay, but this year I finally pulled it off, along with the sub 90 half, the sub 40 10km, and my first marathon.

During phase two, I remember wondering if I would be able to beat any of my old athletics PBs if I ever ran on the track again. While I was reasonably competitive as a teenager, my dedication to training lapsed at times, and I probably never quite reached my potential (a theme that was also true of phase two). This resulted in a 1500m PB of 4.54 and a 3000m PB of 10.48.

I can say without question now, that had I given the track a go during phase two, I wouldn’t have run any PBs. But after some good results this year, I started thinking that now might finally be the time to test it out. Not having a specific goal after Sydney marathon, I found out about the NSW 3000m Championship and decided to enter – thinking that after running a 17.49 5km, surely I could run a 3000m PB.

In a few training sessions that were probably the equivalent of cramming for a test, I dusted off my spikes and went to reacquaint myself with the track at Sydney Olympic Park. With only about two weeks to prepare as much as I could, before I knew it the day had arrived.

In an exciting new addition to the event, a community 3000m race was included on the program for runners who wanted to participate but weren’t registered with an Athletics New South Wales club. Five friends from my running club decided to participate, most of them doing their first 3000m race, so the day started with arriving at the track for their event. While sitting at the side of the track to help with their lap counting, and watching them go around, 7.5 laps suddenly seemed like a lot to get through, and the excitement I had felt in the preceding days started to turn into nerves.¬†They all enjoyed the event, and one of them won a voucher for new shoes for being first female finisher.

With over two hours to go before my event, we had a lot of 3000m races to watch as the first of nine men’s events kicked off. My nerves were building as the night went on, and by the time it got closer to the first of four female races, I started to have thoughts of going home.

I was running in the B race, and was the oldest in the field. Even though I had grown up running track events, to say I was a little bit intimidated was an understatement. I went through my warm up, and was happy that my legs felt quite fresh. There was quite a bit of wind around, and I had been wondering all night how noticeable it would be on the track.

After finishing my warm up, and waiting as long as possible, I headed over to the start with a friend. I put on my numbers and did a few strides, while trying to ignore the strange emotional feeling that was coming to the surface. It seemed a bit funny that after dragging myself through two challenging marathons this year, I would be so nervous about a short track race. But it wasn’t the distance that was a factor, it was two different things.

I definitely felt like the odd one out. Being older, I wasn’t sure I could compete with the young, speedy girls who were half my age. And that was the second thing, competition. I’m competitive by nature, and go as hard as I can every time I race. But even in some of the big events where I have placed quite well, everyone is quite spread out, running amongst guys and not in front of spectators, and I’m usually running for a time. In 7.5 laps of the track, with everyone in sight, running in a pack, with people on your shoulder and waiting for the right moment to kick, this would most definitely be a race, with nowhere to hide if I got left behind.

Reminding myself that I was here because I wanted to do this, I told my friend she could go back before I chickened out and went with her. I did a few more strides and tried to focus on my goal, before we were called to the start line. I remember looking at the clock and seeing 8.21, thinking we had a few more minutes to spare, when the starter called “on your marks”, and just like that the race was underway.

As we rounded the first curve, I remember thinking “this is it, it’s really happening”, while reminding myself not to go out too hard. The others obviously had other ideas, because the pace was quick. I went through the first 200m in about 40 seconds, which worked well with my plan to stay as close as possible to 1.20 laps, which is about 10 minute pace. As we went passed the start line after 400m, I saw that the clock read 1.18. We had definitely started definitely fast.

Despite feeling comfortable with the pace, I was in the back half of the field, and thought I may be well out of my depth. The feeling escalated when couple of girls darted in front of me coming up to the finish line with 6 laps to go, leaving me in the last couple of runners. As we reached the start line again at 800m, it occurred to me that I needed to give 15 year old me more credit for doing this so often, because the pace was quick and it wasn’t easy!

Just after passing the finish line for the third time with 5 laps to go, I became aware of a voice on the loudspeaker talking about the race, as had been happening throughout the night. I realised he was talking about me and my quest to run a PB 15 years after I set it. For someone who likes the anonymity of big road races, my initial instinct was wanting to hide, but it spurred me on a little bit and I managed to go past a few girls. Not long after I did, I was being passed again with 4 laps to go – my theory that it would definitely be a back and forth race with a lot of position changes seemed accurate.

I told myself to stick the girl who just went past me, and managed it for a lap, feeling like I was barely holding on. As we rounded the bend and approached the finish line, we had 3 laps to go.

With my focus only on sticking with the girls who were next to me, I didn’t notice we were catching one of the runners who had dropped off the lead group. I pushed on and suddenly found myself at the front of the pack as we went into the straight for 2 laps to go. I noticed the clock, and found myself trying to calculate if I under PB pace.

As I ran down the straight for the bell lap, I told myself that all I needed to do was hold on for 400m. This time it was easy to calculate if I was on target, the clock said 9.06. I knew I would have to run about 1.40 for the lap to miss my PB, which wasn’t going to happen. As I rounded the bend and headed into the back straight, there was quite a few people along the track waiting to race, doing their cool down or encouraging runners. It was quite loud and exciting, I could hear runners behind me and people in the crowd cheering them on. I’ve seen a few races where the crowd is down watching the on track, and have always thought it creates an exciting atmosphere. I think it should be encouraged more often.

I looked at clock at the 200m mark, which hadn’t hit 10 minutes yet. From a previous training session when I did 200m reps in about 40 seconds I knew that was all I had to go. As I turned into the straight I focused on running as hard as I could knowing it was about to be all over. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch at 10.26. To say I was ecstatic was an understatement, and it was probably as much because I didn’t have to run anymore as it was because I achieved my goal.

As I tried to drink some water and get my breath back, Dave Robbo (who was on the mic) came over and told me not to leave because they had a prize for me. I never imagined that my aim to beat my 15 year old self would be an interesting story to anyone aside from me!

I am definitely proud of how I ran, for hanging in there for the last laps when I started to get tired, for not being too scared to my foot down and race and finishing 4th, and for finally running a 3000m time that I always thought I was capable of. I could not have run a second faster on that night, and it’s nice to say I did my best. It was also good that after many years of coaches, athletics competitions and travelling for running, that my parents got to see me run to my potential on the track.

So where does all of this leave me for what’s next with running? Like all distance, if I did specific track training, I think I could run faster. But, I’m also pretty satisfied with what I achieved, and feel like I have a lot more improving to do over longer distances. So while a marathon program looks likely for the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m tempted to enter a 1500m or a 5000m. I don’t think I am as determined to chase down anymore old PBs, but running on the track will always be something that appeals to me.

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