Returning to track meets after 30 years

So today marked my first track meet in nearly 30 years.  The last time I competed as a varsity athlete ended in 1988 with me doubled up over a garbage can, distraught at missing my state qualifying time in the 800m by less than a second, only learning later that I had set my school’s record in the process.

I was a little apprehensive as I entered the athletic complex.  Funny – I still feel like I can compete, but I know I’m not nearly in the shape I was all those years ago.  Sure, I still run, but all the ten-milers, half marathons and marathons in the world can’t train you for this.

After all, how often do you get to see your daughter compete in her high first high school track meet?

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Jana’s all smiles ahead of her first race

No doubt I was nervous for her.  But she had been a competitive swimmer for years, so the whole mental preparation thing wasn’t new for her.  What WAS new to her was the way a track meet moves – especially in close confines of an indoor 200m track.  The orchestration of moving runners into the holding areas, onto the track, keeping the relay teams as teams jockey for position.  The traffic of the first turn in a no-lane-designated 4x200m, and the chaos in the exchange zone.

I felt like I had been transported back 30 years to my high school track days.  Everything was the same.  The encampments loosely organized by team.  The younger kids hanging out close to each other, staying with the team.  The older kids mixing with runners from other schools.  The screwing around.  The coaches, frantically trying to track down that one kid who just *had* to go to the bathroom as the 2nd call for their race is announced over the loudspeaker.  Teammates cheering for their friends.  Parents impulsively checking their watches in the stands.

Of course, the one thing that HAS changed over the years was the number of kids messing around on their phones between races.  While the number I saw today was lower than you might think, it was definitely higher than when I was in high school.  (Of course, cell phones weren’t in existence yet, so…I digress.)

And the sounds – oh, the sounds!  The sound of the starting gun still seems so much louder indoors than it will be in a few months, when the action moves outdoors.  The encouraging shouts from kids, coaches and parents never change.  There’s nothing quite like the sound of runners just nipping the hurdles as they go over.  Of course, this early in the season, plenty of runners did more than just nip them, hitting them hard.  Lots of hurdles went down, sometimes taking hurdlers with them.

img_1479Baton exchanges are always something to watch early on.  The experienced guys had that down to a science.  But the JV exchanges were awful.  Kids running into their teammates, handoffs happening at a dead stop, incoming runners passing the outgoing runners…even batons on the ground!  Of course, that’s to be expected only a couple of weeks into the season, with runners who’ve never run relays thrown into the races with little to no baton practice.  They’ll get better….

I saw a first out there today:  In the 55m hurdles, a runner went down after hitting a hurdle and got up, intent on attacking the next one.  But as he took his second step, he slipped as if he hit a patch of ice, and went down in a heap.  He didn’t realize he had lost his shoe.  He tried again, same result.  Finally a coach pointed behind him toward his shoe.  Poor kid – his teammates were howling at the sight.  He’ll never live that one down!

Truth be told, this could only happen during the indoor season, as the track is not rubberized (no spikes), and kids use their regular trainers for races.

But the most memorable first I saw was my daughter Jana, running her first races.  I still don’t know her actual times, but from what I saw, she competed well, and enjoyed herself.

She’s not an experienced runner like I was at that age (I had run track for four seasons prior to high school), but she was smiling the whole way.

God, how many things I want to tell her right now.  So many experiences to share.  But now is not the time.  Right now, I’m just taking it all in…again.  I’m letting her do the same.

From what she tells me, her coach has her pegged as a middle-distance runner, which warms my heart as a former middle-distance specialist.

Whatever she does end up running, I can only hope she falls in love with the sport and embraces it the way I did all those years ago.

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