This past Saturday I attended my first collegiate track meet. I attended it as an observer and fan of track and field events but also as a student athlete. I haven’t competed in track in 25 years. Back in high school I was part of a 4 x 400 meter team that took first place in the state finals… but I haven’t run competitively since then. While I love to do treadmill intervals at Barry’s Bootcamp and my weekly longer endurance run (which is only 3-5 miles) the training volume of collegiate sports is way more intense.
I went into this meet with a strained left quad, so I was a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run. But I was also very excited. Excited to see my teammates perform, excited to take in the whole day of events and watch insanely gifted athletes do their thing. The day did not disappoint.
The meet was held at Pomona College, a beautiful, private college set at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. This particular meet was an “Invitational”, which means it’s a sanctioned race for all kinds of athletes. In addition to approximately 15 college teams, there were professional athletes (China, France and Canada) as well as Para Olympians, one of whom is actually on my team at Southwestern.
Hundreds of athletes covered the field and the surrounding viewpoints. Javelin was being thrown in the middle of the football field, while athletes warmed-up right next to them. It was like a three ring circus! You had to have your head on a swivel every step you took!
Upon arrival, we took all the equipment off the bus, set up our pop-up tents and had a quick team meeting. From that point forward, we were pretty much on our own. Earlier in the week we learned when our races would be; the women’s 400 meter was at 1:20pm. Since the 25 or so athletes from SWC all run different races, there was no team warm-up. I hung out and watched the races until about an hour prior to my event. At that time, I headed to the “check-in” table to get my heat and lane assignment. I was in the 3rd heat, lane 6.
As previously mentioned, warming up on the track or on the football field was very congested. Runners could use a portion of the lanes if the current race was being held on the opposite side of the track. I wanted to jog for at least 10 minutes before starting my calisthenics portion, so I headed into a wooded area behind the track (I think it was part of their cross-country route) and started to finally get warm. It was a sunny day but temps in the upper 50’s made for chilly conditions.
My quad felt ok jogging but the second half of the warm-up is more dynamic and would give me a better idea of hard I could push it. For the last month I have been learning the terms and obviously the mechanics of the callisthenic warm-up. At practice we do this as a team, with the captain leading it. What I noticed while watching all the other athletes warm up was that they too do these exact same moves. The “backward skip and scoop”, the “sideways froggy”, and “lateral single leg hops”, these universal moves emphasize technique, fire the hips and continue to elevate the heart-rate.
So after my 10 minute jogging warm-up, I found a small outdoor amphitheater, where I completed these callisthenics for another 15 minutes or so. There I was bunny jumping along while a family of four ate their lunch in nearby grassy hilltop. It was nice to have a little quiet time, away from all the noise and frenzy of the meet, to focus and mentally prepare. I was feeling warm and surprisingly not nervous. It was 1pm so I headed back to the tent to change into my spikes and headed over to the start.
My coach and I had talked earlier about how I should run this race. Being a bit injured we were both concerned about making it worse. First and foremost he stressed that if I feel anything pull or stain, to stop immediately. This is the first meet of the season and pulling my quad more would leave me out for weeks. I agreed and knew I needed to be smart. Especially since I use my body every day for work.
Next we talked about the approach. While the 400 is usually executed with four different stages, he wanted me to pace myself as if I was running two, 200 meters. I needed to be gentle coming out of the blocks (the action that caused my quad to pull in the first place) and just find a groove that I could sustain.
I walked over to the starter area and listened for the directions as to how to proceed. We stood in groups with the other members in our heat. We were told that once the gun went off for heat #2, we could start setting up our blocks. I got set up and within a minute or two we were off.
Here’s the part that I’m disappointed about… For the last month I have been working on the “drive phase”, the first 12 steps of the race. With each step, the angle of the torso changes so that by the 12th step you are in your true upright running position. We’ve also been working on the “transition phase”, the next 3 steps where you tilt your pelvis to neutral.
When the gun went off, I was so focused on my quad, that I didn’t even count my steps. I had lost all focus and was just thinking about and feeling out how my quad felt with each step. I guess that’s normal but I’m just bummed that I didn’t get to execute the way I had been practicing. As I came around the last curve I accelerated a bit and hit the last 100 meters a little harder. I finished in 70 seconds. Overall, I would say that I was around 80-90% of my max. Not bad, but lots of room for improvement AND rehab.
Next meet is March 2nd at Long Beach State. I’m going to be ready and 100%.