Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good, clean, cheap fun -- served up FAST

I will never come closer to feeling like a high school track star than I did on Tuesday.

Well, "star" may be an overstatement -- but it was hard not to feel like a hotshot while hurtling full throttle around Myers Park High School's outdoor oval at the extraordinarily enjoyable Trenton Guy Sr. Summer Track Series.

Believe it or not, I'd never run on a track before Tuesday evening. Many of you probably have, and if so, you know what I learned: The rubber in the track puts a spring in your step, and the flat surface really does allow you to hold an alarmingly fast pace for longer than usual.

I'd also never been timed running a single mile flat-out. So I was eager to see if I could break six minutes, having covered the first miles of multiple 5Ks at a pace right around 6:45.

After some minimal warmup jogging, I found myself at the starting line with 18 or so other runners who'd paid a buck apiece to sprint around the track four times. (This, by the way, was a heat for "slower" runners.) The gun went off, and I just bolted. It's already kind of a blur, but the long and short of it is: I tried to keep pace with a couple of fast middle schoolers at the front of the pack for two laps, fought to stay ahead of one of them for the third lap, then had to dig down deep and block out the pain on the last lap as I got passed on the backstretch by one of the kids and two middle-aged men.

Place: Fifth. Time: 6:10. I didn't break 6, but it was close enough that I was not dissatisfied.

A half-hour or so later, I lined up for the 400-meter sprint (one time around). This was an even more foreign experience for me, since the pace is so blistering compared with what I'm used to. I was in Lane 2, and a good runner I met recently, Stan, was in Lane 3. (Stan's pretty fast -- he ran an 18:32 at the China Grove 5K last Friday, to my 21:39; I was sure he'd kick my butt.) The gun went off, and though I gained on him around the first turn, I knew being in an inside lane was contributing. But I kept about two paces behind him on the backstretch, and was surprised when I overtook him coming out of the last turn, then held on for a mini-victory.

(I don't know what the point of that anecdote was other than it was motivating to know the guy in the next lane was a particularly fast guy, and it reinforced how various distances can produce various results for different runners. For the record, I'd rather have Stan's 18:32 at China Grove than my 1:07 in the 400 meters.)

Anyway, so for $2, I had two unique, cool, very-fun experiences that amounted to the purest form of speedwork I've ever done. It's exhilarating to run in a gear I literally never use (even when doing speedwork, I'm piling on enough intervals that my energy bursts don't put me at my top speed). I'm telling you, if you like to run fast, if you like to take on new challenges, if you like to see what you're made of as a runner, you should check this thing out.

Here's how this summer series, sponsored by the Charlotte Track & Triathlon Club and held every Tuesday in June, works:

The order of the events is as follows: 50m, 100m, 1 mile, 4x100 relay, 400m, 800m, 200m, 2 mile. There are several heats of the 50 and 100 meters for the kids, which take up a half-hour to 40 minutes and gives 9-to-5ers time to get over to the field after work. In other words, although registration starts at 5 p.m., "registration" can happen anytime before a race is run -- all you have to do is write down your name and the number of races you'd like to run, then fork over a buck per event. Theoretically, you could participate in every single one.

Heats for the shorter distances are populated based on age; for instance, the first 100m race was for 5 and under girls, then 5 and under boys went next, then 6 and under girls, and so on. Heats for the longer distances are populated based on the time you expect to finish in; for instance, the first heat of the 1-miler was 6:00 and under, the second was 6:00 and over.

The CTTC uses official timekeeping equipment -- upon crossing the line, you're handed an index card marked with a number corresponding to your finish (1 for first, 2 for second, etc.). You give that card to a timekeeper, and within a few minutes, you can pick up your official time.

Competition was fairly fierce. A few of the high schoolers who ran the short-distance races looked swift enough to be state champions, and the young man who won the miler finished in close to 4:30. In total, more than 200 runners participated Tuesday night, ranging in age from under 5 to over 70. (This is a great diversion for kids, by the way; my 8-year-old daughter did the 100m, the 400m and the 800m and had a blast.)

One thing I'd like to see out there next time I go: more women. Although everyone out there was friendly, it had a bit of a boys' club feel -- lots of very good male runners, and I had this sense that many were out there just to add something to their brag book, so to speak (hey, I can relate -- I went home and crowed about my mile time on Facebook!). Meanwhile, I could count the number of women runners on one hand. Because the adult events don't separate males and females, I can see how women might feel intimidated, but I say if you're a relatively strong runner, please get out there and take a shot at beating some of the guys!

If you're free Tuesday evening (the 23rd), and have just a couple bucks to spare, you really, really, really should make plans to get down to Myers Park HS (2400 Colony Road). As I said at the top, it's good, clean, cheap fun -- served up FAST.

Oh, and a final note: On June 30, the series features a "Championship Mile" event -- with the field consisting of the finishers boasting the top 10 times in the mile events from the previous four weeks (10 male, 10 female) -- and concludes for 2009 with a special 5,000-meter (5K) race. CTTC president Lana Torkildsen says the plan is to do all the regular events before the 5K event, although "there is a possibility that we will remove an event or two so we can finish the 5K event in time."

Interested runners are being asked to pre-register for the 5K (cost: $5), since it's expected to be popular and participation will have to be limited. You can pre-register at the track Tuesday evening (the 23rd), or -- if you can't make it -- send your name and phone number to Torkildsen at to be added to the list.


Cool Down Runner said...

Good run Tuesday night at the track. I remember seeing you but I didn't make the connection until I saw your Observer pricture.

Stan and I run on the same TrySports team.


David said...

Great job Theoden. You ran the mile much faster than your 21:39 5k time would predict. According to the calculator on Runner's World, you should have finished in 6:30. So, either you have more fast twitch muscles than the average distance runner; tend to run your first mile too hard in the 5k (think even pace); or benefitted physically and mentally from the rubberized surface.

I am willing to bet you break 6 minutes next week.

seth said...

Congrats to Mike Bingham of Wake Forest last weekend with a 45.09 400m. 2nd at NCAA outdoors!

Anonymous said...

Question- where do you preregister for the 5k on June 30th?

Anonymous said...

You register at the track on tuesday nights....Pretty sure the 5k is on the track entirely (12 1/2 laps)...monotenous, but fast...