Five weeks ago, I ran my first race in many years, a 3-mile summer cross country series race at Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Yesterday, I raced on the track for the first time since sophomore year in college! (I’m 56, so that’s a long time ago).
Racing the Mile and 800 Double
My goal to race the mile and 800 meters (double) was to experience a track meet from a first-person perspective. I attended many track meets with my sons during their middle and high school years, but that had been as a coach, parent and third-party observer. In addition, I wanted to take another step on my journey through separation, divorce, healing, and rediscovery. For me, it wasn’t about race time and place, it was about experience, discovery, and healing.
Father Like Son
The July 13 date had been circled on my calendar weeks in advance. I remember my younger son competing at the Nutmeg State Games at Veterans’ Memorial Stadium in New Britain, CT while he was in middle school. The mid-July meet with typically oppressive heat and humidity did not lend itself to run fast times, but it was an opportunity to compete at a beautiful facility (host to the Connecticut high school state championships) and measure against other top athletes. As an open meet, I had the opportunity to compete as an adult, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
Overcoming Heat and Injury
Unfortunately, dealing with the heat and humidity wasn’t my only challenge. I am rehabilitating from a plantar fasciitis injury, and after 8 days rest from running, I decided to resume training. Last Wednesday’s 400 meter track workout went well, but the plantar fasciitis returned with a vengeance the next morning. On Saturday morning, the first step out of bed was painful, and I was 50/50 whether I should race or not. Longing for the experience, I packed my racing gear and drove to Veterans’ Memorial Stadium.
The warmup jog in the parking lot was painful, but I wasn’t about to drive home without racing at least the mile. Given the heat and injury, I planned to race conservatively the first 2 laps and put myself in position to run a 6:30 mile. Last summer, when I started this journey, I ran a 6:48 time trial for 1600 meters (4 laps, but not a full mile). I also decided to protect my injury and race in training shoes rather than spikes.
Running in heat 3 of the mile, I had to wait in the brutal heat for about 15 minutes before stepping on the start line. Once on the line, I was nervous and anxious, not knowing what to expect. With 14 runners in my heat, and me in 7th position at the start, the field would collapse quickly out of the gate. I was probably in 12th place after 100 meters, decided to settle into my goal pace, and once I completed my first lap in 1:40 (for 409 meters), I was right on pace. I started to move up, passed 809 meters in 3:17, and closed in 3:11 for my last 800 meters. Coming down the final stretch and watching the clock tick towards 6:30 was electrifying, and I dug down deep to cross the finish in 6:28 to finish 6th in my heat (and 3rd in my age group). I executed the plan with nice even splits to break 6:30.
Post-Race Discovery and Emotional Pain
My first track race since college! It was exhilarating, freeing and satisfying. It instilled a huge amount of confidence. And as I stood there, and reflected on my younger son’s battles with injuries the past few years, his commitment and perseverance to always come back and give his best, his ability to compete at the highest levels even when not 100%, I have even more respect and pride for what he’s accomplished. The first-person experience gave me insights I did not have, and a newfound respect for my son’s achievements. It also enables me to reflect on some of the things I did as a parent (and sometimes as coach) that in hindsight were misguided and inappropriate. Things that I now regret. That is also part of the journey and healing process. Overall the experience was invaluable, and I could deal with the heat and injury.
Motivation and Inspiration to Race
During a short cooldown in the parking lot, I was again 50/50 whether or not I should race the 800 meters. The injury flared up from the mile race. Lots of thoughts going through my head. My son had doubled in major track meets. Could I come back and step up for another race? Was I one and done? I knew that the injury would prevent me from accelerating at the start, and from finishing strong, both important in the shorter 800 meter race. If my son could do what he did, I could too. Although he was not at the meet to cheer and support me, he totally motivated and inspired me. I would race for him.
The 800 Meters
Back at the start line, I knew I had to go out fast. Unlike the mile, which is typically run as a negative split race, the 800 meters is considered a positive split race. I crossed 400 meters in 87 seconds, and moved up to 4th in my heat (and closing on 3rd place). Again watching the clock tick towards 3 minutes as I sprinted to the finish line, I closed in 87 to break 3 minutes with a 2:54 (4th in my heat, 3rd in my age group). Executed well again. Unfortunately I was barely able to walk after the race. I skipped the cooldown, and drove home to start rehabilitating the injury with stretching, strengthening and ice.
Richer for the Experience, the Journey Continues
On the drive home, and probably for the next few days (and maybe longer), I will be reflecting on today’s experience and how it changes my perspective, and enables me to re-examine the past through a different lens. Another milestone on my journey through separation, divorce, healing, and rediscovery.