This weekend I competed in a state festival meet “for fun” at the awkward age of 27. I say awkward because I feel too old to compete against the open aged athletes, particularly the ones still in college or trying to go professional in track, and I’m not old enough to compete in the master’s aged division. Anyways, two weeks before the meet I decided I had nothing to lose signing up for all seven heptathlon events to perform in one day. I hadn’t practiced ANY of my events since my last college meet in 2013 and for the first time in a decade I would be running in a track meet. In college I only performed jumps and throws.
Despite my lack of skill practice, I have been performing CrossFit since I started physical therapy school in 2013. I felt even if I finished dead last in every event I would at least have the endurance to get to the end of the meet without going out on an ambulance, unless a hurdle got the best of me.
As an “adult athlete” I felt like I was having an out of body experience at the meet, stumbling upon one revelation after another throughout the day. Maybe not having the pressure to perform at a certain level or set a new PR allowed me to meditate a little bit and stumble upon these aha moments? Or maybe all the sitting around I had to do at the meet without needing to do calculus homework or study anatomy during my breaks gave me a chance to stop and smell the roses? Nonetheless, here are the 7 things I learned about track and field meets at my “awkward age” of 27.
1. Almost everyone at the meet is healthy and fit. I didn’t see one soda the entire meet and we all know meets are long (see #2). Everyone was eating fresh fruit, nuts, and healthy proteins. There was plenty of water to go around and not a single person suffered a heat illness that day, despite the blazing hot weather. People from ages 4 to 80 competed and most everyone was fit for the event they were performing, even the fans watching! Seeing the 80 year old pole vault and high jump gave me hopes that if we can stick with the type of training we perform for our sport we will live long, healthy, and “springy” lives.
2. The meets don’t get any shorter. It doesn’t matter if you are doing one event or seven, plan on being at a track meet for at least eight hours if you are an athlete. Which brings me to #3…
3. If someone is at your track meet and they are NOT competing they either really love watching track or they really, really, REALLY love you. My mom sat in the scorching sun all day, she gave me her water, she brought me healthy snacks, she was rained on during my last event, her clothes were soaked from a combination of perspiration and precipitation, and at the very end of the day she still told me she had fun and was proud of me. Let’s be honest, I’m not even sure I could watch myself in those conditions!
4. Walking into the warm up arena is like walking through first class on a plane. The air feels hostile, the people are glaring at you while listening to music in their headphones, and you are just strolling through trying to figure out where you are about to post up. Once you get settled in though, you forget about your surroundings and focus on the big picture: getting to your goal destination, whether it be a time or a distance.
5. The butterflies in your tummy never go away. Whether you are going for a new PR or trying an event for the first time with little to no expectations, that fluttery feeling in your stomach and those nervous jitters are still there. If it’s not maybe you should consider being a surgeon because you’ve got nerves of steel.
6. The track and field community is closer than you think. Obviously we are all competitors and we want to perform at the highest level possible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all get along. Prior to the meet I e-mailed a local high school coach about practicing at the track, he immediately e-mailed me back and welcomed me to his home field. He even coached me in my first high jump practice in five years! Last weekend at my meet I made friends with people from all different ages and backgrounds. I met a 55 year old sprinter who competed in college over three decades ago, his wife was there supporting him as well in the crazy hot weather. I met a 17 year old girl who reminded me of myself at that age, running back and forth between pole vault and high jump on pure adrenaline. We talked about what she needs to be doing as a high school senior in the classroom and on the track in order to get a scholarship. I also made a friend competing against a recent college graduate who is trying to go professional in the heptathlon. She absolutely crushed me in the long jump and hurdles, yet we were able to laugh about how inefficient the hurdle crew was and share an umbrella when the storm rolled in over the javelin throw. I was reunited with an old coach who was competing in the master’s division and my high jump official was the SAME guy who has officiated me in my hometown from middle school to college. I love the fellowship track and field breeds between athletes, coaches, officials, and fans.
7. I considered making #6 the last point because of all the warmness and fuzziness of it. Instead I decided to end on the biggest truth of track and field (in my opinion). You can NEVER expect a track meet to go 100% your way.
- Nothing is usually on time, so don’t warm up hours before your event unless you want to be exhausted by event time.
- You might not PR in every event, every meet. If you did you would be the Incredible Hulk. Learn from your failures and let them make you a better athlete inside and out.
- Sometimes you get an official that isn’t as nice as you would like them to be, but be nice to them anyways—it’s good karma.
- Lightning doesn’t care if javelin is your favorite and last event of the day. I waited all day for it last weekend, warmed up in torrential down pour, and right when I got up to throw the event got canceled. It is what it is. It’s a track meet. #TrackProbs
- As one of the coordinators of the event told me at the beginning of the meet, “Track meets with rolling schedules are like avalanches, you try to get through them the best that you can and hope that you come out alright in the end.”