The first time I remember being on an athletics track was in grade four. My gym teacher, Mr Jans, was a “no pain no gain” kinda guy and as a class he would often have us perform fitness tests. Part of the fitness testing was running a mile, or four laps around the giant track. Mr Jans would guide us through a warm up, which always included mountain climbers, and then he would stand at the side of the track with his stop watch, yelling our times as we finished. The fastest kid was always Daniel. He was the fastest runner I had ever seen and he would always lap me. I was always one of the slowest off the start and one of the last to finish.
Despite a less than desirable start to my track experiences, when I decided to train for a half marathon last year I decided to include some track sessions. I was living by a posh university athletics track and I would cruise past on my base runs, peering in at the pristine tartan, watching elite athletes train and marvelling at their speed.
Sprint training finally arrived and by then I knew when the track was empty. I headed over to the university grounds and was feeling excited to train on a real track like a real runner. Little did I think there would be a legitimate Olympic team there. The London 2012 Olympics were looming in the distance and the foreign team had travelled to South Africa to take advantage of the sun while their home country was in the depths of winter. Unknowingly, I jogged in and came face to abs. Not just a 6 pack but a 12 pack of perfectly defined abdominals mounted on top of flawless brawny legs that seem to go from ground to armpit. She didn’t just look powerful to me, I could feel her presence. I ran back to the safety of my normal route, completely intimidated, having flashbacks of Mr Jans’ gym classes. Obviously, track training wasn’t going to happen today.
After my encounter, I made up excuses to myself and others to avoid the track. “It’s always busy,” or “I’m not a track athlete,” or “why would I want to run in circles?” However, a few weeks ago, with an impending sprint session, I realized I didn’t feel the need for excuses anymore. Since I had started running again to prepare for an upcoming race, I wasn’t just ready to try the track again, I was eager to.
In spite of my new found excitement, I wasn’t without my scars so, just like I did before, I found a track and scoped it out a few times before committing. After a few ride-bys on my bike, I decided this track more to my liking. It wasn’t a state-of-the-art facility. It wasn’t tartan. It wasn’t marked well. It even had a few pot holes. But it was always empty.
I had found a gravel ring at the local public high school and school was out for the summer. Maybe it was the safety of being alone. Maybe it was the less intimidating facility. Maybe it was the acknowledgement that I just needed to get over my fears and get my training done. In any case, I laced up and started running.
As I ran, I was almost waiting to get bored, to confirm that I actually did hate running in circles. I was waiting to confirm I was a road runner, not a tartan girl. I kept running. I kept waiting.
Eventually, I stopped waiting. Eventually, I was only running. I finished my sprints, started my warm down and I realized 10 kilometres had flown by. I had completely zoned out into my training and loved it. That one session didn’t rewrite my history of bad track experiences but it definitely changed the future. A small part of me will always be waiting but instead it holding me back, it’s keeping me on track.