Track Meets!

So, like I’ve said, M’s doing track now. It turns out, she’s really pretty good at it. She’s had two meets so far, and it’s a learning curve for her (and us), but it’s going well.

The nice thing about a track meet is that even if you’re brand-new to the sport, it’s pretty obvious who’s running fastest. Going to volleyball in the fall, we spent the first few games puzzling over, say, why one pair of girls would start out holding hands or why one girl was wearing a different colored shirt (we’ve since figured these out). And it literally took me years before I fully digested and could recognize when a player was offside during a soccer game. Track, by comparison, is easy. Whoever makes it to the finish line first wins.

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t run into confusion. Track meets have a real three-ring-circus feel to them, with events starting and finishing at a rapid pace, events like the long jump and shot put happening at the same time, and kids endlessly doing warm-up runs. They jam pack it all into a small indoor track space where people are literally walking across the track all the time, some more cluelessly than others, like at the first meet, where a teenager carrying two slices of pizza wandered directly into the path of one race (the runners managed to avoid falling onto the track; the pizzas were not so lucky).

It’s also a little stressful, because I’ve got to tell you: some of those runners look freakin’ miserable by the end of their races. At our first meet, one poor spaghetti-legged girl had to be supported by two adults while one teammate ran for a chair for her and another teammate ran for a barf receptacle. A young friend of ours looks so pained at the finish line that I thought for sure she must have been injured. . . nope, it turns out that she was just running while sick.

To add to the disorientation, it seems that most of the runners run different events at every meet, or at least they start the season that way. M finds out on Thursday what she’ll be running on Saturday, and since she’s so new at everything, it’s a dramatic revelation. The first meet, she ran in a single race, the 1000 meter. When she found out the plan, she said, “I have literally never run a 1000 meter race before.” Which turns out to be a bit of a big deal because it’s good to know how to pace yourself. So at the meet she kept pace with a teammate, and if she’d been familiar with it, she probably could have run faster. For the second meet, they put her into two events: the 600 meter, which is what she’d been hoping to run; and a 4 x 800 meter relay with three other girls. “Have you run a relay before?” Cute W asked. “Nope,” M chuckled. Again she literally had never passed a baton before, which can be a problem, since you disqualify the whole team if you drop it (right? I think). Next thing you know, Cute W and M were racing around the dining room table, passing a water bottle back and forth. Luckily, she still had one practice before the meet, so she got to try racing the relay the day before the meet. Still, at the meet, she finished her portion of the relay and was anxiously awaiting the opportunity to pass the baton and stop running the race already when her teammate said, “You have to say the command!” M had noticed that people always said something as they passed the baton, but she thought that it was just a traditional rah-rah cheer, not an official, required communication. She managed to pant whatever the command was, pass the baton, and stumble off the track.

The fun and really exciting thing about this, though, is that she has this pretty awesome and untested raw talent for running, and considering how new she is and how ignorant she is to whatever techniques and strategies serious runners employ, her potential is amazing. For that one run that she was excited about running at the track meet, for example, she started out completely clueless. She was warming up with the girls she knew from her team, forgetting that they were in the second heat and she was running in the first heat. And we knew, vaguely, that her race was coming up. And then we realized that a whole group of girls were lined up at the starting line, and the announcer was calling for the first seed to join them. And there’s M, smiling and laughing with her teammates, prancing around in her warm-ups, and suddenly Cute W says, “I think she’s supposed to be there.” He starts yelling for her while the announcer and other girls are waiting and she’s still clueless. I was thinking, “Why would she be first seed if she’s never run this before. . . ?” But apparently the coaches submit projected times and that’s how the meet organizers place the runners in their lanes, so, huh, I’ve learned something new. Meanwhile Cute W yelled for M a couple more times, and then I yelled very loudly from halfway across the track arena. And between her two parents and the announcer, M finally figured it out and hustled over to the finish line with a teammate helping to yank her sweatpants off. A minute or two later they started, and she was running way ahead of all of the other girls. After almost missing the race, she made the fastest time in that meet or any of the capital region meets that weekend. So, like, imagine if she were ready when the races started and knew how to pass the baton properly and had a better sense of when to pace herself and when to go as fast as possible, right?

Sadly, she’s missing the next two races because they’re happening while we’ll be with family for the holidays–I’m sort of surprised by home much track activity is happening over the break–but I’m excited to see how the meets go in the future. They’re fun.


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