Even after swearing it off for good.
I ran track in high school and college and – don't get me wrong – I'm glad I did. There's something about the experience of spending an entire day feeling completely taken over by anxiety-induced nausea, standing on a line between someone who is destined to run faster than you and someone you're supposed to run faster than, feeling breathless for the first of many laps to go, and being way too conscious that when you're running in an exposed circle, anyone can happen to look up and see you huffing and puffing your way to your death.
In high school, I swore I would never run track in college, and in college, I swore I would never run track ever again in my entire life. But last Wednesday, there I was, almost exactly four years after making that promise to myself, standing on a white line painted stark across a black track, sandwiched between someone who was destined to run faster than me and someone I was supposedly going to be faster than. And why I was there, I can't exactly say.
Maybe it was that I missed running alongside (or more like chasing after) people who enjoy torturing themselves in a similar way. Or maybe there's something about the experience of spending an entire day ringing with nervous energy and then feeling it all drain out of you as you come around the backstretch of your first lap because you've finally found your outlet. Or it's crossing the finish line, knowing that once again, you faced your fear and (sort of) conquered it (at least until next time the spirit moves you to sign up for another track meet).
The Annapolis Striders host all-comers track meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. in June, and they've been doing this since the early 2000s. Basically, you can show up at a host Anne Arundel County track — this year the meets are held at the Annapolis High School track, last year they were at Broadneck High School — and run all the events to your heart's content. The order of events is something like this: 3200-meter run, 100-meter dash, 400-meter run, 1600-meter run, 200-meter dash, and the 800-meter run. Depending on the number of people signed up, they'll run all the participants together or broken up into heats. (There is nothing cuter than the 100-meter dash being broken up into a couple heats because a few six-year-olds want to take a turn racing down the straightaway. Passion starts young!)
The 3200m (AKA, the two-mile), usually the least popular at events like these, was of course run in one heat, which was good for me because the one thing (ahem, of many) that makes my nerves even worse is having to wait for a few heats to finish before getting to run my own race. That's right. For as anxious as I get over these track races, I chose the longest event to run, and that's either because I'm a masochist or have absolutely no leg turnover, making the longer distances less likely to be embarassing – or some combination of both.
I think it's some combination of both.
Because let me tell you: I never feel more alive than when I'm in lap 5 of an 8-lap race around a track and my mouth has completely dried out, the bottoms of my feet are weirdly warm because of the friction of my shoes pushing off from the track, and my body's doing something that it should never have to do. Seriously, when do you ever have to run two miles without stopping while being timed? Why would you ever have to do that? And I guess that's the big draw of the track. It's why there are currently 43,766 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #fortheloveofrunning and a gazillion more on Twitter. There's something amazing about being able to do something you don't actually have to do. There's strength in choosing to push and challenge yourself. There's courage in going to the places you fear. And you come out the other side (or cross the finish line) somehow better than when you started.
Or maybe it's just the rush of endorphins.
Either way, I go around and around when it comes to track. I hate it–I miss it–I love it–I swear to never go back–and repeat. Which is why you'll probably find me some Wednesday evening on the track.
The Run-Around is a weekly feature, focusing on fitness in and around Annapolis, MD.