Sometimes we need a bridge to discover that which we have yet to discover that we enjoy. I love running. I love running on trail, I love racing on the road but for me the track is my happy place. It’s where I feel the most alive- filled with adrenaline while at the same time calmed by the cathartic rhythm of running laps around a tartan track.
Some years ago, as a 30 something mum I decided to enter my first track race. I had been running for a couple of years and had finished a number of 5km, 10km and half marathon road races. Aside from running the odd cross-country event in school, I had little childhood experience with the world of athletics so it all felt very new to me. However, I was keen to have a go at running in a new environment. My thoughts were: enter something manageable so I signed up for the 3,000m event thinking that at the very least, I knew I could cover the distance.
At the time, there were no bridges to fill the gaps of my experience or my track running knowledge. Community based track events were non-existent and the majority of runners my age had either grown up with the sport or weren’t running on this stage. Worse still, was the representation of women beyond the age of 30 in these events. As such, I struggled to find a role model to seek out or a meaningful source of information to anchor to. This left me feeling displaced and daunted. As a result, this first track experience was compromised and I did not enjoy it at all. I did not feel like I belonged nor did I want to do it again.
I still remember the things that concerned me the most in the days leading up to that event-small pieces of information and bridging opportunities that would have made all the difference. First, it would have been fantastic if I could enter a track event with like-minded others who were new to this type of running too. That way, we could cross that bridge together with people of similar ability and age, without feeling the pressure of judgment or displacement. I needed to feel a sense of belonging. Second, I would have loved to have someone to answer all those niggling questions I had such as: where is the start line; who will count laps; what happens on the day and prior to the race; which race or wave should I enter; and what do I wear? Finally, and most importantly I wanted to feel comfortable so I could really experience the environment for what it was. I needed someone to help me navigate training on the track in order race on it and to explain the formal-looking structure of Athletics in NSW. Was it all just for professional athletes or could a relatively slow novice like me really run on this stage?
There is no doubt that speed is a big motivator for me in this sport. The track lends itself well to fast running because it is the flattest and most consistent surface that you will find in any running event. In this way, it is a normalising environment meaning it removes many of the variables that you would otherwise have to contend with. That’s not to say, that the track is only for fast runners or runners who want to improve their speed. Just like trail running is not just for endurance athletes and sky running is not just for mountain dwellers, track running is not just for the speed demons amongst us. I love track running most of all not because of speed but because it is calming. It is true that I feel a sense of youth and excitement every time I step onto the track which I find exhilarating. However, once I’m out there, it is the rhythm, consistency and surface predictability of the track that has a mellowing effect on me. I know for some the monotony of counting down revolutions of a 400m oval is mind numbing. For me, it is this monotony that serves to still my other senses so that I can focus on strategy, speed, my body and my breathing. There is something meditative about it.
A lot has changed since I first ventured onto the track. Although the bridge to broad participation was not yet constructed when I began, I was able to discover a great deal by taking the long way around. Upon reaching the other side, I found a new dimension to my running, an environment that enhanced my joy for the sport and new goals to chase. I also came to the realisation that I needed to help create the overpass so that everyone could come and see what all the fuss was about with greater ease. For new runners, mums and women to have a go at something different so that they could decide for themselves whether this type of running was for them.
In NSW, we have been fortunate to have community-based track events running for the last year. This is a great opportunity to try it out in a non-threatening environment. I know that some of the other hang-ups and information gaps about this type of running have made it difficult for many of you to have a go. In addition, many mums aren’t able to get to or have access to a track, which makes the situation even more daunting. So, I am hopeful that the RMA Intro to track workshop I have suggested will go some way towards encouraging you all to cross the bridge with me. You may just find that when you reach the other side, like me, you won’t be able to get enough. I hope you will join me! If you cant, I hope that I can answer your questions and encourage you to have a go in the future. Happy Running.