“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…”

As a high school senior, Andrew has joined the track team this semester, and he’s really liking it. I like it too, especially the part where I get to watch him run. Reminds me of “Chariots of Fire.”  = ) There is, however, a parental learning curve when it comes to track. Here are a few things I learned from attending my first high school (dual) track meet last week.

You don’t have to pay to get in; at least we didn’t that time.

Nobody much comes to track meets; no need to save seats.

For the uninitiated, it can be hard to tell what’s going on.

“Field” means shot put, discus, javelin, pole vault, and jump (high, long, and/or triple). “Track” means running, either with or without hurdles, and hurdles can be of three different heights and a variety of distances. The permutations on hurdles seem endless.

Race lengths are in meters, with 400 being once around the track, 800 twice, and 1600 four times. A 100-meter dash is done only on the straightaway, and a 200-meter dash covers a curve plus a straightaway. In any race that involves a curve (over 200 meters or more), the runners have staggered starting points. For 200 and 400 meters, they have to stay in their assigned lanes, but for 800 and 1600 meters, they only have to stay in their lanes for the first lap. Although different races start in different places around the track, the finish line is always in the same place. There’s no actual physical “tape” across the finish line, just the stripe painted across the track.

Pole vaulting and high jumping occur at one end of the field, with long jumping occurring simultaneously at the other end. Some field events can also be going on during some of the races.

Our track team members are required to be there for the whole meet. This means that they have a lot of down time, during which they sit on the field, walk up and down the field doing specific stretches and exercises, help hold starting blocks in place for other runners, maneuver hurdles (set them up, raise them, lower them, re-position them, and/or take them down), eat (so they’ll have enough energy for their various races), and just generally hang out. Since Andrew enjoys both running and spending time with friends, track seems to be a good fit for him.

Political correctness aside, there are men’s and women’s versions of most of the events, so a meet takes a long time. The one I attended on March 23 was a dual meet between only Hollister and Branson, and it lasted about three hours, but the meet I skipped last night (March 30) was a regular “invitational meet,” in which some six area schools competed; it lasted six hours! I was pleased to hear that Branson won that one by 14 points. I don’t know the details of how the scoring work, but Andrew said winning by 14 was pretty good.

On March 23, Andrew ran in the 200 meter, 100 meter, and 400 meter races. I later learned that the runners are required to have certain amounts of rest time between races, so Andrew ran in one of the earliest races and one of the last, as well as one in the middle. For the spectating parent of a kid who has more than one race, this means you are there for the long haul. As in, dress in layers, bring food and drink, bring a book, and make yourself comfortable. Thankfully, Branson has very comfortable stadium seats. I don’t know how things will be at away meets.

For each race, depending on the number of competitors, there are multiple heats. Andrew ran in the first heat of the 200, and he did quite well, finishing second. The winning runner just barely edged him out at the end. An hour or so later, he ran the 100-meter dash, in which and he confirmed his suspicion that sprinting is not his natural strength. Then, near the end of the meet, he ran the 400, and I must say that was a delight to watch. He ran very well and was in the lead coming around the curve into the home stretch.

We were up and screaming for him! He was running hard, and I was hoping he had enough calories in his system to keep up his pace and form to the end. He passed us giving it his all, and, as Scott later said, “He ran a GREAT 380!”

380 because then, just a few strides before the finish line, he FELL DOWN. What?!? Unbelievable! Yes, he fell down, but he got back up and kept going. If he hadn’t fallen, I’m pretty sure he could have won. It was such a hard thing to watch, but I was so proud of him for getting right back up. He wasn’t really hurt, although he did spend a long time afterward – first lying down and then sitting up – out on the grass doing a number of stretches. He later told me that he was doing well till he looked over and saw the other runner gaining on him. He got distracted, lost his concentration, had trouble with his hamstrings, and tripped and fell.

In last night’s six-hour meet, the coach only entered him in the long jump. Each athlete gets three jumps, and I assume they count the best of the three. Andrew scratched (fouled, foot over the line) his first two jumps, and his third was not very good. He hasn’t had much experience at all in jumping, although his natural athletic ability and his gymnastics training surely help. The track team has practice from 2:30 to 5:00 after school every day that they don’t have a meet. I don’t know how much – if any – choice he has in what specific events he trains for, but I told him I think he could also be a good high jumper. = )  The parents of one of our cross-country runners were sitting with us at that first meet last week, and their son has run cross-country for several years. That sport occurs in the fall, and their races are just for 30 minutes or so. They said, “We should could have used Andrew the past couple years in cross-country. He’s got the natural abilities of a cross-country runner!” Their son said, “And he’s in choir; he knows how to breathe.” That made me smile.

Track’s been a good experience so far, even with that fall. Andrew said he really likes running, especially the 400 meter distance, and he hopes he can do it in a race again soon.

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