I love the track. It is where I run fast. There are no cracks in the pavement to watch out for, no cars to be careful of, no groups of middle aged ladies walking four abreast like they own the entire bike path, and no idiots deafened by headphones zipping by on skateboards within millimeters of my body, scaring the living daylights out of me. It’s just me and the track. I can look toward the corner, or I can look toward the sky. I can stare at the goal post and imagine my fast friend is on my right, silently daring me to try and stay at her shoulder. The track, for all the quad busting, lung burning pain it inflicts, is my happy place.
I especially love my neighborhood high school track. This track is literally a 6 minute walk or an easy 3 minute 46 second warm up jog from my house. It is so close in fact, that it occurred to me recently, while I was evaluating the severity of my sudden need to use the bathroom, that I could simply jog home during my recovery lap, costing me no more than a few extra minutes. (I didn’t do it, but it was nice to know there was my very own toilet was that close, should I ever need it in the future). The track is so close, I can hear the high school band practicing when I open my front door. It is just as nice as any track I’ve ever used, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill track, and it has better scenery than any track I’ve ever used, with a picture perfect view of the Flatirons in the northwest corner.
My track draws not just high school kids but professional athletes as well. I deserve no thanks from my tight hip flexors for the laborious, detailed attention I paid to stretching them out last Friday. Rather, the credit belongs entirely to a runner I’d never seen before; I thought maybe she was Tera Moody but when I googled Ms. Moody I realized the object of my voyeurism was probaby too petite to be her and the faces didn’t seem to match. I took my sweet time stretching after my workout, staring at not-Tera Moody through my sunglasses, hoping she couldn’t see my eyes. More than Facebook, more than just one more episode of How I Met Your Mother, but not quite more than eating oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, watching her was addictive. Not-Tera Moody appeared to be sponsored by Adidas, as she was rocking the triple stripe logo from head to toe to backpack. She removed her warm up pants to reveal a pair of turquoise butt shorts– you know the ones I mean- they look like underwear, but they have a little more material, and the only people who can get away with wearing them have little to no body fat and only the smoothest, toned-ist, most perfect thighs? Yeah, those. She did a bunch of dynamic warm-ups/plyometrics I’d never seen before, including moves resembling Rockette kicks and a few Karate-like kicks, and then she was ready to go. As she accelerated into her effort, her legs moved so fast they were nearly a blur, like a cartoon character standing at the edge of a cliff, running in place before he drops off the edge.
I watched, transfixed as non-Tera Moody did this routine for a few 100 meter sprints, and then it occurred to me I had to get home and start my day. It’s either creepiness or curiosity that found me gazing at her, although I prefer to think it’s the latter. I’ve been observing people for a living for nearly ten years now, it’s just who I am. (Yes, I get paid to watch people! No, I am not a spy, I’m an occupational therapist. Note: It is not always as glamorous as it sounds. Imagine “Scrubs” meets “Dirty Jobs” and you are starting to get the picture).
During the bulk of my workout that day, I could not help but ogle my “training partners” (aka total strangers who happen to be using the track simultaneously with me), Mr. Fast and Mr. Faster. It’s hard not to stare at their tight little runner butts as they pass you like you are standing still and Mr. Faster calls out to his buddy “80!” at the first quarter. In other words, 80 seconds per quarter… equals 2:40 for an 800… equals…come on brain, THINK!…a 5:20 mile! Mr. Faster moves like a gazelle, his long, thin, muscular legs, moving in a fluid stride with a strong kick. His upper body is upright and relaxed, and his steps appear effortless. Except I know he is human, even if he is part antelope, because I can hear him breathing in hard, steady gasps as he laps me. Mr. Fast is shorter and stockier than his speedier friend, although don’t get me wrong, he is the type of guy your eyes would linger on if you caught sight of him at the gym. His stride is shorter, his muscled legs are pistons, propelling his body forward, never giving up, even as Mr. Faster puts more and more time into him. I imagine Mr. Faster is one of those people that races all his workouts but fails to deliver on race day and Mr. Fast has the scrapiness to outkick his buddy when it counts. Maybe Mr. Fast is silently smirking, imagining himself beating his training buddy at their next event.
As much as I like watching the pros and making up stories about what must be their invigorating, perfect, fast lives, I like watching the high school kids, too. Today, as I was doing my jog recovery between 800’s, I found some papers blowing in the wind. Being a) an environmentally conscious person who hates litter, b) genuinely concerned as to whether someone had lost an important file and c) just plain old
nosey fascinated by humanity, I paused to see what they were. They turned out to be a series of questions which were apparently related to a science class wherein the students were to use heart rate and temperature readings after periods of physical exertion to learn about the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. Cool stuff. I wedged it underneath a bench, should it’s owner come a-searching.
Not 10 minutes later, the track was inundated by a group of shrieking girls and tumbling boys, a group I could only guess were freshman, given the fact that most of the girls were anywhere from 2 inches to a full head taller than most of the boys. They were followed by their teacher, a hip looking guy who appeared to be somewhere in his mid-30’s (think Mr. Schuster from Glee). I imagined the girls had crushes on him.
The kids were running around like maniacs, cheering for each other, taking each other’s pulse rate and also “temperature-izing” one another. And while they did not offer the same caliber of strength and beauty I so enjoyed when creeping around the elite runners I encountered on the track last week, the students offered something else entirely; the opportunity to for me to
a) Enjoy their unabashed silliness and seeming lack of self-consciousness even though it had to have been lurking there, not in the shadows but probably in the forefront, given the fact that they were around 15 years old and that is just what being 15 is about, and more importantly
b) Collect data on what the girls were wearing. Because I have no idea what is cool anymore. Case in point: It took me 15 minutes of sitting in traffic as I drove through the CU campus yesterday to figure out that all the festivities and gridlock were in honor of 4/20. Duh.
Apparently, wearing different color socks is in. The kids were all either barefoot or wearing running shoes. The girls who went barefoot were wearing stuff like a purple sock on one foot and a blue sock on the other foot, or a yellow sock on one foot and a red sock on the other foot. I am not sure if I will adopt this fashion move. It is highly unlikely. I take time and effort to pair up my socks when I take them out of the dryer. You better believe I am not going to mess up one of the few sources of order in my life. Also, low-rise, tapered jeans are de rigeour among the high school set. Moreover, they are cuffing their jeans in a way that closely resembles the way we used to do it ca. 1988. I like this style because it means perhaps I can save some money on not having to have all my pants hemmed. And I don’t have enough data points to determine whether this is cool or not, but one girl was wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, again, very much like the type we created ourselves at a birthday party of mine ca. 1989, using Fruit of the Loom undershirts, elastics, and buckets of various colors of Rit dye (God bless you, Mom). There was only one girl wearing such a shirt, and I couldn’t tell if she was perhaps the class dork or what, so I can’t yet draw any conclusions.
After watching the students (again, discreetly, through the shaded anonymity of my sunglasses) I reluctantly abandoned my meticulous stretching routine, as I felt I had exhausted the opportunities for data collection, and more importantly, I was hungry. I don’t know when I will visit the track again. There are no track workouts on my calendar from now until the marathon, and after the marathon, it will probably be a couple of weeks or more till I feel like trying to run fast again. On the other hand I could always show up at the track to stretch, right? Because I’m just a curious person who loves the track.