Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: The Last Lap

It really doesn’t matter what the race is, the last lap holds significance.  

In a mile, it’s that one last effort to propel you forward towards a new PR.  In the two mile, it’s holding on to a race that has been smoldering for around 9 plus minutes.  In a 5K or 10K, it’s the beautiful relief in knowing the torture of the preceding 24 laps will be coming to a sweet end.  Win or lose, the last lap holds some value.

Well this past week, that last lap held significance once again.  As the athletes battled their way through the fourth lap of a distance medley relay, I witnessed the last lap I would likely see on our infamous dirt track as the head coach of the Mascenic program.  Not only have I witnessed countless laps on this track, taking splits and lending encouragement, I’ve worked out on it, delivering the kind of self torture only true endurance athletes inflict upon themselves.  I learned to love it, with all its eccentricities, its faults, and  downfalls doomed to a dirt track.

I’ve spent countless hours both monitoring workouts as well as preparations in an effort to run the highest quality meet under conditions I recognize as rustic.  Having to wait until the frost is out of the ground  and the hearty spring rains to mellow, preparations of the track before the first home meet usually has me scrambling around trying to have the track dry enough to work on.

This year I didn‘t touch it until April 23rd, one week ahead of our home meet.  With the rain every three days and no real drying events to help it harden up, I was reluctant to put anything heavy enough to pull the drag in order to smooth it, so I would need to drag it a few more times to get it to set up firm and remove most of the footprints.  While a risk of not being ready in time, I was willing to chance it rather than add tire ruts to the many foot prints.  There was a drag over the weekend and one just three hours before the meet.

And the track looked great.  Add in the lime stripes to identify the start of the 100 and 200 (and the 1609 because we run the mile!) along with the start/finish line, when I was done it was indeed ready.  I was pretty pumped.

And then the throngs descended.  We hosted five middle school programs along with two other high school programs on a modified high school schedule.  Due to the lack of permanent lines, we run everything but the 100 off a curve and do not hold any hurdle events.  Instead of a 4×100, we run a sprint medley relay.  In place of the 300 hurdles we run a 4×200 relay.  Instead of the 3200, we run a distance medley relay.  While not part of the regular programing, we host them because we can.  And it makes sense.  This year, after seeing a variety of other baton options for races, we even added in a shot put relay where the four participants run 100 meters exchanging a shot put as their baton.  Lots of fun.

As the high school javelin competition finished up, I was left taking down tents, folding chairs and rounding up the tables, I realized that this all was for the last time.  The worry of what the weather might be like, the usual lack of enough volunteers, running ragged getting everything done so the meet can move seamlessly will not interrupt my sleep process ever again.

I am definitely going to miss parts of it too.  I’ll miss the athletes battling down the finishing straight, working hard AT THIS VERY MOMENT to be the day’s victor.  I’ll miss the camaraderie between competitors that is unique to track and field.  I’ll miss the chatter among coaches about performances they’ve seen and the meets that went off the rails.  But I’ll be able to look back on this meet, and the history of all those others over the years with a fondness and connection that you can’t get from hosting meets on an all weather surface track.  The constant love/hate relationship that comes with the frustrations of the stone dust surface ends on a loving note, and I for one, am happy for that.

See you out there.

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