I reminisce about past running experiences with mixed emotions. One evening a few months ago I led some group runs outside a sports centre. The complex has an outside track and I was reminded of when I ran on this surface more than ten years ago.
Back at high school I did not take much notice of times or positions. Although I was competitive, expectations, from myself and my teachers, were never ambitious.
I always ran my best but my training was never adequate to make me an outstanding track athlete come the summer meets.
I raced a couple of times a season and, although my results were promising, I was not coached to pursue that potential. I do not blame my Physical Education teachers; it was the high school culture of participation above performance.
The highlight of my track career came when I was chosen to run at the Essex County Championships, an all-day event held in the town of Colchester. I was the only person who attended from my school. I competed in the Pentathlon, which included 100m hurdles and 800m. I competed well but I never believed I could win. It was my best experience running on a track, yet fell short of inspiring me to further the pursuit.
I always had nervous energy at the start of a race. Although natural, I never felt comfortable in the environment. Perhaps it was the artificial surface, the impersonal officials or the repetitive course. Even when I ran on my school’s grass track I found the lanes too restrictive.
However, I learnt an important lesson that has stayed with me today, that I can manage the pain of running hard.
My specialism was 800m, which forced me to run the two laps at a sprint. My legs, chest and stomach would hurt and my breathing would become wheezy. Even back then I was not afraid to push my limits.
On reflection my experience running on the track may have been more positive if I had entered longer races. 800m now seems an arbitrary and inappropriate choice for an athlete who enjoys long-distance running.
The one exception is that I had practiced running 100m and fancied myself as a high performer. But at the time I accepted my fate of two laps and did the best I could, which often meant I was in the top half of competitors. My personal record was 2:36.
For a moment I considered going outside, under the spotlights and reacquainting with the oval track. But I dismissed the thought, not because I did not want to do it, but because it would only remind me that it was not what I was born to do. My three seasons as a track athlete were enough to be certain.