Competing the first time in any season provides useful insight into training progress and feasibility of goals. It establishes a benchmark and helps us learn about what’s working and what may need adjustment. Although it’s an opportunity to learn and adjust, the benchmark is just that, and there shouldn’t be an over-reaction to throw the goals and plan away, rather to tweak and refine, unless the goals and plan were unrealistic from the start.
My son’s season opener was delayed because the 1st meet was rained out, which was a blessing in disguise. Initially I was concerned about the number of middle school meets for my 12 year old distance runner, and the risk of too much racing eroding his aerobic base that we so carefully and diligently built during the harsh Northeast winter months (60 inches of snow, anyone?). With the 1st meet rained out, and the 3rd meet cancelled due to a venue conflict, what we thought would be 4 dual meets and 4 championship meets (8 meets in total) was reduced to 6 meets. One of the championship meets will be eliminated as well because of international family travel, so my son will compete in 5 meets, which is manageable.
Delaying the 1st meet means having to wait for the benchmark and “feedback” on training progress and goal feasibility. With the 1st meet completed and results known, [spoiler alert] it was worth the wait. Both my son and I would have been satisfied with results that matched what he ran indoors – 5:35 for the full mile and 2:38 for the 800 meters (PR’s achieved at the Armory in New York City and Floyd Little Athletic Facility in New Haven). He doubled on May 7 in a home meet against 3 other middle school teams, and improved his PR’s to 5:27.11 for the 1600 meters and 2:32.45 for the 800 meters. That earned him a 2nd place (by 17 hundredths of a second) and 1st place (he won by 6 seconds). My son was thrilled because not only does that represent huge PR’s of 8 seconds and 6 seconds, respectively, but compared to his 1st outdoor meets last year, he improved 26 seconds and 14 seconds, respectively. Most important, it validated the hard work during the winter months and the early outdoor season training. And the outdoor season goals are intact (in fact, we lowered the goal times a few seconds).
New Canaan, Fairfield Woods, East Ridge and Scotts Ridge at start of 1600 meters
As parents, and for me as his coach since age 5, it was thrilling to watch him race on the same track that he has spent hundreds of hours training. It was his first ever home track meet. In the 1600, with 12 boys taking it out fast, he settled in mid-pack with an opening 400 meters in 76 seconds (a little fast, but he smartly did not want to be back of the pack and lose contact with the leaders). He moved up to the leaders at the 800 meter mark in 2:42, and behind the leader on the 3rd lap. Given the wind and the pace, it was a deliberate action to not take the lead. On the final lap, with about 150 meters to go, my son moved to the outside shoulder of the leader. All parents and athletes in attendance started cheering and screaming. The battle was on. Unfortunately he did not have an extra gear to pass the leader, and both crossed the finish in a virtual tie. Fully automatic timing (FAT) is new to middle school meets, and it helped to separate the two boys by 17 hundredths of a second (would not have been possible with manual timing). My son placed 2nd to a nationally ranked distance runner (he competed in Junior Olympics Cross Country Nationals in December) and told me “Dad, I did everything I could”. It was a race that we’ll all play back for a long time.
Son (620) and Fairfield Woods athlete battling to finish in 1600 meters
My son’s 800 meter race had a different outcome. He started with the same opening 400 meter time of 76 seconds, and on the second and final lap quickly moved into the lead. On the backstretch, he surged to open a gap, and closed with a fast 200 meters to win the race by a comfortable 6 seconds. It was the icing on the cake to run half the race in the lead and win his 1st track race, and again to have parents and teammates cheering him home.
Son (620) in lead of 800 meters