Running in the 'Meda: Come one, come all

Running in the 'Meda: Come one, come all

Marty Beene

Photo by Marty Beene.

Here we are, at the end of the first month of 2015. (What?! Already?!) For those of you tuned in to the intricacies of running "seasons," that means training for early season track races. Yes, we usually think of track as a sport for the spring and summer months, but here in California we get to run outdoor track year 'round.

But isn't track racing only for elite competitive athletes? No!

I know of two series of winter month track meets here in the Bay Area that are open to anyone. These types of meets are called "all-comer" meets, meaning, predictably, they are open to anyone who comes to them wanting to race. One series is in Los Gatos, and is held every Saturday in January and February at Los Gatos High School. The other series is held at the famous Edwards Stadium at Cal. The first Cal all-comer meet was held last Saturday; the others will be held on February 7 and February 21.

Some all-comer meets are simply standard track meets with standard running distances and field events, while others will hold less common events. For example, while we know the "metric mile" distance is the 1500 meters, some meets will have a 1600-meter race, which is what most high school runners run. Many high schoolers will compete in these early races to gauge where they are, fitness-wise. Others, like the Los Gatos meets, will include the old school races of the one- and two-mile distances.

What can you expect at these meets?

There will be some athletes that are, indeed, highly competitive ones who are very, very serious about what they're doing. In fact, during Olympic years, it is common to see Olympic hopefuls (including some former Olympians) competing at all-comer meets. More often, the most common competitors are people like me who are serious-ish about their running, and are challenging themselves to perform the best they can on that day. People's abilities vary widely, so, for example, I might be quite pleased if I can run an 800-meter race in 2:45, while another athlete of a similar age and mindset might only be happy with something in the 2:20 range. Finally, there are always runners who are curious about what they can do in a track race, so have come to the meet to simply find out what it's like.

Whatever your ability and fitness level, it's important to be prepared for any combination of fellow competitors. I have been in races where runners don't know if they are supposed to stay in lanes or all run in the inside lane together. I've sometimes lapped other runners multiple times in the same race, but I have also finished in last place, way, way behind the next closest runner. Some runners are worried about being "embarrassed" by such a result, but my only disappointment in that kind of race is that it's simply kind of boring to be running all by myself.

Not ready to race on the track yet? The meets up at Cal changed their admission policy this year, so admission for spectators is free. The Los Gatos meets charge a whopping $2 to watch, which is almost free. Watching a track meet - regardless of the level of competition - can be a fun way to spend all or part of an afternoon, especially when the weather is as nice as it's been.

What do you say? See you on a track sometime soon?

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. Marty wants your opinions about an idea for a running retreat; he created a brief survey that you can complete here to help him out. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.