This weekend, I ran in my first ever 400-meter race on a 200-meter banked track. The meet took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Don Kirby Elite Invitational. Yes, I have run an indoor 400-meter before in college, but that was on a 300-meter oversized flat track. The difference is astonishing! On a 200-meter banked track, I have to run two laps to equal 400-meters and on a 300-meter banked track, I only have to run one and a third lap. Yea, the distance is the same, but your mind can play tricks on you, as to where you are in the race if it isn’t something you normally do. 1-hour and 30 minutes later I ran the 200-meters, which is one lap on a 200-meter banked track. I truly had a good time, but was certainly intimidated by the fact that the turns appeared as if they were ones that were created from the aftermath of an earthquake. If you’ve ever stepped foot on a 200-meter banked track, you will quickly realize how odd this must really be to run on. The draw is the fact that you imagine yourself whizzing around the track like a NASCAR, climbing up the HILL that is the turn, only to shoot off into the straight away with tremendous momentum.
I came the day before the races to scope out what I would be doing, asked a couple questions about where the break was, then I oddly and sheepishly turned my head to the blocks. The blocks are those metal items that sprinters use to push out of during competition. These are my arch nemesis and have always been. This is me in in the blocks:
I, for some reason feel that now that I have touched these blocks everyone is staring at me. I pretend to know what I am doing. I walk out a few steps as I’ve seen the sprinters do before and place the blocks what I feel would be a comfortable arms length away from the line. I then walk out two steps from the line for my left leg and three steps from the line on my right leg. I got down into the blocks, with Louis watching me, although even in front of him I was experiencing a slight sense of embarrassment. I looked over at him, like ‘Oh man, don’t judge me.’ Before quietly asking if he would call out the commands. Already in my head I’m telling myself its three commands not two… I need to wait for three, ‘ To your Mark, Set, GO!’ not ‘To your mark, GO’, a very familiar set of commands. Louis then calls me to my mark. I get in quickly; my toes are half on the blocks half on the track, I’m nailing it, I think. Then he calls “Set”, I snap my butt up in the air, he then yells “GO!” I pop out of the blocks and race around the turn before slowing to a stop. I look back, Louis is standing there, with an SEG ($#!t- Eating-Grin) and his arms crossed, a normal look for him, often times not interpretable by most. I sifted through his stance, I hate it when he does that smirk, not a smile, its like a smirk, like he’s trying not to laugh, but doesn’t want to say anything to make me feel bad. I can tell he’s searching for the words to constructively criticize me, but can’t get the sight of me in the blocks out of his head. “What?” I snap. “Nothing, he retorts”… He sits back. I say “seriously”, he says, “You got out well”, and then stammers out “Do you feel comfortable with your feet half on the blocks and half on the track.” his tone is nice, yet I can tell, he wanted me to answer ‘no’. I question, “that’s how you do it, right?” Louis, being the loving husband that he is says “ I suppose you could, do it that way. “ “They (referring to sprinters) usually put their entire foot on the blocks, try that.” Fighting the fact that I know that I am wrong, but because I am frustrated with these things, I say, “ You can do it that way.” And then reluctantly try it the way he has suggested, damning the blocks as I do so. As I get in them, he snaps the blocks up from 45 degrees to 65 degrees. Louis stops me and says “and this time, try inching your way back into the blocks” so I listen and inch my way back, but state “I am not shaking my legs out, that’s just doing the most.” I settle in and actually felt a lot more comfortable, “Ok now, get yourself settled and when I say set, keep your head down and snap your butt up in the air.” I’m thinking, head down butt up. I do it, much better then head up, butt up. “When I say ‘Go’,” Louis says “explode out, driving your arms, keeping your head down until you have reached a few steps of acceleration” he says “GO!” I blast out of the blocks, a few steps with my head down and then look up as I round the turn, I feel fast, I actually feel fast!!!! I slow to a stop again, only this time I’m smiling and looking back at him in the same arms crossed stance, but this time he is smiling. When I get back to him, he says, “You look good, that was perfect, how did that feel?” I say “Better, thanks, but I don’t want to do another run, I’m afraid I’ll ruin it!” So he hands me my water bottle, I took a sip, gave it back and began to cool down.
Race day, on the line for the 400-meters, I’m thinking so much about what to do in the blocks that I put all of my brain into remembering what to do, but when the gun goes off, I hardly explode out and approach the first 100-meters like I am running an 800! ‘Ah, Alysia, what are you doing?’ I see in my peripheral vision two runners, one is on the outside and one is on the inside. I notice the inside is Georganne Moline, the 5th place finisher at the London Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles, see for yourself at; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georganne_Moline or http://www.usatf.org/Athlete-Bios/Georganne-Moline.aspx . I know I need to beat her to the break, but with my 800-meter start I have to turn on the jets and accelerate quickly if I want any chance at doing so. We reach the break neck and neck, and then…the turn… I’m on the outside, she is on the inside, and then I recognize I need to tuck in behind her. I’m watching her stride and matching it, I’m now two strides behind this speedy gal by the time we hit the final turn.100 meters left to go and I decide I will try and use the bank to shoot off in an effort to try and catch her, but it’s too late, the finish line is there, and she is nearly there. I’m feeling the lactic from the quick acceleration I put forth earlier in the race to try and beat her to the break from my amazing 800-meter start in the 400! At the line, it’s Georganne Moline………0.76 later, Alysia Montaño, One and Two. I am happy for her honestly, I think the world of her, but I quickly damn myself for all the mistakes and then I see the results board, and I’m not so mad, Georganne ran 52.27 indoors!!! HELLOOOOO, that’s dummy fast. She freakin’ murdered it! Then my time shows up 53.04… I feel a little disappointed. I was hoping to run 52 as well, but then I quickly give myself props, a little trick I use to combat negative thoughts and self-deprecation, fighting the perceived negative with a real known positive. I tell myself, good job for the personal record and a good first try. I jump off the track and begin to cool down, knowing that I have the 200 to stay warm for.
I begin to cool down and stretch and eat a little, and hydrate. 1 hour 30 minutes later. They are calling us for the 200-meter run. I feel chillin’, I feel real easy, I feel like, I got this it’s just one lap. I really wanted to just go and compete and run a low 24 maybe a high 23. And then I see the blocks…
I begin thinking a million things a minute. ‘Shoot, I messed up already in the 400 with these dumb things, should I stand? No Alysia, you can’t stand for the 200, maybe for the 400, but not the 200, get real. I really should have done one more block start to really knock it in my noggin. You’re fine Alysia, just do it, you know what to do, just go run fast, at least you know the basis.’ The starter announces we have 7 minutes, I’m happy to hear that I have time to figure it out. So I take advantage of the 7 minutes. I’m in the first heat, so I decide I will set my blocks up, do one or two starts so I am comfortable and then I will go. I get out there set ‘em up, do one or two starts and I feel fast, I feel like I got it. I look at Lou he’s nodding with affirmation. So I go and sit down, my blocks are set and I know I like that setting, SWEET! And then… another girl that is using the same lane in the heat after me moves the blocks I had so proudly set up so she can practice her block starts, ARGH!!! A feeling of ‘OH NO!’, burns over me. My mind is racing with the thought ‘Will I get those right again, since it took me like 5 minutes to even get that setting right.’ I play it cool, she does her thing, and I start heading over the blocks to try again, just as the starter says “Heat 1, ladies on the track!” ‘Oh God,’ I’m thinking. ‘I have to get this right, and fast.’ So I re-step my blocks, just in time to do one block start, before the starter calls us to the line. The starter begins the commands, “To your Mark”… I remember what I am suppose to do, I inch back into the blocks until I am comfortable, and the announcer says “Ladies hands behind the white line” ‘Crap, frickin’ 800-meter runner, Alysia, you measured your blocks from the 800-meter line,’ I say to myself. The green line is the standard line to start the 800-meters and about a half step ahead of the white line’, but I don’t know what to do at this point, so I just moved my hands back, and now I am sitting in the blocks packed in behind the line, like thirty-one clowns in VW Bug. I get in the set position; butt in the air, head down, and feeling super awkward. I’m thinking ‘What should I do?’ but do nothing. I know I can’t just run out of it, and start all over now, or I will be charged with a false start, and I don’t want that, and then BANG! I exhale an “Aw crap”, as I awkwardly unfold out of the blocks and into a sprint. 24.4 seconds later, as I cross the line a little disappointed I couldn’t get it right, the what to do answer I was looking for on the start line came to me. I was supposed to raise my hand! ARGH! When a sprinter isn’t comfortable in the blocks they raise their hand, making sure the official sees them, they then get an opportunity to fix the problem and try again. Boo, sooorry, I don’t do this often. I wanted to run a bit faster, but all in all it was a comical, exhilarating, learning experience. I’m hungry for more. Lucky for me, this weekend at The Millrose Games, I will be running 600-meters, that does not require blocks, thank you very much.