It's just a mile.
Even though it occurred over 20 years ago, I can still remember this conversation as if it took place yesterday. Here’s the setup: I’m a sophomore in high school, walking toward the field house after soccer practice, and my friend Lynde (she’s tall, slender, with long, straight, beautiful hair – so much cooler than I) approaches as she is headed in the same direction after track practice.
Lynde: Hey, Tara! Isn’t soccer almost done for the year?
Me: Yeah, we just have one more game and then we’re finished.
Lynde: You should come run track with us; that way you could still hang out after school and be here for baseball (this was, without a doubt, the primary motivation for both of us since we each had a “boyfriend” who was on the baseball team).
Me: What do you run?
Lynde: Oh, well, I run the 800 and then I’m also on the 800 relay team, but we really need someone to run the mile.
Me: Why doesn’t someone else do it?
Lynde: (Laughs) No one wants to run the mile; we all like doing the shorter stuff!
Me: I don’t think so; y’all don’t want me! I’m not fast.
Lynde: Oh, that’s okay! It doesn’t matter. We just need someone to run the event when we go to meets and stuff; Coach Albers will help you. It’s just a mile.
Me: So, what should I do, just talk to her?
Lynde: Just come to practice when you’re done with soccer; I already told her that I was going to ask you.
And that was it…just like that; I was on the track team. I was a filler, a person to represent our school in an event that no one wanted to run. I was thrilled. I’d found a community of crazy girls (they truly were, and we had so much fun) who accepted me, no matter what. One teammate, Mary, used to sneak off into the woods beside the track to kiss her boyfriend (clearly, our coach was keeping a sharp eye on our workouts) and her sister, Katy, introduced us all to the wondrous (and horrific, in the early 90s) product known as “self-tanner.”
I knew nothing about fueling, pacing or training; most of my coach’s efforts were focused on the shorter distance runners and I just did my own thing. I never did well, I often puked shortly after my event, I discovered that I loved running, and I learned so much about what it means to have support from teammates.
Fast forward almost 25 years…and I now know better than to accept, “it’s just a mile.” I ran my first road mile race in 2011, at the age of 35, in the inaugural Go! Mile; it is one of the races in the Arkansas Grand Prix Series and is now an RRCA National Championship race. I finished in 7:23 and it was exhilarating.
Unfortunately, in 2012 and 2013 I was in prison; I did, however, manage to put together a mile race on the gravel track and face my running rival, a woman nicknamed Squirrel (don’t ask), and I finished second out of four total competitors with about a 7:18. Not bad.
I ran the Go! Mile again in 2014, at age 38, and finished in 7:47; then, again, last June, and finished in 7:08. I also met one of my sister heroes, road-miler Christy Cazzola, at the race last year which was an amazing treat; I keep hoping I’ll see her this weekend.
On Saturday, I’m doing this again. One of the fantastic perks of being in the 40+ age group is that my heat goes out first – yay! – at 7:30am and, considering the humidity and heat advisories we’ve been enduring all week, I’ve never been so excited to be in their company.
Can I truly be faster as a master (40+ runner)? I’ve been setting some new PRs and getting really close to other, older ones over the past year. I’d certainly like to beat my time from last year but what I’d really like to do is finish in under 7 minutes. That sounds both achievable and scary as shit. I do know one thing: it will feel like the longest, yet actually be the quickest, mile I’ve run in a long time! In the end, it’s no big deal, right? It’s just a mile.