My first ever track meet

On Sunday, the Husband, the Dude and I went down to Stanford University in Palo Alto to watch our first ever track meet! I’ve literally never been to an athletics stadium before. I’ve never run on a proper track. Unlike American High Schools, which generally seem to have excellent track facilities and a real culture of ‘track and field’ within their student community, my Senior School experience of ‘track and field’ was a chalk ‘track’ drawn onto a ‘field’. So this was a really interesting evening out for us.

The track meet in question was the Payton Jordan Invitational, which is quite famous amongst track-y circles. It attracts some pretty big names and this year was especially interesting as so many people were chasing Olympic Standard qualifying times. It started at about 11am and went on until 11pm – we got there at about 4pm. We had very few preconceptions about what it would be like and so I thought I’d share what it was like for some British Track Meet Rockies

  1. Where are all the people?

We had very little idea what to expect but somewhere in the back of my head, I expected this.


In reality, we saw this.

payton jordan track

Seriously, there were SO few spectators. From overhearing conversations, most of them seemed like parents or friends or coaches. We were so surprised at how few spectators like us were there.

2) The elite runners are so seriously beautiful.

I kid you not, it was like being in another world where everyone is beautiful. All the runners were so perfect. I was struck particularly by the girls – they had perfectly toned, strong legs;  perfect pert bottoms; perfect tans; incredible abs (seriously!) and the most wonderful swooshy pony-tails. I had so many girl-crushes going on. It struck me that elite runners are just a different breed to us regular runners. They’re literally built differently. They’re thoroughbreds to our shetland ponies.



3) They are fast! So fast that sometimes they seem slow.

These people were fast – many hit the Olympic standard on Sunday night which means that they are speedy. However, towards the back of the field, some of them seemed slow and ploddy. They were probably ‘plodding’ at 5-something pace, but they seemed so much slower than the fliers at the front. Which just reminded me again that no matter how fast or slow you run, there are always people who are faster and slower than you. Your running speed is totally relative.

4) It is not easy for them.

That morning, I’d churned out a 3 mile tempo run, running my fastest ever tempo miles (7.50, 7.52, 7.54). I was seriously chuffed to bits about that (and rightly so) but every step was hard work and full of suffering. I’ve always imagined that elite runners run along effortlessly, enjoying the feeling of their bodies moving elegantly below them, enjoying the sun on their backs and the wind in their perfect pony tails. The reality was so different. One steeplechase lady fell badly on an obstacle and finished the race with blood streaming down her face. The runners were all deep in the pain cave, their faces were contorted with suffering, their movements got more and more jerky and labored with each lap.  No matter how fast you are, running your socks off is always painful. I was relieved to see that those beautiful elites suffered as much as I did to run their best. Running hard is not easy for anyone.

payton jordan

5) I nearly saw Lauren Fleshman

LF is a bit of a heroine of mine. At one point she tweeted a picture of a box of Picky Bars in a particular place in the stadium – if you could find the box, you could take some bars. The Dude and I headed off in pursuit of Picky Bars.

I was secretly so excited that I might get to meet Lauren. I imagined we would say hi, bond over being the mothers of adorable boys and the wives of Ironmen, she would offer to coach me and I’d qualify for Boston. Alas, she was nowhere to be seen. We did however get two free Picky Bars! All was not lost. Boston remains a pipe-dream.

6) Social Media can be a good thing

Before the meet, I’d done some research into which Brits were running so we could take our flag and cheer them on, far from our cold, wet, grumpy island. I tweeted one runner, Eilish McColgan and we had a brief exchange. I was so excited about this. Similarly, when we cheered Rosie Clarke on to second place, I instagrammed the picture to her and she replied too. I appreciate this is a bit fan-girly, but I really loved how social media helped us connect in a more personal way to what was going on there.

Rosie with the swishy pony-tail at the front! We screamed our heads off for her.
Rosie with the swishy pony-tail at the front! We screamed our heads off for her.

7) Field events are also interesting.

The pole vaulting was VERY exciting. The shot put was quite fun and the Dude loved the discus.

payton jordan

8) American Colleges have serious money

Most of the runners there that evening were collegiate students. We’d not been so close to this collegiate sport thing before and wow, there is money! The car park was full of big, expensive coaches filled with equipment. They all wore fancy uniforms. I remember my own uni days in darkest Wales – it was VERY different.

9) Track meets are not awesome for 6 year olds.

The Dude was initially excited but soon turned to me and said ‘This is not as exciting as I’d expected, Mummy’. One free app later and he was cool.

He only came alive for the Brits! :)
He only came alive for the Brits! 🙂

10) Track meets are both exciting and boring

I’ll be honest – loads of runners running round 12  laps of a track is not exciting until it actually is – the final few laps. It turned out that we preferred watching the shorter events (800m, 1500m, steeplechase) over the longer distances. I found it easier to identify with the 5,00m as I run that distance, but I honestly wonder how the runners handle running 12-odd laps of a track without going insane? I find it hard enough to run a road 5k!

So…in summary…what was my overall take out from this event?

Initially I was a bit bewildered. At first glance, these amazing runners seem to bear absolutely no relation to me, plodding along on the Bay Trail or busting a gut for my sub-50 minute 10k goal. I have never felt more like a totally mediocre, mid-pack hobby-jogger. It was a little disheartening in one respect.

But I realised soon enough that running is big enough for all of us. It’s big enough for the Olympic-qualifying gazelles hurtling round tracks in their underwear. It’s big enough for us mid-packers being slightly too excited about 7.50 tempo miles. It’s big enough for the people running marathons in rhino suits, for the couch-to-5k-ers, for the people setting out for their very first run. Running is big enough for all of us and I went home super-grateful to be a runner and to be part of this wonderful, diverse community.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. bt says:

    Sorry to have missed it. Sounds like a great time. Re: the wealth of American Universities, Stanford is definitely on the extreme end of the spectrum…

  2. gracechua31 says:

    So much fun! As a member of a running family I’ve always loved watching the track and field events. I still remember watching the ’92 Olympics, and subsequent Olympics where my dad would turn on the TV for the track and field! I’ve always wondered how they keep track of laps run. I have a hard enough time remembering whether I’ve done three or four laps. And elite racing is so very alien to my hobby-jogger existence that I can simply treat it like a different beast without feeling mediocre.
    Thoroughbreds vs ponies – I feel like this is true of blogs and social media as well, every instagram runner is tall and thin and beautiful, right? 😉

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yep…miserable, eh?? And I would totally lose count too!

  3. Angela says:

    Ahhh how fun! I went to Stanford & have lived here for 8 years & have never been to any track meet let alone Payton Jordan. (Also, I remember reading an article about how sports photographers often have to photoshop slobber off the faces of elite runners for all those inspirational media shots. They’re just like us but with better photographers!)

    1. Cathryn says:

      That makes me feel so much better, I’m always so slobbery after fast miles. I feel disgusting.

  4. Jen says:

    Interesting to hear your insights – especially #4. I need to work on my pain cave face. 😉

  5. Bean says:

    I have only been to high school track meets, but totally agree….the last laps of any race are the most exciting. I loved that the runners interacted with you on social media! Fan girl for the win!

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