For those of you not well-versed in standard metric track distances, the 1500-meter run is just under a mile in length. Modern tracks are 400 meters around, with 4 laps -- 1600 meters -- equal to almost exactly a mile (though technically a mile is 1,609.34 meters). So the 1500 is 3 and 3/4 laps. To break 5 minutes you need to average 1:20 per lap, plus 1 minute for the final 3/4 lap. But before you do that, you must wait...and wait...and wait.
I had to arrive at the track before 9:30 a.m. to check in. Then I took a look at the program of events:
3,000 Meter Run
100 Meter Dash (Finals)
800 Meter Dash
400 Meter Dash
4 x 100 Meter Relay
1500 Meter Run
300/400 Meter Hurdles
200 Meter Dash
4 x 400 Meter Relay
There were no times listed for any of the events -- one event would simply start as soon as the previous one was finished.
So I decided to settle in on a shady knoll above the track. It was the only shaded area with a view of the track itself, and the day was already stiflingly hot. I had a Kindle loaded with William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, so I was quite certain I would not run out of reading material. First up was the 3,000-meter race walk, 7 and a half laps. For fun, I timed one of the laps -- it took nearly 3 minutes to complete. This was going to be a looooong day.
The 3,000-meter run was a little quicker, but it still took nearly 20 minutes.
Next came the hurdles. It took nearly as long to set up the hurdles as it did for the race-walkers to complete their event. After all that, there was just one heat, lasting 15 seconds!
Finally I figured out what the main attraction of this meet was: The 100-meter dash. Wave after wave of men competed, each one fiddling with his blocks for quite some time before the start.
Meanwhile there were four competitors in the Pentathlon, so those running events (a 200-meter and 1500-meter dash) also took up some track time. By the time my event was finally called, it was 3:15 PM. It was a sweltering day, and even warmer down on the track. But it had cooled just a touch from some of the early competitions. I decided to do a very limited warm-up, figuring I was already plenty warm. I did a few strides while the women competed, and that was that.
Finally it was the men's turn. There were about 10 men competing, so they put us all together in a single heat. Most of the men looked to be quite a bit older than me, and it didn't look like any of them would be faster than me -- but you never know! In a flash, we were off. In hindsight, I probably should have taken the lead right away, but a fellow who looked like he had a spare 15 pounds or so around his waist ended up cutting in front of me.
I had my Garmin on, and while I knew it wasn't going to be perfectly accurate with my pace, I hoped it would at least give me a good sense of how fast I was going. I would need to do slightly better than 5:20 per mile in order to break 5:00 flat. Then I could hit "lap" at every lap to see if I was making my 1:20 splits. The guy was actually running about a 5:10 pace according to Garmin, so I stayed behind him. As we rounded the second corner, he seemed to be slowing a bit, so I strode past him on the outside. From here on out, I'd be running against the clock. I hit "lap" as I crossed the starting line and saw 1:22. Crap. Too slow.
But each breath of hot air told me that I shouldn't try to speed up too much. The watch continued to read a sub-5:20 mile pace, so I felt like I was doing okay. But as I finished my second lap, I forgot to hit "lap" right away. I remembered a second or two later and pressed the button, but my lap time was 1:27. That didn't seem possible! Oh well, there was nothing to do but keep going. I was breathing harder than ever, and I started to doubt whether I could finish. Was anyone in line to catch me? I didn't dare look back. I tried to pick up the pace, and strode as hard as I could to finish lap 3: 1:21. Faster, but still not fast enough.
I put everything I could into the final 300 meters. I was running all-out as I rounded the last corner and headed into the final straight. I couldn't imagine keeping this up all the way to the finish, but it was just 100 meters...I had to. Somehow, I did, and I powered across the line. My time: 5:09 on my watch, officially, 5:08.85. Not what I was looking for -- that works out to a 5:31 pace, or slower than what I had done for a mile on the road last year about this time. Granted, this time it was much hotter, and I had no one ahead of me to pull me along, but still, it was depressing to see I had made no progress.
Another problem with my performance is that I was relying heavily on my Garmin, and as it turned out, the Garmin was WAY off. It measured the total distance as a full mile. According to Garmin, I had run much faster than I'd ever gone; if I'd really run a 5:09 mile, then I could have completed 1500 meters in 4:48!
Despite being off by over 7 percent, the Garmin record did tell me something about the race. Here are my splits according to Garmin:
Assuming the Garmin was off by the same percentage throughout the event, my pace improved with each lap. That's probably not ideal. Really I should have run lap 1 faster than laps 2 and 3, when I was more fatigued, before picking it up again for the final lap. That means I should have taken the lead right from the start, instead of settling in behind another runner.
I think if I had done that I might have been able to shave a considerable amount off my time. Could I have shaved off a full 9 seconds? I'm not sure. It was a very hot day, and surely that was costing me as well. Perhaps if I had had a perfect pacer to follow I might have been able to do it, but since that wasn't in the cards, I'd say the best I could have done yesterday would have been about 5:04. If I ever want to break 5:00 in a 1500, I'll also need to be in better shape than I am right now.
I'd be interested to know if I could get a more accurate pace out of a Garmin if I used a footpod instead of the GPS. Let me know if you've had success going that route on a track.
(Inaccurate) GPS details of my race are below.