Well, track season has ended. Did my great expectations go fulfilled, or did I fall flat on my face? Like many issues surrounding us today, the answer was a muddled gray instead of black and white.
The Track and Field experience did not exactly live up to my expectations. I come from a baseball background, full of scheduled practices, intense games and clear objectives. To my surprise, track and field, at least at my school, was filled with lackadaisical practices, silly bureaucratic rules and a lack of cohesive team spirit. I am not trying to put the blame entirely on my school. It was disappointing compared to my previous sport experiences.
I did learn many important lessons in terms of sport training and its effects relative to performance. The eternal theme I learned from track this year had to be flexibility in terms of planning. Nothing is more important than being able to switch things around to accommodate obstacles in your day. But enough of this wishful thinking; let's get right down to a synopsis of the season.
Track, I thought, would be easy. I had worked out with a few of the more dedicated members of the sprint team at a couple of informal training sessions before the track season began.
Nothing too complex, just a few sessions of mindlessly running laps around the halls of my school (Hear that? That's me banging my head against the wall) and some yoga-like stretches.
While I might not have agreed with the methods of training being used, at least they were all dedicated and were getting things done. This all changed once the actual season began.
When the actual track practices began, the coaches had to keep some semblance of order to make sure all 100-plus kids would be doing what they were supposed to be doing. As explained in the first meeting by our new hot-shot, law school student, cross country Men's track coach, every day we would all meet together at the track at 3:15.
Then we would all stretch together, despite different events needing to stress different stretches and movements. Ahh, feel the camaraderie and team spirit just permeating through the air!
After the forced rah-rah team stuff, we eventually make our way over to the thrower's practice area (ironically far away from everyone else).
We had a motley crew of throwers, including a pinch of discus and shot putters, and about 20 people throwing the javelin.
Our coach was a large man who was a former football player and discus thrower, and recently graduated from Fort Hayes State University with a degree in physical education.
One more thing, he didn't know how to throw a javelin, despite 90% of the throwers on the team solely throw javelin. It was an unfortunate situation for him to enter in to, but then again if you are the thrower's coach, you better know how to teach all the implements (that's thrower's lingo for the jav, shot and discus).
One positive aspect was the coach's emphasis on weight lifting. While the lifting was done with the rigidity of a football coach, and by that meaning we couldn't deviate from the lifting plan which had no rhyme or reason to throwing, it was nice to leave practice early to go lift.
Within a few weeks, we had a consistent schedule of learning correct form (from the senior throwers, not the coach), lifting and getting ready for the first meet.
The Magical Meets
Kansas is known for odd weather. We get the biting cold in the winter and the humid 100-degree weather in the summer. Spring and fall are a grab bag of tornadoes, unsuspecting snow and rain, and the general malaise of cold cloudy days.
This spring was no exception. It seemed that every time we had a meet, the clouds would roll in and the weather would dip below 50 degrees.
The first meet of the season was no exception. The bus rolled into an area high school, and stepping off the bus the inevitable frigid weather crept into you. I had, of course, expected the sunny weather that was present in the morning to continue, but luck was not on my side. So I had showed up in my shorts and a sweat shirt, inadequately prepared for the day's meet. I warmed up while the girls went, and soon it was my flight's turn to throw (flight meaning the group or wave of throwers ready to throw).
I had been working for weeks on my intimidating three step throw, despite almost all the other competitors using a full approach (running start). But what did I care? This was my first year, and if I was going to do terrible, I was going to do it spectacularly! Out of four throws, my best was in the 90's. While obviously no threat to anyone on the varsity level, it did place me in the upper half of throws that day, and it was a formidable first throw, or so I was told.
The next meet was for junior varsity or just about anyone who wanted to throw. It was another vexingly cold day, and I was not on varsity yet. I was in the first flight, so I warmed up quickly. My mind was clouded with thoughts on perfecting my form and not embarrassing myself, and this worked to my disadvantage.
My first two throws were disgustingly bad, both in the mid 80's. As I walked back after retrieving my javelin, my coach (who still didn't know how to throw the javelin), pointed out that some freshmen were throwing farther than me. This only added to the anger that I already had with my performance. On my next throw, completely disregarding my form, I took lilted steps toward the line and uncorked a 130-foot throw. This easily won the meet by 25 feet and shattered my personal best of 90 feet.
Look Ma! I'm On Varsity!
After consistently hovering around the 115-130 mark at the next meet, my coach put me on varsity. While not exactly a major accomplishment, I knew I was doing something right.
The main track coach congratulated me, and informed me that we were getting a part time javelin coach to fill the massive void that was the black hole of javelin advice. This guy was a bit different, and in a good way. He was a fresh graduate of Ottawa University, where he played basketball and threw the javelin on scholarship, before injuring his shoulder.
Actual Javelin Training
Compared to our rigid football/discus coach, this guy was laid back, knowledgeable, and dare I say, cool. He knew the javelin from tip to tip, and coached us in a much better fashion than we had previously experienced.
All of practice would be devoted to javelin form practice. While I would miss the weight lifting, I wouldn't miss the mindless methods we had to use in the weight room.
After witnessing my form for the first time, he informed that my form was terrible. While deep down I knew this, nobody had ever acknowledged it because no one knew the difference between excellent and terrible form.
After a couple major and minor (mostly major) modifications to my throwing style, I was consistently banging out 130-plus-foot throws.
First Varsity Meet
My first varsity meet was a defeating yet great learning experience. I was in the first flight, from which I deduced the group of guys in my flight were not the top varsity athletes, and I managed to out-throw them with a solid 130-foot throw.
Deciding to take it all in, I stuck around for the big boys to throw the javelin. Each throw resulted in me staring at where there javelin landed, mouth agape. These guys were throwing 50-60 feet farther than me, and making it look easy.
From then on, I made a respectable showing at the meets, never nearing the top, but also not making a fool of myself.
The Fat Man's Race
One of the more memorable meets of the year was in the rural Kansas town (Is there any other kind?) of Baldwin City at Baker University. It was a varsity meet, but the strength of competition, at least in the javelin, was not as strong as some of the meets in the Kansas City area.
I, as well as a few teammates helped get my school first place overall in the javelin competition, earning me a medal. But the day was not over yet.
As I traipsed through the track grounds, watching the high jump, the main relays, as well as the entertaining steeplechase, one of the track coaches from my school called me over. Apparently my part of the competition was not over.
In addition to the relays for normal, fast people, they had a "thrower's relay", in which each school participating would pick four throwers to run a 4x100m relay. This race is commonly referred to as the "fat man's race" because usually the throwers are the largest members of the team.
Being from an affluent area, we weren't all that fat, in fact several throwers on the team are pretty scrawny. We picked a shot putter, a thrower/200m and 400m sprinter, a 4x100m sprinter/thrower, and me, a javelin thrower who wasn't going to break any records, but weren't particularly large or slow.
We ran the race of our lives (notice the dripping sarcasm) and came in second, giving me and a couple others our second medal of the day. I also earned my varsity letter that day, and a good time was had by all.
The Season Comes To An End
For the rest of the season, I hovered around the mid 130's, obviously hitting a plateau, of which several factors I will address in part four of this series. I actually was finished before the rest of the team because of requirement issues.
District and regional javelin competitions at the end of the season have entrance requirements, of which I did not throw far enough to meet them. I also could not enter the final junior varsity meet because of scheduling conflicts with Advanced Placement exams.
Despite these final setbacks, I deemed the season a success. I had some great experiences, met some goals, and deviated from what I normally do in a sport sense. If any of you are burnt out on your sport, such as basketball, football, or as in my case, baseball, I wholeheartedly recommend doing track for a year, just to do something fresh and different.