Regulars and Shorts, Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Olympic Memory

By Dennis Hinkamp

Play along at home.
—by Dennis Hinkamp

The hills are alive with the sound of firefighting helicopters and it is hot enough to make the rubberized track feel sticky. It’s about 93.5 degrees on a Sunday afternoon and there are only two semi-sane people here: an older old guy in cargo shorts, a t-shirt and tennis shoes shuffling a few laps around the track, and a younger old guy with feather-light shorts and shoes, sun glasses and little else doing repeat 200s. One of them is me and one of them probably will be me. Sure, there are hundreds of beautiful poetic places to run, but there is something starkly satisfying about running around a 400-meter track. The Olympic dream manifests itself in different ways.

It’s hard to appreciate how strong and fast athletes are in other sports because you can sit there and think “I could have caught that ball/made the free throw/sunk that putt.” You’ll never know because you were not in the game. But with track, you can find out right now.

Track running is a cruelly precise sport; no matter how fast you run, you can’t get away from the lap count of the stop watch. But that is also the beauty of it. You can run the exact same distance on the same measured track as all the Olympians past and present. You can find a high school or college track near you and feel just a little bit what it is like to be in the Olympics. Here’s how:

Every $10 watch (as well as, probably, your cellphone) has a stopwatch function on it. You can go out to a track and experience exactly how fast you are, relative to Olympians. Time yourself for a lap, half lap or whatever you can handle without prompting 911 calls or Life Flight. Write that number down and start doing the math to compare your speed to whatever the Olympians are doing in distances ranging for 100 to 10,000 meters. Let’s say you’re not a complete couch spud and can run a lap in 2 minutes. In that amount of time, most Olympic distance runners would be competing two laps and, depending on the distance, would keep up that pace for quite a few more laps while you are still standing there with your hands on your knees gasping for oxygen. I am not saying this to discourage you.

If you find that the whole metrics thing is a stumbling block, just round off. The 1,500 is a little less than a mile, the 5,000 is a little more than three miles and the 10,000 is about 6.2 miles. The 3,000 meter steeplechase is like running six city blocks while jumping over everyone’s fences and swimming pools.

Field events are more difficult to simulate but try picking up a cinder block and see how far you can throw it; make sure that pets and breakable objects are out of the way. The jumping events will require a soft place to land; unless you have an extremely large bedroom, I’d suggest holding off until autum when you can descend into a large pile of leaves.

Dennis Hinkamp will be filling up his DVR with track and field events.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2012.