As a distance runner, the track world was a mystery to me. A recent experience, my first track meet competition, was daunting and something I approached with apprehension.

This year, I resolved to add a fresh experience to my running. For the purpose of qualifying for the National Senior Games in 2019, I screwed up my courage and competed at the Pennsylvania Senior Games.

Weeks before this meet, I quizzed my friends who are experienced with track with questions on the intricacies of the rules. As it turned out, like many new experiences in life, things fell into place. I also learned from each event, I found I could apply my new knowledge outside of the track as well.

During this track competition, a race official provided participants with specific directions prior to each event.

The Long Event: 1500 Meters

First, announcements were made instructing us to pick up race numbers, then came a first and second call to the start.

The course monitor lined us up by number and explained the basic rules to the longest distance track event, the 1500-distance run: Those on the outside lanes may change to an inside lane any time during the run, provided you are not interfering with another runner and that you are at least a stride in front of the runner you are passing.

Life Metaphor

Wondering about these instructions on my drive home, I began thinking of the goals, obligations and facets of our lives where the rules of the 1500-distance may apply.

Perhaps you were not born and raised on the inside lane, with the privileges of an easier and shorter path to your goals, but you can get there, and you can get there with character.

Work on your skills and be mindful of when you are ready to move one lane closer to the inside. Take your time before moving in to another lane but do so when the time is right.

Don’t jeopardize another person in your home life or your work life who is running their own race. Don’t cut off their progress by cutting in too closely or you may be disqualified. We know what that means on the track and are familiar with the many ways it can happen in our lives off the track.

The Short Event: 400 Meters

Same process but a different set of rules apply to the 400-meter race. Again, we were called to pick up our numbers and given a first and second call to line up. This time we were not in a line but staggered, each of us placed at the corresponding number marked on the track.

Because the lanes are staggered, all runners finish at the same place on the course. In this case, we were not allowed to change lanes but were required to stay in our assigned lane on this one-loop run around the track.

Life Metaphor

Sometimes, for the brief events that we might like to hurry through, we are better citizens if we just stay in our lane. Keep your place in the queue or stay in the turning lane when you really want to pull around that vehicle holding you up.

It will be over in a short time, so stay focused and be ready to move. Stay in your lane, mind your own business and run your best race.

Coming to a track event prepared to run your best time is a good experience. There are officials to ensure that you and everyone else know the rules.

Alas, as we move through our lives, the course monitors (parents, teachers, mentors, wise friends) leave us on our own to remember what rules apply during what events.

What are the rules for dealing with raising children, developing a happy home life, negotiating a career change, struggling through pain and illness? This is where we determine whether this particular issue is a short sprint or a longer run where we may need to apply different rules.

Do you still have ‘course monitors’ in your life to help you remember how to negotiate the rules? Is staying in your lane more difficult at your current age? Are you strong at achieving goals in the sprints or in the longer runs? Please share your experience with navigating the rules of life – and of track.

Mary Lou HarrisMary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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