USATF Minnesota Championship Track Meet: My First 800 Since High School!

>> Monday, June 26, 2023

Over these last few years, I've been wondering how fast I could run an 800, which was my event for the 2 years I was in track in high school. After some shorter-than-usual speed work leading up to a decent Raspberry Run 1 Mile race last summer, I REALLY started wondering. And then my indoor 5000 meters this past spring got another Dad from my sons' school thinking about track meets again, and that got me thinking more about track meets too. So Anton and I decided to race our races at the USATF MN Championship in St. Paul on Saturday! I'd try my hand at the 800, and he'd do the sprints.

It's been over a quarter century since my last 800, and I'm 30+ lbs heavier now, so I really didn't know WHAT to expect!!

I pulled up to park at the meet at Macalester and saw this:

You know you're at a Master's meet when the car next to you has IcyHot at the ready!

Let's back up a second... we were watching the weather as it was looking possibly stormy for my 1:00 pm race:

At 8 a.m., a big line was coming that was supposed to be here right in time for my race at 1. Damn it.

I mean... that's not what you want to see...

It didn't look much more promising at 11 a.m.

It sprinkled a little bit as we were getting out of the car, but then it was fine again. Whew! We were there in time to cheer Anton on in the 400 (the Dad from school and church):

Ready to start (with other mutual church friends behind him).

Go Anton! That's his family behind him! He just broke 60 in the 400!

There was another heat getting ready to go of the 400, and then they announced "We're going to move right into the 800 after this heat, so 800 runners be ready early." Oh crap. The race was SUPPOSED to be about 30 minutes away, and I hadn't warmed up at all. So I jogged a little along Snelling Ave and got back to the track right as they were calling us to the line. Henry sat just off the track with my phone and snapped some photos:

Thumbs up lining up! That's Colin Abert from MN Distance Running Elite next to me.

Numbers 1-9 were lined up on the normal waterfall start. The rest of us (#10-15 and a pacer) were out in lane 5 for the first 100 before we got to cut in. And yes, there was a pacer who's plan was to run a 54 second 400. "Yeah thanks, but I won't be needing your services today."

"ON YOUR MARKS"....... [gunshot]

My first 100 was good. Heck, my first 200 felt perfect. The pacer, the MN Distance Running Elite guy, and one other guy SHOT off, and I was tucked in behind them (and I let them go). I had given this race a LOT of thought beforehand because there'd be no time to react to anything during the race, so I had given myself lots of scenarios in my head to work through. I figured 0:31 for 200 would be on the faster side (maybe TOO fast), 0:35 would be on the slower side, but somewhere around 0:32 or 0:33 would be perfect. And I heard the guy at the 200 meter point saying "32... 33..." as I ran through. So I was on my way!

In the distance (with Anton in the foreground) around the 200 meter mark.

300 meters in. Working, but doing OK.

I saw the clock reading 1:05 when I got close, so I took my 400 split without looking knowing it would be around 1:07 or so. If I could evenly split this race (with that opening 400), that'd be AMAZING.

1 lap done, 1 to go!

The pacer dropped out and I just had those 2 guys WAY in front of me. I had NO concern for anyone else around me - I was just gunning for a time. (In fact, I told my boys on the way there "I'd be so much happier with dead last in 2:14 than I would be with first place in 2:25!") Just like in high school, that 3rd 200 is the ABSOLUTE WORST. Everything started to fade a little to black around 500 meters (no joke), and I was hurting. I tried to hold on.

This is where things really suck.

200 meters to go! (With the pacer cooling down already in the foreground.)

The guy at the 200 meter mark yelled out that I was at 600 meters at 1:40, so I was aware I had a SHOT to be around 2:15 if I didn't bleed too much time... but that was a big "IF."

One thing I hadn't prepared myself for in all of the pre-race scenarios I went through in my head is that if they put everyone in 1 heat (like they did here), I could be racing against some very different paces. So I actually passed 2 people in the final turn:

Just passed that woman, and I was DYING.

I was ONLY slowing down. No even split for me. In fact, someone was cheering for me in the final 30 meters saying "Let's go! Let's go!... No... NO! DON'T SLOW UP! THROUGH THE LINE! THROUGH THE LINE!!"

Here's Henry's uncropped, unaltered, glorious finish line photo of me:

Oops. He missed. But thanks for being there Henry and Charlie!

Henry's next shot as I galloped into frame after finishing
(just after hitting my watch as you can see).

"Oh hi boys. Watch Daddy barf here on the track." *


Steve Stenzel, 42, M

3 out of 13 overall
1 out of 2 in the 40-44 age group
1 out of 11 Masters (age 40+)

Age graded: 77.81%

First in my age group and first overall Master! NICE!!!

My "Regional Championship" gold medal!


• I was SO READY for this to hurt, but I still wasn't fully prepared for it. I forgot that I could make myself hurt THAT much just 90 seconds into a race. I TRIED to be mentally ready, but I wasn't!

• That finish time was pretty much right in the middle of the window of what I thought I could do. (But what I thought I could do was based on nothing... I hadn't raced anything like an 800 in so long!) I told Henry and my brother-in-law Matt that 2:20 would be a bit of a bummer, and 2:15 would be great. That was a pretty small window for not knowing what to expect, and I ended up right in the middle of that.

• My splits were normal track-racing splits. My Garmin said 1:07.0 for the first 400 and 1:10.6 for the second 400 for a total of 2:17.6. In high school, that "ascend" was even worse (like 8 secs instead of 3: usually something like 1:00 and then 1:08) because my coach was of the "go out hard and try not to puke" mentality.

• How did this race compare to my high school times? My first official 800 meters in high school was 2:20 and quickly dropped into the teens. After maybe after half or 3/4 of a track season, I was running between 2:08 and 2:11 regularly (for the rest of my 2 years of track). My PR is either 2:06 or 2:07. So at times I feel like this 2:17 is a long ways off from that, and at other times I feel like it's pretty great to just be 0:10 off my high school PR 26 years later.

• I wore "regular" running shorts in a race for the first time in YEARS! Simple reasoning though: I had the tiny "bowl full of sunshine" shorty shorts set out to race (the shorts that went with the old Wells-Easton track jersey), but with the threat of rain, I was afraid to put those on. They turn to cling wrap and show EVERYTHING when they get wet. Nope. Stayed away from wearing those.

• My Garmin actually showed me slowing down. Here's my map of the race, and it shows me faster in the first 200 (and even registers me running wider in lane 5 for the first 100), and then ONLY GETTING SLOWER:


Pace shows me slowing too. I don't believe the HR.
And my cadence slows when I'm hurting... so yeah...

• Because of the race (and of my long run being a day early last Sunday instead of Monday), I had a TINY run total last week. I did that long run in WI while camping a week ago Sunday, and then I just had a normal easy run on Wednesday, a SUPER SHORT day-before-the-race run on Friday, and then a short warm-up before the race on Saturday. My weekly total was 9.21 miles!

Wimpy run miles. And bike miles only on my commuter bike as I'm still waiting on my broken bike.

• Speaking of my long hilly run the week before, my legs had healed up before this race! My quads were SORE for a few days after last Sunday's long run in WI. But they felt OK by Wednesday, and nearly back to 100% by Thursday. I can't use that run as an excuse for any slower-than-desired times for the track meet 6 days later.

The boys and I cheered on Anton in his final 200 before taking off:

Go Anton!

My boys at the top of the stadium.

Selfie with Anton.

I don't know if I'll do another one of these for a while. Time will tell. It sucked, but was kinda fun.

* I didn't actually barf. I was just catching my breath.


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