Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Big Sit of the SWSA World

If you know anything about the odd competitions birders device for themselves and their peers (Big Years, Big Days, Bigbys, Sweaty Sanderlings…), you’ll know about the Big Sit, where you hang out in one spot for 24 hours and count all the birds you see from that one 10 foot diameter circle. Yesterday, I competed in my first ever track meet, something I perceive to be the Big Sit of the running world. How could this be? One is extremely sedentary, while the other is a spectacle of physical strength and stamina. What they have in common is confinement. At a track meet most everything happens on or within a 400-meter oval and my mission is to run 3200 meters (roughly two miles, or eight laps on the track).
I whipped past the lap counter, briefly noting the two remaining laps it denoted. Excellent, I thought, this is a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. As Welch has already reported, I fell on ice while running four days before the beginning of track season. The throbbing flashes of pain that had erupted in my knee whenever I tried to run had kept me out of action until now, nearly a month later. My speed wasn’t quite what it was before the accident, and my aerobic capabilities had definitely been affected by the many days when I was unable to hit the road, but at least I was running pain free now. As I directed my thoughts back to the present situation, I reached the far side of the oblong circle of fake asphalt, and once again the guy behind me tried to pass. I instantly matched his pace until he grudgingly fell back behind me again, unwilling to completely exhaust himself quite yet.

My "shadow" was right behind outside the frame of this

We had been in this position for the entire race, two freshmen runners halfway through the pack of nearly thirty high school distance runners. Whenever he passed his overly ebullient coach, he would try to pass me up, but I would put him back in place after another twenty meters. As we approached the lap counter again, I saw that it still read two laps. In a normal, un-exhausted state of mind, I would have just assumed that the person counting had lost track of the laps or had forgotten to update the sign. But as I was steeping in my exhaustion-fogged brain, I assumed that I must have miscounted and that there must indeed be two laps left in the race.

Hugging the inside of the curve, I resigned myself to the unanticipated extra lap. Approaching what I thought was the 600 meters-to-go mark, I braced myself for the expected speed surge from the guy trailing me. Sure enough, he appeared on my shoulder seconds after we passed his screaming coach. I matched his speed, expecting him to drop back behind me after a few seconds, as he had every other time he had tried to pull this maneuver.

But instead of the expected, he kept speeding up. I let him go, thinking that if he was planning on keeping that pace for an entire 500 meters, I had no plans to commit suicide with him. He was going to burn out after another thirty seconds and I would be able to easily catch and pass him in the final lap. But he continued accelerating, and I realized all too late that he was sprinting to the finish, a mere 100 meters away. My lips curled back in a snarl as I entered sprint-or-die mode, arms pumping and legs spinning. I didn’t catch my quarry, but I did pass two other people in the last stretch. I crossed the line in fourteenth place with a time of 11:47.35 minutes.

I ended my race looking like a rabid bi-pedal Howler Monkey.
How many birds did I see or hear? Zilch during my race. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any birds at all in the stadium area besides a handful of starlings and House Sparrows. Only when I left the high school to do my two-mile warm-up run through the neighborhoods of Johnstown did I see birds, though only in the forms of Eurasian Collared-Doves, House Sparrows, American Robins, and American Goldfinches.
2011 SWSA Totals
Species: 117
Total Miles: 232

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