Training, trashcans and track: A semester of practice off-campus

Will Kingham

Track and field trains together remotely. (Screenshot courtesy of Will Kingham ’22.)

In a freshly mowed field on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-late September, I placed a few bricks in a small metal trash can, lifted the can above my head and began to count. Lift, squat, burpee, repeat. 

After 15 minutes of unrelenting anguish, I was finished. I looked up and spotted my mother across the field. I heard her call out, “All good?” I flashed a thumbs-up. She’d just watched her son lift a few bricks in a trash can for 15 consecutive minutes, polluting the rural New Hampshire silence with pathetic yelps of pain. She must be so proud, I thought.

In truth, my mother was used to seeing me use “unconventional” equipment to exercise. Workouts like these had become a cornerstone of the men’s and women’s track and field teams’ quarantine training regimen. Our coaches label these “metcons”–– short for metabolic conditioning. These are continuous, high-intensity workouts that often incorporate household objects to improve the quality and diversity of our training. 

Over the summer, I’d found these workouts to be convenient, effective and, in some perverse way, addictive. But as I stood in the middle of the field, I took in my surroundings — flanked New Hampshire mountains peaking above the treetops — and I sensed an unfamiliar feeling grow in the pit of my stomach: doubt.

I didn’t know if I could make it through an entire semester of training like this — alone. I chose to take classes remotely for the fall semester for a number of different reasons, although the draw of being with the track team in-person certainly made that decision difficult. In some ways, I took comfort in the knowledge that, a few hundred miles away in Williamstown, my teammates were working just as hard as I was, adhering to college public health guidelines while trying to train “normally.” 

The coaches also equipped us with a plethora of training options, so I had the ability to work my training into convenient moments in my schedule. Even so, on a number of different occasions throughout the semester, I woke up dreading the day’s practice. Could I do this? The team held some practices over Zoom, and it was both heartening and motivating to see familiar faces — those of my teammates both on and off campus. But a moment of unreliable WiFi froze my computer screen mid-burpee and booted me out of Zoom, and the magic soon wore off.

It is here that I must acknowledge that, as members of the track team, we inhabit a rather privileged position on the spectrum of COVID-safe athletic activities. Compared to sports like hockey and basketball — which had their training disrupted significantly by the limitations placed on indoor gatherings — we as track athletes not only have the flexibility to practically train wherever, whenever, but we were also permitted access to our sport-specific facility for most of the fall. My teammates on campus were thankful to be able to practice with a nearly full set of training equipment. From what I heard, the semester posed its fair share of challenges, but the track team has always adapted.

Track is a funny sport. At a given track meet, there’s a throwing event, a jumping event and a running event happening simultaneously. There’s similar dynamism at every practice, with athletes divided into event-specific groups. I’m usually with the jumpers, and while we physically practice near our teammates in other training groups (under normal circumstances), the jumpers might be doing short-approach long-jumps, while the throwers might be heaving practice shotputs, and the distance runners running repeat 800-meter intervals. In short, track — perhaps more than most other sports — attracts completely different types of athletes, brought together under the canopy of “track and field.” 

While it’s unclear when we’ll be able to reconvene to compete for the NESCAC title at meets, this semester has presented us with team-wide hardships. In some ways however, our previous experience with the resurfacing of Towne Field House during the 2018-19 school year, which also presented barriers to consistent, predictable training, prepared us well for the COVID-related hurdles we faced this semester. 

It’s important to note that there are many differences between the aftershocks of the Field House renovation and the current COVID-related challenges, particularly when it comes to team dynamics. One such difference is the fact that we were able to physically congregate as a team in 2018-19. The electricity you’d get from full-team meetings seems like a distant memory now. But the two situations did share one crucial similarity: They stripped our training down to its most elemental form. While there are so many technical aspects to track and field, your progress is largely dictated and motivated by your own “motor.” In general, track can be considered “type-two” fun: miserable while it’s happening, but enjoyable in retrospect. The barriers to training we collectively faced — and continue to face — in both of these situations forced us to embrace the pain and misery associated with such “type-two” activities. 

I’ve always fed off of the energy of those around me and have looked forward to competition as crucial milestones or goals toward which to work. In October, I was nagged by a recurring question: with the idea of upcoming track meets existing only as a pipe dream, why should I do this? Why should I push myself to the brink of exhaustion by carrying a backpack full of logs or an empty pot with a few textbooks in it, all for something that — at the present moment — is utterly intangible?

Last week, I came across a video of one of my teammates, a hep/decathlete who had been living in Arizona this semester, working on his shot put. He faced the camera, picked up a medium-sized rock, nestled it into the crook of his neck and launched it toward a cactus.

No doubt, I miss campus. I miss the (no-longer) asbestos-filled Field House. I miss grabbing dinner with my teammates after practice. And while some of those activities may have to be put on hold for a while, I hope to experience some of them this spring, COVID permitting. In some ways, however, it doesn’t much matter. I know that, somewhere, at least one of my teammates is throwing a rock at a cactus. And that’s enough for me.