Week 29: Grown-Up Field Day [Score +14]
In grade school, Field Day was an event I enjoyed because it felt like an outdoor celebration of the end of the school year. I was competitive enough to try hard and want to win, but I never excelled at any particular athletic skill. (Those athletic skills being the ones required for three-legged races and wheelbarrow relays.) My self-imposed high expectations frequently fell flat.
By junior high, I missed the fun of Field Day. Instead of playing games for the sake of being active in Phys Ed, our days of track-and-field games were a showcase of talent by those already on the school’s track-and-field team. I again was competitive enough to try hard and want to win, but the bar was higher (literally, in the sake of high jump), and I still always fell in the middle of the pack.
On one such day, I particularly remember trying my untested and untrained skills at the long jump. When my turn arrived, I sprinted down the lane, bounded off the takeoff board, landed in the sand... and instead of falling backward onto my rear end like I was supposed to, my momentum kept carrying me forward.
In a cartoon-worthy attempt to stay upright, my arms flailed, legs wheeled, and when I finally fell forward, it wasn’t into the soft sand but instead on the railroad-tie board at the end of the pit.
I skidded and somersaulted over it, rolled up to my feet in a continuous motion, looked down, and saw that one of my thighs had collected upwards of 20 splinters in the scrape across the board.
I ran straight to the bathroom in pain and mortification to clean it up. I didn’t emerge until the end of the class period. Today, such a fall wouldn’t phase me emotionally (I’ve tripped, slid, and fallen in some ways that are well worth another day’s story). But as a tender eighth grader desperate to stay out of the “nerd” crowd and be accepted by the cool kids, I took it hard.
So with such fantastic, positive memories of school Field Days, what would make me want to volunteer to play as an adult?
This, my friends, was a chance for redemption.
The Corporate Challenge
The ISC Corporate Challenge is Indianapolis’ version of grown-up field day. More than 150 companies from around Central Indiana compete in a variety of events just for the fun of it.
In the name of intrepidity (and redemption), I signed up for the first time this year. And I didn’t just dip my toe in the water; I signed up for three different events to get the full experience. My choices: a cycling time trial, 5K fitness walk, and a team obstacle course relay.
Other options included competitive 5K and 10K runs, dodgeball, tug-of-war, sand volleyball, golf chipping, parallel parking, football toss, basketball shoot-out, cornhole, frisbee toss, and a soccer shootout. They had something for just about everyone, even if you’re not interested or able to do a more athletic competition.
Cycling Time Trial: Tryout Night
We had enough people express interest in the cycling time trial that I actually had to try out to make our team (no pressure!). The team could have five people, one of whom had to be a woman. At least by way of being female and working for a tech company, the odds were in my favor.
Our tryout was a larger open practice day for all teams. The time trial was a 5.75-mile course on a combination of the road course and main oval racetrack at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I arrived at the Speedway unsure of what to expect—I’m neither a competitive cyclist nor experienced Corporate Challenge participant—but I knew just getting to ride my bike around the track would be a fun experience.
I didn’t know any of the other 20 people who’d signed up to try out for our team, so I would only know a teammate if they were wearing a company shirt. A couple thankfully were: as I finished checking in, I saw two guys standing near the start line wearing not just company shirts but company-branded cycling jerseys. One, in particular, was also riding a competitive time-trial bike and wearing a sleek, aerodynamic helmet.
I could see this wasn’t just going to be a race of leisurely weekend riders (like me) in tshirts and padded shorts. My confidence started to feel a little shaky.
Between going to spin class weekly and riding on the weekends, plus cross-training on other days, I knew I’d have no trouble completing the 5.75-mile course in decent time, but I didn’t know how fast I could push myself at a sustained pace for that distance.
Only a tryout would tell me.
I rode to the start line—the legendary yard of bricks that winners of the Indy 500 kiss after their victory—and just focused on riding hard but enjoying the experience.
After leaving the start line, it felt as though I had the track to myself. The staggered start put us each 15 seconds behind the person in front of us to minimize passing on the course. No one was in the stands, the rider in front of me was well ahead, and I couldn’t hear the rider behind me. All I could hear was the wind rushing past my ears and my breath flowing in time with my spinning legs.
19 minutes and 1 second after taking off, I crossed the finish line. I felt good about my performance, but I wouldn’t know if I made the team until everyone had recorded their tryout times by the following afternoon.
Happily, I made it, though the competitive satisfaction was slightly dimmed by the fact that I was the only woman who’d showed up to try out.
Well, showing up is half the battle, right?
Some of the guys on my team turned in some impressive times, so I knew I’d have to work hard to feel like I wasn’t entirely out of my league.
The first thing I knew I needed to do: up my gear game. If the rest of my team rode competitively and showed up in branded cycling jerseys, I’d feel very self-conscious and out of place if I was the only person not dressed alike.
Boy, if this is a grown-up Field Day, then feeling insecure about needing the cool kids’ clothing helps take me right back to that school feeling, too.
Cycling Time Trial: Competition
A few weeks later, the night of the actual event arrived, on a Wednesday evening three days before the main Corporate Challenge competition.
After parking and gearing up, I rode slowly toward the check-in area. Tucked here and there into a quiet spot under the stands—out of the wind and light rain—I passed a number of guys warming up on stationary trainers, heads down, sweat already dripping.
My self-talk this time: even if I’m well behind my teammates’ times, they’re better off with me than without me.
Oh, and yes, of course, this all just for fun and games. The only prizes are bragging rights.
Dressed officially (felt cooler!) and projecting a breezy air, I met more of my team, then headed to the start line for my own ride. It was again a staggered start, professionally organized and timed, and the misting rain blessedly paused in the moments leading up to my ride.
I took off as hard and fast as I could to build momentum, then just did my best through the rest of the ride to maintain that pace. With the practice run under my belt and under-pressure competitive spirit of the night, I pushed myself much harder than I had in the tryout.
This time, I crossed the finish line in 18 minutes and 4 seconds—nearly a full minute better than my previous run. I was elated. I knew I’d still be well behind the others on my team who would clock in at 13:14, 14:40, 15:30, and 15:33, but being just 2.5 minutes behind one of the guys felt amazing.
I rode that euphoria for days afterward.
Corporate Challenge: The Main Event
With the cycling event out of the way, I had two events on the main day of competition at the Speedway: the 5K fitness walk—essentially an easy stroll around the track—and the team obstacle course relay.
The fitness walk was designed to be a non-competitive, inclusive event, and it did serve as a warm-up before I went out to sprint through the obstacle course. I primarily walked with a friend (who also would have liked to walk a little faster), and the easy pace allowed us to chat with each other and a couple other coworkers.
I ran straight from the 5K walk to meet my team for the obstacle course. After some quick strategy (Who would do which leg of the relay? In what order? What side of the course did we want?), we stepped up for our turn.
I had the second leg: after being tagged in by my first teammate, I did ten step-ups on a short box, ran to a spider-web obstacle (an A-frame structure with criss-crossed ropes I had to climb through), then climbed over two large sawhorses to tag in my next teammate. He ran through six tires, climbed over a wall, crawled under a fence, and tagged in our final teammate who repeated my run. As soon as that fourth team member’s feet hit the ground, we all ran to the middle of the course to flip a large tire that would signify the end of our time.
I have zero photos of us competing, but I got a video of another team to illustrate:
My leg of the course was done in about 30 seconds. It was fun, but I would have loved to do it a second time after getting a practice run. As soon as I was done, my brain was already critiquing my performance and thinking about how I would have done it differently had I another chance.
Will I sign up for the Corporate Challenge again next year? Absolutely. I particularly want to beat my cycling performance.
Did I earn redemption for my seventh-grade self? In a few ways, yes.
In the last five years, I’ve changed my exercise habits and have improved my overall health and well-being, and I’m stronger and in better shape now than I’ve been at any other time of my life.
That. Feels. Amazing.
So while that eighth-grade girl who deeply wanted to shed her self-ascribed Nerd status will never get a do-over, feeling increasingly confident in my own abilities—and possibilities—is a sweet reward.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Activity benefits my health/wellbeing: +1
- Burned real calories (so I got some exercise): +1
- Signed up for an activity without knowing anyone else involved: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger beyond basics (i.e., work, hometown, what’s your dog’s name): +2
- Learned someone’s name: +3