Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The "Once a Runner" Workout

If you've read John Parker's Once a Runner, you are most likely familiar with the chapter simply titled "The Interval Workout."  For those who haven't read it, consider picking up the book now that it's out in wide publication to really get the context of this chapter and workout.  Love it or hate it, this book is often considered the gospel of the sport.

I still remember my first reading of this book (I've returned to it many times since).  My dad, a runner for the University of Florida back in the mid-late 70s, crossed paths with the author during his time there.  He brought up the book's name a few months before Christmas 2008, said he'd been trying to get it but simply couldn't find it.  I thought I'd do a little digging of my own.  It was elusive.  

I exhausted all resources.  Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, used bookstores, all to no avail.  Finally, I found several copies on eBay...for well over $100 a copy.  People were serious about this book.  What was so mythical about it?

Apparently when Parker first self-published it, he used to enter local road races wearing a sign on his back that said something to the effect of, "If you beat me, I'll give you a free book."  He didn't give away many, but those he did came out of his car's trunk.

My Mom and I decided to go in on the book together, knowing how much it would mean to him (which it did; there were tears).  I eventually won it for a cool $150.  For a book! 

The book came in October.  With three months to go until Christmas, I couldn't just let it sit around.  I mean, I had to find out what all the hype was about...so I dove into it...and finished it the next morning.  The name of this blog is actually from a throw away one liner that stuck with me while reading the sequel, Again to Carthage.  

I ended up winning my own copy of the book months later.  The woman I won it from (on eBay once again -- only $90 this time...it was the deal of the century) turned out to be the mother of a high school cross country runner.  She bought the book for him and now that he and she had read it, wanted to pass it along to another runner.  We exchanged a couple e-mails about it.  It seemed as though everyone had a story about this book, their reasons for pursuing it and the way it affected them as different as the reasons they chose to run in the first place.   This became one of those books where you could refer to characters as if you're on a first name basis, guys you'd go to the bar to drink with, or meet up with for a morning run.  Parker builds such a connection....

Anyhow, I digress.  The culmination of the book, in my mind, comes when Cassidy is asked to put himself through the interval workout that begins with 20x400m with a 100m jog between each rep.  This is the setup.  It takes off from there.

For myself, I'm nearing the eighth and final week of my self-proclaimed speed development program.  After grinding through the hellish 5K two weeks ago, I decided to forgo signing up for another 5K to round out the program, only to battle the heat all over again, and be disappointed by a non-PR.  Instead, I'm waiting for the fall to come to take my new legs for a ride.  Monday, August 16, I'll make the transition to my Army 10-miler program.

But there must be something, right?  Some payoff?  Some mark that everything you've done has worked, has made you a better runner, was worth the sacrifice, the early mornings, the interminable laps around the track, the double dips, the achy quads, the quivering hamstrings...etc.

My defining mark will be this workout.  I embarked on the speed plan after reading about Ryan Hall's summer plans to get back to basics and develop his raw speed for 10 weeks before going full on into training for Chicago (apparently it paid off because he won the U.S. 7-mile Championship at Bix two weeks ago).  This was one of his workouts.  And funny enough, last month's Running Times including a McMillan column talking about speed workouts for runners that included, of all things, 20x400m.  The universe is clearly calling me toward this.

When I think about this workout, I go back to the summer of 2008 when I started all this speed training, qualifying for Boston business, and a 12x400m workout with a 400m recovery between each was a drain.  I've come along way in two years.  This far?  We'll see.

As the chapter says, "It's one thing to write down 20 quarters with a 110 jog, and quite another to carry out those instructions." Monday night, I'll lace 'em up and head out to the track for one last workout.  There are moments that I'll want to stop, gasp in exhaustion and clutch my knees, but I'll have to dig deep to push through it and think back to all those other workouts that I've filed away and persevered through.  That's how you find out.

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