Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Marker Workout: First Stop On the Base Camp


When I was little, my best friend growing up used to say that, "When it's raining and the sun is out, the devil is beating his wife." I think I'm the one who took the beating yesterday.  The smell of summer rain hung heavy in the air.  Thunderclouds billowed all around me but the sun still shone uncovered, raising a steamy melange.  I pulled my shirt off, stashed a water bottle, and turned up the tunes.  I had a bar to set, a Marker Workout to complete.

In the April issue of Running Times, Greg McMillan talks about what he calls the Marker Workout.  "It's a hard workout," he writes.  "And it's meant to be."  And it was.  The workout called for 6x1600m at 5K effort (not pace since the whole point is mileage, not speed) with a recovery time of half the mile time.

I pondered this workout all day.  It lay there in the back of my head during meetings and each time I stepped outside to gauge the heat and humidity.  It would be my first true speed work since I can't remember when.

I'd gotten up early that morning to go the gym, including some leg work.  Plus, I already had 16 miles on my legs from Monday and Tuesday (June hadn't started yet, you see).  Was this be a true test, I wondered?

Rather than take to the track, I decided to run one mile out and mile back to my house, knowing full well that each way out carried with it a particularly unique brand of torture: namely sharp AND long gradual hills in both directions.  But I rationalized that since I'm racing on the road, I should do intervals on the road.  What doesn't kill us....

So I trotted out my one mile warmup, more of a gesture than anything else since I was already pouring sweat before I lined up on the speed bump in front of our house that would mark the start and finish line.

Finally, there was no more avoiding it.  I walked down to the line, took one last swig, and beep, I was off.

The first one went by in a flash.  I glided up the hill leading out of our neighborhood and made the left turn on to the main road, still climbing, cresting, then coasting down.  The road rose again and I dug in, "Middle bridge, middle bridge," I repeated because that's where the road dips once again and finally descends to the finish.  Click, went the watch.  5:50.  "Not bad," I thought pushing last year's mile repeat times out of my head.  "That was then, this is now," I rationalized.

That 2:50 goes much faster when you're recovering rather than running.  I broke the workout down into three sets of two.  "Number two set one," I repeated and set off once again to complete set one.

The same hill that I open up on at the beginning of the out is crippling on the return trip.  On an eight miler the other night with two of my friends, one remarked that he saw our new neighbor out running.  "How'd he look?" I asked.  "Well, he was coming up the Center Way hill."  There was a pause on both our ends as if we let this sink in.  My friend spoke up, "Really can't judge a man on that hill," he said.


It's here that your lungs are tested, your legs feel the twisted grip of the lactic acid vines wrapping around your quads, your calves, your hamstrings...and strangling every once of energy from them.

At the top, I gasped and let it flow down to the finish, going hands to knees when I crossed.  I sucked in the hot, humid air before glancing at the watch: 5:41.  We were in business.

Set two only served to bring on the inevitable fatigue.  The workout would have been perfect had I been able to stop after the fourth interval, still well under 6:00 for each mile.  I trotted gingerly, steeling my will for those final two miles.  I sipped on my electrolytes, but not too many to avoid having to see it again.

I shuffled through my iPod looking for the song to get me up (Thank you, Motley Crue).  Sweat ran down my face, my chest, my legs.  My arms flung drops of moisture with every movement.  Still, the seconds ticked.  I listened for the thunder I nearly hoped would come so I could pause for 10, 15, 20 minutes longer while the storm passed.  No such luck.  Time was up.

I let it out for the first .3, trying to make my form as efficient as possible, my turnover as smooth and rapid as my legs would allow.  At .1, the wheels came off.  I slogged up the steep hill out of our neighborhood and back on to the main road.  "Last time," I said to myself.  The only storm around now was the lactic acid raging in my legs.  The same hills that I glided up on set one were particularly cruel.  I fought to a logy 6:13.

With only one mile to go, I wiped the rivulets of sweat off my sunglasses.  I barely glanced at the watch knowing that time was quickly ticking down on me.  At least it would all be over soon.

I took off on number six.  When I hit the final .3, that savage hill, I clawed my way to the top, ticking of each .1 as I went.  I remember little of it except wanting to scream, "Mercy!" at the end.  A 6:07.  I took it.

I jogged an obligatory "cool down" but didn't really begin to feel the effects until I bent over and turned the hose on the back of my head and neck.  The cold stole the breath from my chest, but, oh, the sweet relief.

"I won't see this one for four more weeks," I thought with a smile, tasting the water and sweat running into my mouth.  The bar is set.

1 comment:

  1. 6x1600m is one of my benchmark/marker workouts as well. During my last cycle of sharpening I got down to 6:05-6:15 for a set of 6. I jog a quarter for a cooldown - and I mean J.O.G. I go slow. At least 9:00 min mile pace maybe 10:00.

    My "coach"/adviser says if I really want to have a chance at sub 3, one of the first things that need to happen is to get all 6 miles below 6. Ouch.

    But it looks like its going to happen soon for you.


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