Thursday, March 29, 2012

No Rest for the Weary

After the last repeat, following the final click on my watch, when I stopped long enough for the humidity to cling to me and the sweat to raise on my slick skin, I could call it finished.
But, oh, how it seemed like this moment might never come! I toiled around the oval in an endless limbo of ragged breaths, straining muscles, and negotiations. Going to the edge, peering over it, pulling back.

I put my hands on my hips and took one final deep breath and walked back to my things, a haphazard pile of clothes, keys, and water bottles. I swapped out my racers for sandals and in the background, baseball fans murmured at the clink! of a pitch being swatted into the outfield. I sat for a moment and thought about how rare these moments can be, the ones after a good, hard run where the tingle of adrenaline lingers, the colors in the sky appear sharper, and you feel delightfully empty.

Of course, you usually have to crawl through hell to get there.

Thirty minutes earlier, I cinched the laces tight on my racers and tossed my t-shirt over the sandals. I began a slow trot around the track doing math in my head and trying to spot any deer grazing along the edge of the woods. A light rain fell over the field, and though the eastern sky looked ominous, the sun peeked through in the west.

After my fourth lap, steam rose from the track and I walked over to lane four to do some drills before committing to the workout. I recently read an article in Running Times about doing “floating” workouts on the track. In other words, there’s a short recovery between intervals where you float, say, 100 meters. It’s not a traditional recovery jog, but rather a slightly faster spell at about half marathon-marathon pace. My dad used to tell me about running 30/40s, or a 30 second 200 followed by a “floating” 200 at 40 seconds.

The workout today was 3-4 sets of 1200m-400m- @10K/5K pace where the hyphens are 100m floats at half marathon pace. After each set, you do a 200m jog…then start all over again. I decided 10K pace would be 5:45 so a 1200 comes out to 4:18, while 5K pace would be 5:35 or about a 1:23, 400.

With nothing left to do, I took one more shot of water, lined up, and clicked the watch. On the first lap, the pace was controlled, the motions fluid. I came through the first lap in 1:24...too fast, but comfortable and decided to lock into that pace. When the third lap came around, I went about preparing myself to not come to a screeching halt when I crossed the line but to, well, float through and keep the momentum going. I barreled down the last stretch, clicked my watch, saw the “4:08” shrugged and kept moving…there was more work to be done. The final 400m proved slightly crueler mentally because where I normally would only have 200m to go, I had 300 to cover. I concentrated on slingshotting around the curve and keeping my feet under me. When I finished the 400, I slipped into half marathon pace for that final 100m float and smiled at the “1:19” on my watch.

Consistency, I preached on those merciful yet too quick 200m. Don’t blow up the workout.

But on the final lap of the second interval, I had 10 seconds to spare and continued to push the pace. The afternoon sun was naked in the sky and bore down upon me. I cleared the wads of spit from my throat as I blasted around the final curve of that 400. The second set read: 4:07/1:20. I grabbed a swig of water to wash my mouth out then set about tackling the third set.

The sun cooked the track into a humid soup. I had the sense on the backstretch of every lap that the finish line seemed so far and I was incredibly lonely back there. I pushed on and felt a quivering in my hamstrings. A foot would scrape its partner’s calf and I’d curse to get myself under control. Be still, I thought trying to quiet the noise in my head. I fought for a 4:06/1:20 third set. The negotiation began on the 200m recovery.

The schedule called for 3-4 sets. You could call it here…or you could forge on and know you’ll be stronger for it… And on it went until about 20m left. I clicked reset...then start and took off behind the goal posts.

The effort felt harder, but the pace was even, and in fact, it felt smoother than number three. The sun disappeared for a moment bringing a merciful reprieve. I’m going to hate the summer, I thought before refocusing.

After my final 100m float, I did come to that screeching halt I tried to avoid on set one so many laps and minutes ago. I sucked in the thick afternoon air and waited for my breathing to return to normal to really appreciate it. Set four: 4:06/1:19.

I swung the backpack over my shoulders and sipped liberally from my water bottle. I could feel the coolish liquid running down my stomach. It felt good.

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