Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This makes it all worth it

Runs like I had this morning make every blister, every sore muscle, and every gasp of breath during a hard workout worth it. I've been feeling so good that I can only think: This is why I run.

The plan for the week was to change it up a lot. Today, I would go to the track for some speed intervals, Thursday I’d run a long hill instead of short hill repeats, and Sunday, maybe I’ll do my long run on the road instead of the trail. I was all set for the track workout this morning, but when I woke up, there was a thunderstorm raging outside my window that sounded like the Almighty unleashing His wrath upon the mortal world. No going outside for me. I was immediately reminded of a story I heard about my track coach in high school. During a conversation in the locker room before practice one day, one of my teammates told me that at one track practice, some kids wanted to leave early because of a thunderstorm. The head coach replied by getting a javelin and walking out to the infield, where he stood and said “If there’s any lightning, it'll hit me.” That still cracks me up.

It turns out that about an hour after I awoke to the sounds of the apocalypse, the storm passed. I still had enough time to fit in my workout, so I warmed up and then did a mile in 8:30 on the treadmill. 8:30 per mile isn’t that great, but for some reason, everything feels like it takes more effort on the treadmill, and that felt like a hard workout. I hopped in the car, though, and drove to the track for the next part of the workout: a timed mile. All of my previous timed miles were on the road, and I was excited to see how fast I really could do it. When I got there, the water hung in the air and on the rubberized track surface. It reminded me of the time in March when I tried to run there after work, but the damp-looking areas were slushy and slippery, and my feet slid forward a little with every footstrike. Well, I didn’t have to dodge icy patches today.

The first half-lap of the mile was great, but after that I started to feel very fatigued. I figured that I had gone a little too hard on the treadmill, so I just tried to keep an even pace and not slow down. I didn’t feel as if I had it in me to push any harder. I didn’t look at my watch. At one point I thought about Roger Bannister, and how this was his event. After four laps (and those extra few meters to the finish line), I stopped the watch, and there it was: 7:25. It was beautiful. 18 seconds faster than last week’s time on the road. That really did it for me – it cemented in me the confidence that at my next 5K race, I will be able to reach my goal of an 8:20 pace and finally beat my PR. I can't even really describe how good I felt after seeing that time. I just knew that all of my training has been worth it.

I ran an 800m after that and timed in at 3:33. I would have run another and then some 400s, but I didn’t have time, so I did two cool-down laps and headed home. By the time I was leaving, the sun was breaking through, and mist rose up from the track. That and the whole workout reminded me so much of what I loved about track in high school, and how I wish I could have been on the team longer. I didn’t join until spring of my senior year, and then I only ran in one race, the 100m dash, because of knee troubles. I won that race, at least. It was my grand debut and finale all in one.

I do wish that I had run track longer, but since then I've come a long way. I don't have teammates anymore, but there is a large community of runners out there. So many times I see people I know jogging on the trail or bump into someone in the store who I had just seen at a race a few hours before. Running longer distances is also so fulfilling. I've been finding that out every week now as I extend my long runs little by little. At the end of a long race, I can still get in that burst of speed reminiscent of the 100m dash, and it feels so good to be able to do that after having already covered a few miles. I've come across a lot of bad days when I feel slow, tired, and frustrated, but there are always days like today to remind me how much I really do love it.

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