Track Tuesdays are not pleasant. Right now, they rank as the most nerve-wracking experience in my average week. Which says a lot as both my job and Crossfit often throw some crazy stuff my way.
Then again, an easy track workout isn’t really a track workout. And Track Tuesdays are as much about learning proper pacing and how to pace by feel as they are about going fast. Painfully fast.
I run 800m repeats (about half a mile) with a friend. We have a time to hit each repeat in and we tend to – within 2-3 seconds on either end. If I were doing this alone, I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn’t finish. That my 800m would become 400m which just seems like a happier distance to me. It’s only the friendly peer pressure and competitive streak that propel me forward.
Often I find myself dwelling on the factors why Track Tuesdays are rough (this usually happens on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings as I begin anticipating the pain to come).
- Weather. For some reason, Tuesdays are not a good day in Boston. Three weeks ago, it was pouring rain and 20 mph winds. Two weeks ago, it was so cold that I could barely move my fingers to start the stop watch for each repeat. Today it is raining and soon that will change to snow flurrying. But since I only run outside and have no idea the conditions for our December race, its probably good to be practicing in cold, snowy, windy weather.
- Mid Week Evenings. Let’s be honest, Tuesday nights are not conducive to running fast. Any rest I gained over the weekend is usually spent up by Monday night. By Tuesday night, I’m tired, the time change means its especially dark out, we are running during prime dinner time and the single abiding image in my head is “sweats and my couch.”
- The Pain Cave. At some point in the run, it becomes less about a speed workout and more about survival. This typically happens after we’ve run around the track once (400m) and kicks into gear around 600m (if I’m lucky) and lasts until the 750m-800m sprint. The breakdown goes something like this:
- 0-400m. This is hard but manageable. Focus on breathing. Focus on a good turnover and a strong core. 1/4 done. Keep breathing, force yourself to slow it down. 1/2 way done.
- 400-600m. This is not fun. I can’t breathe, I kinda want to stop. No, I really want to stop. I wish I could stop. How much further do we have to go? How can we still be this far away? This is the worst 3 minutes of my life and we have to do it how many more times?
- 600-700m. I stop thinking at this point. I’ve entered the pain cave. My only thought is to somehow keep breathing and moving my legs until mercifully I cross the finish line and can resume normal griping.
- 700-800m. Glance at my watch. Crap! We have to pick up the pace and sprint at the end to maintain our time. Maybe if I don’t look over at my running partner, she won’t realize and we can just keep up this horribly fast pace. Nope, she’s giving me the look, it’s time to push deep, lengthen the stride and get this over with.
Followed by a 400m fast walk or slow jog to recover. Then we start the cycle all over again. Honestly, I know that my legs and lungs are capable of the pace when I am hydrated and healthy. But its the mental energy needed to finish strong that makes it incredibly hard.
Our first week, there was a gorgeous double rainbow in the sky. I hoped it was God’s promise to me that I would never have to do another track workout. It wasn’t.
Last week, I failed. I know, I know, I failed at something that I have set myself to do – its not like I’m on a track team and these workouts really matter in the greater scheme. For me, they are a means to an end (a faster half marathon). We did 5 800m and I only managed 3 of them. I did: 800m, 800m, 400m, 400m, 800m. Between an incredibly taxing weekend and a bad cold and cough, I reached the pain cave too soon, followed by the “I’m starting to feel dizzy and seeing spots” lack of oxygen high, followed by the sweet release of stopping and violently coughing until I could breathe again.
I had an excuse but it still grates on my nerves to fail at something. Particularly when my friend finished all her 800m repeats (and the 2 without me were her fastest ones!). The life of a runner involves lots of things that life teaches us whether we run or not: sometimes we will fail. We have to learn when to push harder and dig deeper and when to back off because our body can’t handle it. We have to learn to fail with dignity, and then get back up and try again later. We have to learn to cheer for others who are going faster and stronger than we can sustain and we have to do this without jealousy or envy. And we have to learn to not let our past failures keep us from future victory.
With that in mind, I’m drinking my water and nervously watching the sky, preparing for our latest track workout tonight. I’m hopeful, scared but hopeful, that I can complete all six 800m repeats. Because my shower + my sweats + my sofa are so much more inviting after I succeed.