Friday, April 26, 2013

Training Partners

Tuesday mornings begin early in our house.  Around six I groggily turn off my watch alarm as the traditional grind of the blender  comes from the kitchen.  'well, if you wasn't up yet, you is now' I mutter to myself.  Most of us like to get a morsel in our bellies before the workout.  The ignitor on the stove clicks, the microwave door opens and closes, and dishes collide on the drying rack.  We've got it down to a science: getting those last precious minutes of snooze time, eating, and driving to the track to warm up.  Hardly any words are spoken in our bleary eyed, grumpy state.  It's a familiar dance we perform every workout morning.  I usually try to nap in backseat of the car.

This particular Tuesday we are on the track, starting the first rep at 7:15.  There are several different workouts going on simultaneously.  The guys traveling to Mt. Sac are doing an easier tune up workout - some threshold cruise miles and 400s around 1500 rhythm.  There's a 5k type workout going on too: some 600s at 5k pace with just 200 'float' in between - a real grinder since the float is supposed to be at a decent pace.  There's also some 1500 guys doing 400s at pace.  I am alone for my workout: a threshold mile followed by a mile and 4 x 800 at 5k pace, and 4 x 200 at 1500 rhythm.

Just before everyone starts I look around and think, 'this is ironic.'  I'm about to bust my ass during a hard solo workout on the same track, at the same time, as two All Americans, the American collegiate record holder in the 1500, another 3:39 guy, and a 4:00 mile guy workout separately from me.  They all have to race in four days while I can afford a harder workout, but the separation has been a theme of late.  An unlucky combination of health issues and disparate race schedules has kept our dream team training group from fully collaborating for a workout this spring.  I don't help the cause, being somewhat of a nomadic wanderer; bouncing amongst workout genres in my pursuit of 1500 and 5000 Nirvana like a crazed jackrabbit.  But I've been hankering to take advantage of the talent we've assembled in Austin this year.

I clock my first mile at 4:52.  Generally I begin track workouts with a threshold mile or two.  It's a good way to ensure the quality of the warm up is high without taking away from the main workout too much.  As I taxi around into lane one, ready to take off for the interval mile, I gather myself, wishing I had someone to share the workout load with this morning.

The psychological benefit of running behind or next to someone is incredibly powerful.  It's the force that draws us to meets with high caliber fields.  It encourages us to coalesce into training groups.  It's why meet directors spend money on rabbits on the track and pacers in road races.  There's no questioning it - the perceived difficulty of distance running at a given intensity lessens slightly when someone is in your proximity.  The effect is a combination of instinctual, competitive, and emotional factors.  It's a consequence of human synergy released during collaboration and competition. In a workout, well matched training partners compete, though in moderation and never to their mutual detriment.

Everyone exists differently in the self imposed, cocoon like comfort zone that is a pack or pair of runners.  There are half steppers, hanger-oners, shoulder mongers, heel clippers, sitters, yo-yoers, abreasters, pace pushers, you-name-it-someone does it-ers.  (The worst are two-steppers)  Some prefer to feel the competitive advantage of being ahead - leading workouts and races.  Their patient foils enjoy leaving the mental work to others as they turn their brains off and follow.  When you take away the team aspect, the act of running itself is an individual sport, but even that definition blurs when you talk about using - or being used by - other runners.

As the workout progresses things are going well in the other groups.  The 5th year transfers are healthy and rounding into shape after a shaky indoor season.  The younger guys are working hard and getting stronger.  People seem relaxed running fast.  It's good to see everyone on the track instead of in the training room, even if our schedules don't match up perfectly right now workout wise.  I finish my last 800 of the morning and head in.  Soon, if everyone stays healthy, we will collaborate on a Tuesday morning.  After all, the best training partners I can ask for are right there in my kitchen, making oatmeal in the morning.

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fast forward.  Post Mt. Sac 1500 in which Merber, Van Ackeran, McGregor run 3:41, 3:42, 3:44

text from me to Kyle Merber: 

Nice runnin tonight Kyle.  You're back!

Kyle: Lets workout together!

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