Saturday, June 15, 2013

Take The Chance

I've migrated North from Austin to my hometown, Milwaukee in favor of cooler temperatures and proximity to my next few races.  Between mama's home cookin' and the familiar high school running routes it makes for a good training base camp.  The comfort of home isn't without its consequences: training alone changes the mental game up a bit.

Today I drove to Marquette University's track for the last hard workout before the US Championships.  The gate was closed so I hopped the fence, thinking how much it would suck to get kicked out halfway through a rep.  The track is blue, just like it will be in Des Moines - that's training specificity for you.

I'm assigned a set of six thousands at 5k pace with three minutes (generous) rest.  I'll follow that with some 200s at mile pace to turn the legs over.  The workout is starkly simple compared to others I've done this year with Texas - sessions I've come to call 'mixed workouts' that might hit a wide range of paces and recovery lengths.  But today it's no nonsense Jack Daniels taken straight, no chaser.

The disadvantages of training solo become apparent during a workout like this. Warming up I feel a bit negative.  'it's warmer this morning than it's been, it's windy, I don't feel that good.'  The usual distance runner whining.  This time of year, as championship season begins, we're especially on edge, believing everything should be feeling perfect.  Today I'm putting the workout on an undeservedly high pedestal; as I begin the first rep, I sort of feel like I'm climbing up to a gallows.

The guy mowing the grass around the track has flooded his engine and I smell gas every time I run the curve.  The first interval usually feels off because your body still needs to warm up.  I run it in 2:42.7, on the low end of the 2:42 - 2:45 range I should be in.  Most of the time I can execute a workout without too much mental agony - focusing on the current rep and not the rest of the workout.  But today I'm being negative.  On the second and third thousands I run 2:43 and 2:43, @StilinIt but not feeling good.  Usually the halfway point serves as a nice mental checkpoint but today the workout is half empty rather than half full.

Hubris attacks on the fourth interval.  Somewhere during the second lap I start letting up.  These thousands require sharp focus literally the entire time, and the slow down snowballs when I check my 800 split at 2:15, five seconds off.  I start thinking about ending the whole thing as I finish in 2:50.

If you go off to die, then take us, too,
to face all things with you; but if your past
still lets you put your hope in arms, which now
you have put on, then first protect this house.

Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 2, lines 914-7

For the next couple minutes I wage a mental war with myself.  Had my coach been there he would have pulled me off the track.  If I end the workout now, my confidence will be shattered leading into important races.  If I try to go on, I'll most likely continue dying and end up feeling worse.  But there's a chance I could sack up and salvage the thing.  I reach a compromise: I'll run 800 of the next rep, on pace, in spikes, and see how I feel.  I beat my chest, let out a war cry that echoes off the casino across the street, and go for it.

The internal soliloquy of recovery period four is for me the pinnacle of the workout and perhaps the entire season.  Reaching such a low mental and physical point and rebounding motivates me.  I'm a touch slow halfway through the fifth interval when I start feeling good again.  I decide to run all thousand of it as I come through 800, still slow, in 2:14.  I speed up and finish with 2:44.  Suddenly I'm almost there, just one rep separating me and the 200's which are just icing on the cake anyway.  I sense the end of the set and run the last one in 2:41, my fastest split.

Nothing changed in my body from that fourth agonizing interval to the last one.  The 2:50 outlier was a product of my mentality.  This isn't an isolated incident: two weeks ago I ran an outlying 2:10 on the fourth 800 of a set of six, the other five averaging 2:04.  And my last two races at Stanford and Oxy had slower fourth kilometers.  Anyone can open well and I'm able to close well, sensing the finish.  But it's that portion of the work - that third quarter - that seems to get me.  It's like traveling from far away, coming around the bend and finally seeing home and being reinvigorated.  Only the trees were in the way.

Today I was shown, by the workout, that it's in the tank.  No matter how hard it is, I have to take the chance and continue working during that third quarter phase.  In the form of a race it will mean going with the leaders after 3k, something I failed to do at Oxy.  I have to trust that instinct will take me home to the finish.  As I put the final preparations in for USA's I'm confident in my strength and toughness, and being aware of my ability to rally, no matter how hard it gets, is valuable knowledge.

1 comment:

  1. Again, this is great writing--it's personal, thoughtuf, contains the seeds of compelling narrative---the hero's journey.