On December 8, sometime around 9 a.m., I crossed the Walnut Creek Half Marathon finish line boasting a new PR and looking like a total goober.
December 8, sometime around 9 a.m., was — until last week — also the last time I tried to run hard.
OK: I’ve done one half-assed track workout, and I’ve thrown in some strides every so often just to remember that I have another gear. But my January running reset required taking all the pressure off, and that meant ignoring speed and just getting outside.
Training with TAG, though, means getting back on the track. I missed our first session while on the East Coast for work, so when I rejoined the group last week, I was hopping right into our benchmark workout: the two-mile time trial.
I could not tell you my exact 5K PR without looking it up, but I can produce my results from last year’s two-mile time trial in a heartbeat — the total and the mile splits. Why? Because I was so frustrated with how I ran it. I’d run my 5K PR less than two weeks before, then showed up on the track and ran 8:36 and 8:36 — both slower than any mile I ran during that 5K. I remember fuming at 17:12, and fuming at how ridiculous it was to be fuming at 17:12, which I would have considered a decent time had I not run — wait, looking it up — a semi-hilly 26:04 5K 10 days earlier.
I was pretty new to running on the track then — especially for any substantial distance — and I was definitely new to running without headphones, and I know both of those things got to me psychologically. This year, I’m slightly more comfortable hearing my breathing — and I know a bit better how hard I can run and still be upright at the end. With three months away from tough running, I wasn’t sure I could beat that 17:12, but I knew I could run something more representative of my fitness than I had last year.
Since it was my first track workout with the group this year, I didn’t know who ran what pace; I didn’t have a rabbit in mind. But less than 100 meters into the first lap, I found myself one lane over and a couple of steps behind a girl in Nike Tempos running a tough but comfortable pace. As much as I tried to focus my energy on my own running, I couldn’t ignore the fact that we were basically matching strides.
One of our coaches was calling out splits at every lap, and I clocked the first one at 2:00 exactly. Hm. That wasn’t going to work for 7 more laps, so I tried to reel it in just a bit without losing all intensity (which can be a problem for me on the track; somewhere in the third lap I’ll realize I’m thinking about dinner and composing a work email instead of remembering to run hard). The word “controlled” popped into my head, and I focused on that for the next three laps — be controlled. Know that you’re running hard, but also know you could run harder. How’s my breathing? Controlled. How’s my form? Controlled.
First mile in 8:20, and I was still with the girl in the Tempos.
I knew then that I’d beat last year’s time unless I absolutely dogged the second mile, and I relaxed a little — too much, though, because the next lap clocked in at 2:10. I wanted a negative split, and that meant I only had 10 more seconds to play with over the next three laps — as much time as I’d put on in one 400! Time to go harder.
Lap 6. Still controlled but starting to feel it. Uh-oh, is the girl in the Tempos slowing down? Am I losing my rabbit? Time to make a move; I scooted around her on the second curve. Missed the time call at the end of the lap but I knew it was faster; it had to be faster.
Lap 7. Oh, the sweat. It was a cool night, but even in shorts and a tank top I could feel the sweat dripping into my eyes. I imagined steam rising off my head. — or maybe I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it was happening. That’s OK. Push a little more. Footsteps behind me — oh hey! Tempos! I hear the lap at :35 — could that possibly be right?
Lap 8. Now I’m feeling it. Can I kick? Get around the curve — you hate curves, it’s OK, focus on the trees on the straightaway. Don’t look around. Stay with Tempos. Crap, she’s ahead, she’s away. Way away. It’s OK, just keep this pace. Last curve. Last half of the last curve. Stride this out. Tempos just finished. It’s OK. You got it. All the way to the coaches — just reach for it.
Second mile: 8:17.
The girl in the Tempos and I do the mutual-admiration thing — the “I was running fast because of you!” “No, I was running fast because of YOU!” thing, the “Damn, you smoked me at the end —” “— yeah, but I never would have tried a first mile that fast without you!” thing. I love this part of group training, finding people who can push me, people I might also be pushing without knowing it.
The next morning, I hurt — I hurt from running for the first time since I woke up on December 9. My glutes, my quads, my hip flexors. I’m that kind of sore that only comes from trying. That kind that sucks but is also wonderful, because it means I fought, I didn’t give in.
I’ll see you again in a couple of months, 16:37. I’m back now. I’m ready for this. And it feels awesome.