Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Mill Of Dread

Late Sunday night, I took a look at my schedule for the week ahead. The words “rest week” rested on top of the page next to a very small number in total hours for the next 7 days. A celebratory dance was in order. But nothing too wild – after all, it was rest week and when in rest week one must do like the resters do – and rest.

Just when I thought it was looking good, just when I got started on my low intensity happy dance, I noticed something on Tuesday. Something that just didn’t look right. And that’s when I realize I had been bamboozled. Next to “rest week” were the words “test week”. Two words so close, separated by one consonant, one making me think “thank god”, the other making me think “dear god”.

But it didn’t stop there.

I inched closer to my schedule, even squinted. Did a proverbial rub of the eyes and took a good hard look. It was worse than I thought because I never thought I would read the words “time trial” and “treadmill” in the same sentence but lo and behold there they were. 30 minutes, max effort, on the mill of dread.

Max test on the treadmill? Are you kidding? Who’s behind this? The fingers pointed directly at my coach, a recent anti-treadmill turned pro-treadmill convert herself.

“It will give you pop, it will make you stronger,” she said to me on the phone last week.

As much as I wanted to believe, I was skeptical. You see, the treadmill represents winter weakness in oh so many ways. Good old Midwestern girls bulk up in their balaclavas, gloves, fleece mittens, fleece tights, jogbras, turtlenecks, polar vests underneath polar jackets, wool socks, and top it off with an ear-flapped hat. Yes, this is my standard winter running outfit. And it does look ridiculous. And if perchance you are left standing inside dressed like this for more than 1 minute you risk combustion via your own body heat.

But that kind of get-up just won’t do for a max effort test. And 14 degrees with a minus 7 degree windchill won’t do either. So it was time to head indoors.

My plan of indoor max test attack was simple – get to the gym before 4:30 pm, before it exploded in a greedy mess of treadmill hogs and gym rats. I arrive right on time, choose my treadmill, and board for a painful ride.

I warm up to the flow of the treadmill, the monotonous sound of the belt, settle into the sound of music in my headphones (note: indoor runs ALWAYS require music). Then something breaks through what almost feels like silence to me. Two women, probably in their 60’s, have boarded the two treadmills to my right. The woman next to me starts programming her machine.

“Would you look at this, my heart rate is at xxx,” she says with concern in her voice. Uh-oh. I didn’t want her to think her heart rate was on the verge of exploding, so I politely informed her that her treadmill was picking up my heart rate.

“Well good thing,” she said, relieved, “because if my heart rate was at xxx they’d have to carry me out of here.”

I laughed, but figured I should warn her of what was ahead. It was going to get worse than xxx. Much worse. Like xxxxxx worse.

“I’m going to be running faster for awhile, so the heart rate number is going to go up,” I explained. Not sure how far up it would go or how far freaked out she might, I added, “really far up, it’s going to get ugly.”

She seemed satisfied but still it becomes a heated conversation with her friend. They begin talking about the cross talk from my heart rate monitor in a way that makes it sounds like the worst thing in the world, in the way that only two women in their 60’s can do, in a way that makes the treadmill sound like the most useless, ignorant piece of crap in the world. Probably very much in the same way they talk about their husbands. They’ve had years of practice in this technique. Again, women in their 60’s are masters at this.

My 30 minute max effort begins. The pace has dropped about 90 seconds and my feet are moving at a ridiculously fast speed. Within 5 minutes, my heart rate has gone up 30 beats and my face is hot.

My neighbor notices this.

“Would you look at that, it says xxxxxx,” she says. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her motioning towards me to point out to her friend look at this idiot on the machine next to us running that fast, going nowhere fast, what the hell is her hurry.

10 minutes into it I wonder if I’ve started too fast. I see the words DO NOT FRY YOURSELF in my training log written as a fair warning from my coach. I wonder if I am frying myself. 30 minutes is a long, long time.

And it’s non-stop. There’s no coasting on the treadmill. And you know what I mean. Outdoors, you get a little downhill, you get a push from the tailwind. Indoors – nothing. Not even a fan. Which explains why my head is dripping in sweat and my hair feels like a hot rag slapping my back every other step.

15 minutes, I’m halfway there. My music is cranked so loud that I fear if I have to repeat this test every month I may just be deaf by the end of the season. But at least it’s drowning out the conversation next to me.

Which has just gotten back to me. “Will you look at that, she’s up to xxxxxxxx,” neighbor says, again pointing at me. Like there’s anyone else around running like a freakin’ gerbil on a wheel and sweating like an ape.

”She’s running xxxxx miles per hour,” she announces. Really, am I missing something? Did my competition send these two women here to keep a watchful eye on me and relay my stats as I went along? Do they know my coach?

The ipod has to go up one notch louder. And I kick up the pace 1 notch faster.

18 minutes and there is no way I can keep this up. The incline feels like I’m climbing the Alps, the heat is stifling, and my feet are starting to burn. I wonder if the machine has ever been pushed like this. I wonder if I’ve ever been pushed like this. I’ve done my share of hard, fast running. But this, this is different. It doesn’t let up. It doesn’t fluctuate. It’s the same damn pace over and over again. Even at a track your pace fluctuates depending on the turns and the wind. But this – this is relentless.

But I’ll beat this machine. This mill of dread. I’ll show it just how tough I can tread.

21 mintues into it and I want off. NOW. I wonder if I could just sneak in a little break. You know, drop the incline .5 percent. I consider it. NO. Just a little break. NO. Just a tiny rest to catch my breath, to regroup myself. NO NO NO. Must keep going. Must beat this machine.

At 25 minutes I start bargaining with myself. I love this point in a workout. Where part of your mind steps to the side to talk to the other side of your mind. Tangled in a debate of rational vs. irrational, mind vs. body. You try to convince yourself it’s ok to give up a little even though your other half knows that it is not ok. In this case, I made a compromise with myself. I give myself permission to take a sip of my water bottle every minute which quickly becomes dripping water on my face every minute.

At 27 minutes things take a turn for the better. 3 minutes to go – totally within control, totally manageable. But still totally nauseating.

Finally, 30 minutes arrives. I quickly jump off the machine. I feel like throwing up. My body is unable to rid itself of the lactic acid quickly enough, my stomach is queasy, I want to heave. In all of my years of running, all of the races and paces, I have never felt that. Never. Except that one time last year on the track when I felt like I was leaving my body. But that was different.

I head upstairs to cool down on the indoor track. Afterwards, I had to take a seat. I can’t remember the last time I sat down after a workout – or even a race – but damn it felt good. And it took me a minute to gather myself. It was like the moment in San Diego when I stopped while climbing Mount Soleded to gather my thoughts. Or, as Chris said, to pee myself. As I sat on the bench, my feet tingled, my stomach hurt, my eyes glazed. I did not, however, pee myself.

I was done. I walked back into the locker room and noticed something as I walked by the mirror. My face had completely broken out in heat rash with red circles under my eyes.

Excellent.

And so that was this month’s rest week max run test. In another 4 weeks or so, I’m sure I’ll be put to the test again. I’ll board the mill of dread for another half hour of heaveworthy fun. But until then, it’s not so much where I’m at right now – the numbers, the pace, the feeling – but where I’m going. And honestly, I can’t wait to do it again to see where I’ve gone in another month.


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