Thursday, August 07, 2008

Unwritten

The other night I ran at track club.

Track club meets at a local college. It’s been going on for years. In fact, my first foray into the sport was at Wednesday night track practice back in 1999. Locally it would attract top athletes such as Jenny Marine, Mark Bush and Mary Knisley. I would watch them run laps around the track, fluid and focused and hope one day I could run the same.

After several years away, I decided to return to track club this year. Funny because a lot of the same faces were still running there. Not only had the people endured but even the routine was the same. Warm up, everybody “gathers ‘round” at the cue, race results are reported, the workout is given and then they break up into 3 to 4 groups.

I had always run in group 2. Either leading or chasing someone at front. This year I decided to step it up a notch – run with group 1. Now understand that group 1 is filled with everyone from fast to sick fast. I thought I might at least have a chance of hanging on with the fast guys and keep the gap to the sick fast guys to a minimum. I had nothing to lose other than, well, probably my lunch and everything to gain in the form of self-confidence.

A few times it worked, a few times it didn’t work. And then I stopped going to track. Not sure why but the schedule didn’t permit so it’s been about 6 weeks since I was last at track. Since then there had been good runs, ok runs, not so good runs and downright bad runs. So this week I wasn’t sure how I would run. I wasn’t sure if I was really prepared for group 1 at the track.

Track meets around 6 pm. Understandably I was getting kind of tired before track. This happens a lot. Maybe it’s the time of day but I believe it is my body’s way of trying to weasel out of the work. Sure enough I started my warm up and felt slow confirming that maybe indeed yes after all I am tired. Don’t expect much. Call it a day. In fact, I found myself writing the ending to the workout before it even began. I found myself writing an e-mail to coach about why running 3 times a week really wasn’t working. I’m getting slow. I need to run more. I’ll tell you how I need to run.

It was around lap 3 of the warm up coming around by the scoreboard that I literally said to myself…

STOP

What are you doing? You have written the ending to a workout that didn’t even begin? You know how it will go before it has started? If that’s what you’re doing why did you even show up?

I had no good answers for myself.

At that point I realized I had to scrap the ending. It was time to let the workout write itself. How often do we write our own ending before we have even opened the book? And, why? What is so frightening about letting the ending write itself. Because really it has to be about fear – fear of the unknown, fear of what if I really can handle it, fear of what if I become better than what I expected of myself. Would I have the patience and courage to put down the pen and instead let the workout write itself without me scribbling my thoughts on an ending to a run that hadn’t even began?

Speaking of writing, it was also that moment when I thought about something my coach wrote to me. I had asked him about changing a workout this weekend he came back with this:

You are set to have your best 70.3 to date. Keep following the training plan.

That’s when it hit me. To have the best race to date that means all of my workouts leading up to the race were going to be my best to date. In fact, this track practice was going to be my best to date. And I decided it right there – I decided to do it. You are going to have the best track practice to date. You will give it your best otherwise why else would you be here?

We start the first 800. The first set always starts out as one big group to be separated out once done. I find myself hanging between who I know is in group 1 and the front of group 2. But rather than try to bridge up to the next group I play it safe. I keep the effort under control but about half way around I start the negotiations with myself:

This pace is under control.
Why are you running under control?
If I were to pick it up I might not be able to hold it.
You’re right, you’d probably blow up.
But my heart rate is in zone 3.
So then why did you come here if you’re not going to go into zone 5 all out?

Who is saying these thoughts? Sadly I admit it’s myself. I was the author of this crap. For every thought there was a counterthought but putting them all together, reading them back the thoughts didn’t really make much sense. When I finished the 800 I came in at what I would call a usual time and realized my heart rate was pretty low. And that’s when I just had it with myself.

Liz, you did not come to the track to run 800’s and 400’s at 166 bpm. You did not come here to save yourself. You came here to breakthrough and suffer. To dig deep and destroy yourself. To have your best workout to date you are going to have to take a risk, trust your legs and destroy yourself.


Forget the ending that you’ve already written in your head, write a new one, get your favorite pen in hand.

I love my favorite pen.

400 is up next. I go up with group 1 and the pace starts out fast. I know to push a 400 is suicide for the following 800 but I have to take the chance. I bolt in front of some guys and realize I’m going pretty fast. Finish up the 400 strong and realize I have run one of the fastest 400’s I’ve done in quite some time.

Next up. 800. This is where the work is at. Someone says “All set” to which some guys respond “You bet.” Yes, you bet. Me too, I’m set. Coming around the first turn I turn my feet over faster, find my form and then when we hit the 100m mark I bolt ahead. Take control. Lead the pack. Let them chase you. Trust your legs. I hold it, hold it, hit the halfway mark and all I have to do is hang on for one more lap. A guy is breathing on my shoulder but let him suffer and chase. You can hold this and do not look back.

Somewhere in the middle there, maybe around 600 I start to channel the animal. Coach talks to me about the animal. The animal is a part of your training and racing self that does not think in terms of science or consequences. The animal just goes. I kept repeating to myself the animal only looks forward, the animal moves ahead. My eyes focused on something in the distance, it felt like tunnel vision towards the end line.

Each 400 and 800 became more and more like that. Confidence in what I was doing, a knowing that I could take control of the pack and hold the pace. Turning the page before I wrote down my splits or how I felt. Let it go. I'm leading the fast pack. At times it felt like floating. I opened up my stride a bit pushing off further with each step and using my arms. Strong, powerful cue words about my form, my confidence filled my head. Each step was like a leap into a giant risk but finally it had become one I (finally) trusted myself to take.

It came down to the last 400. Two guys were playing silly by trash talking me in fun saying they were reserving their legs to blow by me. Sure enough at the 200 mark one of them bolts ahead. And as he came by me he slowed a little and that’s when I heard myself GO WITH HIM. Who said that? Who cares! And a funny thing happened – no negative questions or thoughts were written about that. No this will hurt, but what if I explode. Sure my legs hurt and the burn was high but so was my confidence. I started to go with him and gave it everything I had. Never did pass him but knowing I could respond to a move was just as fulfilling in the end.

And the outcome – it was my reward for being 100 percent engaged in the process of each set. I didn’t think or read ahead to an ending I already wrote. The last 400 didn’t influence the current 800 and the upcoming 400 wasn’t even in my head. There was no saving my legs or reserving something else. Each one I thought to myself run it like it’s your last one. The outcome was running my fastest set to date. And honestly it wasn’t the physical work that was hard. I know those splits are in my legs. It was getting past myself. How many times are we stuck at a certain level because of an ending we have already written for our self?


And why?

I have many ideas about why but none make complete sense. Perhaps we just fear ourselves, finding out all along that we had it in us. That we’ve suffered through months of ‘slow’ because we were too scared to go fast. Scared to find out the fast was in us all along after all. We go into a workout with times or zones to hit and start writing out 100 reasons why we can’t do that, why our coach is silly for suggesting that or why we’ll have bad workout – yet again.

But what if you leave the pen at home. Or wait until afterwards to write the ending out. Let the story unfold, play by play, mile by mile. Each day as an athlete your mind is like a blank tablet upon which you can write any number of things – positive things, negative things, I can, I can’t. You hold the pen. Sometimes others write notes in there too. Remember - what you choose to read and write is up to you. And when you finally sit down to reflect, write yourself a good ending because you made that ending happen by giving it your best.


Thanks to Candace for sending this to me:
http://www.nsca-lift.org/Perform/articles/070408.pdf

6 comments:

Laura said...

From a lurker who found your blog b/c she knows one of your athletes... This is a fantastic thought-provoking post. Thank you for writing it and being honest!

KayVee said...

This is exactly what I am struggling with myself. I am coming to the realization, rather late in life, that pushing to limits is okay because really, I won't blow up and there may be an ending to the story that I never dreamed of. Thanks for this, and I know exactly how I will run my hill workout tomorrow. Hard.

TriGirl Kate O said...

elf,
Thank you! I'll pass that article along to my training friends. I had that exact experience today--one of my best friends ran with me today. We hadn't run together in a while, but when we do I don't focus on how I feel. I tune out the achy knees, the hot weather, and my slower times. I'm out there enjoying her company and I feel like I could run forever.
Way to push yourself. You'll ROCK Timberman!

Jennifer Cunnane said...

Way to go on the track workout! You have motivated me to try and go for it next time I show up at the track!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I comment rarely but read all the time-love it. This really hit home. Thank you so much for documenting your season the way you have. It's inspiring beyond anything you could imagine! Keep it up : )

Erin Wichtoski in "up north"- WI)
eewichtoski@gmail.com

tri.bassett said...

Best. Post. Ever... I've got it printed out and posted over my desk.

thanks for the inspiring words!