To me, track is like church.
You go to make peace. You go to make penance.
When you’ve been running since you were very young, running becomes like religion. It feels good. Doesn’t matter if you just ran the slowest mile of your life. If it feels good, it is good. And there need be no proof. All that technology, GPS and heart rate monitors….opiate for the masses. Sometimes you just need to…run.
I still remember when I was 9 years old, my stepdad took me running from our home on East 52nd Street to my grandmother’s home on Quentin Road. Realistically this was probably less than 2 miles. To a young child, this was like hiking the Inca Trail.
Long, and most definitely at altitude.
That was my first introduction to running. I liked it. And he let me eat Cheerios after the run. I liked Cheerios. From there, I liked running. As I got older, I realized that running was the least skilled of all sports. Anyone could run. I was hopeless with a ball. Yes, I had track hands. Like there was a giant hole in my hands that a ball would fall right through.
That is, if my hands were not protecting my face for fear of being hit by that ball.
In high school I ran cross country and track. Truth be told I was in it for the jacket that signified I might look like I’m 12 but dammit I’m in high school! To my surprise I wasn’t that bad. But I wasn’t that good either. There were girls on our team running miles in 5:03.
I was still on lap 3.
But what I took away from that – varsity letters or not – was a sport I could do (hopefully) for life. A love for setting goals. And a tremendous respect for the track. I don’t go there unless someone commands it. I don’t go there to just run any workout. You go there to bring it, to hurt, to throw up in your mouth.
Tuesday it was time for track. My last experience on the track was a few months ago and it was disastrous. I got about 2 laps into a 2400m and the entire sixth grade descended screaming and running toward the track. Upon reaching the track one of the students then politely pointed out to all 100 of them SHE IS WEARING A BRA! Yes, I was and yes I was also wearing shorts but when you are up to your eyeballs in lactic acid the last thing you want is….to hear that and the screams of all those overly hormonal junior high kids (I have already told Chris we are shipping our children off between the ages of 12 and 15). So I abandoned the effort around 1600 into it when I had just had enough of dodging sixth graders running toward me in lane 1.
Plus the pace was not great. Confessional: I abandoned the effort because I also gave up. There is no need to keep running at a pace 10 seconds off per 800 on the track. Like someone might as well have been shouting in my ear: YOU ARE SLOW! Rightfully so, the past few months my running has felt off. As a runner, you just know when your running is not right. I was at a workshop with Bobby McGee a few weeks ago and I had to laugh when he was talking about when an athlete needs to work on their run. He said “when you just know”. I chuckled and thought he’s one of us. A runner. He knows that you know when you know that your running is just not right.
So now that I knew – what to do? I realized I need to get back to what I know works with my run. Hill repeats, mile repeats, long runs with purpose, race pace bricks…all the stuff that hurts. REALLY hurts. Like you can’t hide from it hurt.
Alas this week it was time for track.
I woke up Tuesday morning to pouring rain and 40 degrees. Checked the calendar, uh-huh, June 1st, looked out the window and wondered if I slept through summer this year and forgot to turn the calendar page.
Or, about 3 calendar pages.
No. No, it is close to summer and yes I might just have to wear gloves to the track. The good thing about going when it’s pouring rain is that you don’t have to worry about the entire sixth grade descending on the track. The bad thing is that there is no cover. It is like you're running with someone pouring a bucket over you the entire time.
Within 2 laps I was soaking wet.
And damn cold! Sure the temperature had warmed up to…49 @($(*@#$&(*&#!!!degrees but it didn’t help. And the gloves weren’t really helping. BECAUSE THEY WERE SOAKING WET!
I did my warm up and a few strides. Then it was time to enter lane 1.
Lane 1. Forgive me for it has been over 2 months since my last track….
I really don’t understand how a flat surface can collect puddles but there were puddles all over lane 1. Enter really thin race flats and I might as well have been barefoot. As I rounded the first lap of my first 800 a north wind hit me in the face and made me thinking running wall for the next 100m might just be easier.
I finished the first 800 in a time that was not good but it was not bad. I could taste a million salty thoughts of frustration and what is wrong with me entering my mouth but then said you know what…shut up. Just stop it. It is pouring rain and 49 degrees and your second time on track this year. And you’re going to set a personal best?
Don’t be greedy.
And for the love of god: JUST DO THE WORK out there.
I did a 400 next. Let me just say I think I have one fiber of fast twitch in my legs. The one fiber that helped me break my goal time by 1 little second. The next 800 I pushed it. I figured why not. How hard would you have to go to go really hard? And do you even know how to go hard anymore? I realized I do not. Because as I rounded the last 100m curve I found the hurt. You know this hurt? Where it feels like you are digging deep from your stomach which starts to churn and you just want to close your ears to the sound of your breathing? That was hard. And it still wasn’t that fast but it was faster than the first one. And two seconds below my goal time.
All right another 400. What do you know it turns out I have two fast twitch fibers in my leg good for two seconds.
I realize the rain is pouring harder now. I look at the houses behind the track and wonder if they see me what they will think. Commitment? Crazy?
The last 800 was strong and the final 400 was my fastest. Not super fast but it gave me hope that I was (literally) on the right track.
I started to cool down in lane 8. I put on my wet rain jacket which didn’t help but at least I was no longer the crazy girl running in the pouring rain in a bra. And that is good because as I finished lap 3 the entire sixth grade started running toward the track.
No joke. They were wearing rain ponchos.
During the cool down, I thought to myself: I am a better athlete because I did this workout. Better mentally, physically. Better because I ignored the weather and focused on the task at hand. Better because I faced the fear. There has been a lot of fear in my running in the past few months. Fear of what if I can’t do that, fear of why, what, how…..This is my confessional on the track: I’ve been scared. I stay away from the track and timed courses when I am scared and unsure. It is time to face myself on the track. The track never lies. You run the 400 you have a time. That time is either fast or slow.
The time for me right now is ok. I told myself that a lot of athletes would kill to run these splits. I need to be more grateful. Have some gratitude for where you are at right now and know that it’s a better place than where many others are at. Sometimes we are too critical of ourselves. When you are too critical you always fail. When you always fail you can never build up toward success.
(let us pray)...that I continue to find my freakin’ run legs! I know they are in there. I saw glimpses of them on track. It’s all about turnover and just getting after it. Oh yeah it hurts. But it is a good hurt. And nothing that a little ice bath afterwards can’t take care of. Ice bath. Ice is like an opiate too.
But legal with the WADA.