Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Coming Home and Back on Track

As tough as the training was when I was on a running schedule, training upwards of 50 miles per week for shorter races, I thoroughly enjoyed the hard schedule. The different runs, particularly the speed workouts, felt more like puzzles and games, rather than insufferable sessions. They were often character-building workouts, where some sort of challenge pressed me to dig deeper than I had previously. While I think the tempo workouts on the road were probably what strengthened me the most and helped me to become prepared for race season, my favorite workout of the week was the track workout.
This excitement usually the night before, as I lay out my clothes and prepared myself mentally for the challenge the next day: 5 x 1 miles, 8 x 800, 20 x 400m, or some sort of mix. I had developed enough familiarity with my pacing that even though I was doing the workouts by myself, I knew what times to hit, and how to not bomb a workout completely by going too fast. And the victories that came from these track workouts only could compare to race day magic. I often had graduate classes a couple of hours after those workouts, and any challenges I faced in school, or in meetings with my professors, felt so much achievable after knocking out hard miles on the track.
I don't think I've mentioned it on here, but I've signed up for the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon in September. While I have been running over 13 miles for a while, it has been over 4 years since I last raced a half marathon. And although I haven't been training as seriously as I was a few years ago, I wanted to sign up for a longer race to see how close I could get to my PR (1:32:33). So, the race now is just under 2 months away, and although I've been using some of these races as speed workouts, if I really want to knock at the sub 1:34 door (I think that's my main goal), I need to get back on track, literally. So, I thought I'd go back and dig up some of the golden oldies: the workouts that got me into shape and stretched me as a distance runner.
 I'm so fortunate to have so many colleges nearby, and American University is just a couple of miles away with a great track. The last time I actually ran on this track was over four years ago when I broke 6 minutes for the first time in the mile. And, more importantly, the last time I had set foot on a track, period, for any workout was April 2014. If it sounds like a long time - it is - I had a different name then! Needless to say, there was some trepidation about getting back onto it. Objectively, I'm not at that fitness level anymore, and while I'd like to think I can get back to it, it'll take some time.
The workout I came up with was 3 x 1 mile, followed by 4 x 400 meters. I would take a lap to recover after each mile, and half a lap after each 400. As excited as I was about getting back on the track, I clearly wasn't automatically in track-mode - I totally forgot my flats! While I had spent the first few years of running track workouts wearing trainers, I totally got used to wearing flats and feeling super light and fast. I needed to keep that in mind when I toed the line - it was possible that I might be slower because of both the physical and psychological attachment I've had to the speed race shoes.
And as if no time had passed, I was toeing the line, and that familiar feeling of excitement came back as I mentally said "bang" and took off! Oh it felt so good to be tearing around that oval again, and while it was clear that my speed needed some development, it's like riding a bicycle - you just don't forget how to do it. All of those memories came back, and while it took more energy both physical and mental to click off the laps, I got it done: 6:54, 6:40, 6:39. Clearly I need to recall my old pacing strategies (the goal was to knock off 5-7 seconds per interval), but the leg speed was there. It definitely took more effort than I remembered, but I'm sure it will become easier with time. Muscle memory, right? And then to stimulate my legs in a different way, I did a set of 400s - which just took a lot of grit and determination: 1:37, 1:33: 1:32, 1:34. Overall, this was a good first effort back and a reminder that A) the cumulative training over the years makes a big difference and B) While I can certainly call on those cumulative miles, I still need to put in the hard work now.
Feeling pleased to have both writing and running on the right track these days!

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