Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Has Anybody Seen Fall Weather and My Pace?

Once upon a time, in a strange little hamlet in Northeastern Pennsylvania...
I wake up this morning, look out the window after hearing the rain pounding on the house all night long, and see that it's snowing. I truly believe that I'm still asleep, because, you know, it's October and it doesn't snow in October. I rub my eyes, look out the window again, and realize it is indeed snowing. And sleeting. And pouring rain.

I turn on the TV, at the exact moment the local weather guy is saying (a wee bit too enthusiastically), "There are wind gusts of up to 50 MPH out there, knocking down trees and power lines."

"Awesome," I think, as I'm digging around in the abyss of my running clothes, trying to find anything remotely warm. Waterproof would be a bonus, but alas, I don't own anything that fancy.
It is my peak week of marathon training. Skipping today's speed workout isn't an option.
So I head out and get some very odd looks from the locals, who are peering out their windows from their kitchen tables...warm, dry, and sipping hot coffee. I am insanely jealous.
After warming up and doing some strides, I begin to turn into a human popsicle. So I figure I need to just get it over with. I am fantasizing about dry clothes as the wind is making the icy precipitation fall horizontally, as well as making me feel as though I'm running in place. I can no longer feel my feet, legs, arms, or face. I'm pretty sure my ears and nose fell off during the second and third strides. So I just take off.
The purpose of this workout is to hit two miles at 7:45 pace, then switch gears to a 7:00 for the third mile. After a four-minute recovery, repeat it, then warm down. Success of the workout is defined as sticking to the paces -- going faster is not better.
Mile 1 -- 7:15 (oops. conscious effort to slow down....)
Mile 2 -- 7:29 (better but still not great, so I think for a second about not picking it up for the 3rd mile in favor of trying to find the elusive 7:45, but then I think that I shouldn't, so I try to pick it up as the wind nearly blows me right into a cornfield...)
Mile 3 -- 7:15

4 min. recovery -- uhhhh...shivering...must start running again...freezing...thinking about running slower...

Mile 1 -- 7:21
Mile 2 -- 7:31 (I honestly thought this one would be right at 7:45. I even had to stop for a few seconds to fend off a random dog. I was wrong.)
Mile 3 -- 7:12

I cut the warm down a few minutes short. I figured that because I'm violently shaking at this point, it might behoove me to get out of the elements as quickly as possible.

So, here I am a hours later, wrapped in several layers of fleece ala the little kid in "A Christmas Story" (when he's so bundled up that he can't put his arms down), drinking and eating anything hot. And the only thought that keeps popping into my head is that this is a frightening sneak preview of what training for Boston is going to be like all winter long. Ohmygod. Where is the treadmill fairy? Serious thoughts going on about my next relocation...

And that is the tale of a workout gone awry. Stay tuned to find out if the girl ever finds her pace and lives happily ever after.


Friday, October 10, 2008

On the Right Track

Every couple of weeks I find myself staring down that large oval in a local park--the white lane lines, the orange rubbery surface, the grassy green football field in the middle, and the silver metal bleachers lining each side. 

It's on that track there where I doubt myself most. Ironically, it is also where, week after week, I prove to myself that I am a different person--a different runner--than I was just six months ago.

When I arrive, I slowly start jogging around the surrounding neighborhoods to warm up, gingerly weaving my way up and down the steep side streets of Bangor, PA, where my father grew up. I can't help but think about him on those days. My route, after all, takes me right past the cemetery where he rests, past the headstone that marks his grave, where I said goodbye to him nearly 21 years ago. 

But it's never sadness that overwhelms me when I'm making my way back to the track. It's a renewed sense of the discipline, strength, and courage he infused in me so long ago. I enter the gates ready to give it my best shot, shuffling through one more mile to get my legs ready, and a few short strides to prep them for the workout ahead.

And then I take a deep breath through my nose, let it out through my mouth, and hit "start" on my watch. I take off. My heart begins racing as fast as my legs, the sweat inevitably pours, my breathing is deep and loud and labored. It is uncomfortable. And I know that it will only get more difficult from here. My internal voice--that alter ego who is constantly questioning why?--starts telling me to quit, that it hurts, that it's not worth it. 

I tell her to shut up.

There is work to be done here and it's hard, lonely work. Everybody has that voice, I know, that whispers that it's okay to let yourself off the hook. Everybody faces that choice of whether to listen to it or forge ahead, confident that you won't come face-to-face with the disappointment and regret that is sure to follow giving up.

And I take off again. Seven times I run 1000 meters, consistently hitting my target time, recovering for 200 meters between each interval, fending off that annoying girl inside who relentlessly begs me to stop.

As I round that last curve, head for that last straightaway, and hit that last finish line, I've completed a task that an hour earlier seemed nearly impossible. I am relieved. I am also exhausted, thirsty, hungry, smelly, and sore. However, more than anything, I am happy. It's the kind of happiness reserved for when you have achieved something that didn't come easily, but in your heart you knew all along was worth the struggle.

With many more miles and trials ahead, I know it's not the last time that kind of joy will be mine.