The chances of a successful workout were slim. After all, my track record wasn’t exactly stellar.
No, literally. The track and I are on the fritz.
With a marathon looming a short five weeks away, I should have had a solid four or five speed workouts under my belt already. Instead, I had one: hill repeats. The workout marked the official kickoff to marathon training and my first dalliance with any kind of speedwork since the spring racing season. A summer of injury-riddled 50K training effectively bulldozed any quickness I had acquired at the beginning of the year. Ultramarathons do not a sprinter make. Neither do guerrilla IT bands.
Nevertheless, with bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimism, I embarked on a very straightforward, very doable, get-back-in-the-saddle hill workout: a three-mile warm-up followed by six two-minute hill repeats (jogging the downhill rests). The workout went swimmingly, even though I miscalculated how much time I had before work and arrived wet-haired and red-faced. (And let’s not talk about the incriminating back sweat that soaked my shirt despite an ice cold shower.)
One month later, it was still my only workout of the season.
Don’t get me wrong: I tried to follow my training schedule. The next week called for sixteen quarters at 5K pace. I was exhausted and slightly nauseated (which had nothing to do with the batch of brownie batter I had eaten earlier that morning). I ran six quarters before my stomach threatened revolt. But the real stinker? I ran those six quarters at half marathon pace. Slower, even. My legs wouldn’t go any faster. I bagged the workout and called it a day.
It was awful.
The next week, I returned to the track for redemption. I spent the entire day—and, really, a good portion of the day before—filled with dread. I was tired. I was uninspired. And while I’d like to think that, despite a tremendous disinclination to run the workout, I remained resolute, in reality, I wasn’t so much determined as I was obligated.
You know the feeling. The schedule calls for something unpleasant—like a pace run or a track workout—and instead of rising to the occasion, you experience a negative knee-jerk reaction. I call it the “Automatic Third Out” mentality: Bases loaded. Two outs. And stepping up to the plate is… the pitcher.
Of course there’s always a chance the pitcher will knock it out of the ballpark. But let’s be real here. The chance is slimmer than the jeans at an Arcade Fire concert.
As you can imagine, I struck out looking. This time I ran one lap around the track—one—before I surrendered.
You guys. One.
Honestly, I felt exhausted. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. I couldn’t bring myself to push the pace. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to push my body through a hard effort. I just didn’t have it.
That was, and remains to this day, my only excuse. I didn’t have it.
It’s not like my training had been super from the start. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that my previous eighteen-mile long run was punctuated by heavy legs and stomach cramping, inspiring the less-than-desirable description “Diarrhea Elephant.”
Yeah. Tell me about it.
By the time the third failed workout rolled around, I was panicked. Things weren’t working out between the track and me. The spark was gone. We weren’t communicating. And I’m pretty sure the track was seeing other runners. Disheartened but not entirely despondent, I returned to my faithful companion: hill repeats.
You can do this! I told myself as I ran my way to the bottom of the behemoth hill leading up to our house. Pull yourself together. Don’t look at your watch. Who cares if you’re tired? Go on effort. Run hard. Suck it up. Just do it. I dished out running clichés like breadsticks at Olive Garden.
I did one two-minute hill repeat. And then I stopped and walked home. One.
Wait. Can you even call it a repeat if you only do one? There’s no “repeat” when you only do one. A repeat needs two. Otherwise, it’s just, “I ran up a hill.” Heck, I didn’t even run up the whole hill. I ran uphill for two minutes. And then I stopped. And walked home. And drowned my pathetic little hill sorrows in a bowl of brownie batter.
It’s a vicious cycle, folks.
Ironically, all of my failed workouts were solo efforts. I knew I was mentally weak going into each of them. I knew I was physically tired. I knew I was flirting with defeat even before I took my first step. Yet I attempted each one on my own, with no support cast.
A slow learner I am.
You would think that after spending the past two years writing Powered By Hope and witnessing the power Teri’s Army—not to mention experiencing first hand the power of the running buddy through thousands of miles with Jake, Seth, Chris, and the rest of the posse—I would have called for backup earlier. I’m always preaching about the running community, about lifting each other up, about sharing defeats and celebrating victories, about dragging each other—kicking and screaming—across finish lines and start lines. We need each other. We weren’t made to be alone. I preach it all the time.
Obviously, I like to fail repeatedly before I listen to my own advice.
“Please come with me!” I begged my sister last Thursday. “I have a track workout. I need someone there. Run whatever pace you want—I just need someone there. I'm gonna shoot for twelve quarters—“ I had lowered my standards by that point—“but even if I do eight I’ll be happy. I just need to do something. Even if they’re slow.”
She went with me. I didn’t run twelve quarters. I ran sixteen. And I didn’t run 5K pace. I ran faster.
Because, as Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock said, it takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it outta sight.
This weekend called for one of Coach Cary’s famous couplets: back-to-back long runs, with the second long run at race pace. Despite the successful track workout, I was nervous. My batting average was still low. I made a plan: On Sunday, I would run sixteen solo miles. But on Monday… I would call in reinforcements. Because, to quote Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock once more, I wanna rock right now.
So how did it go?
I’d like to take this moment to thank the academy and Chris Leonard, who carried me through all sixteen gut-it-out miles.
Faster than race pace.
If you're struggling, don't run into battle alone. Call in reinforcements. Because, sometimes, it takes two to make a thing go ri-ight. It takes two to make it outta sight.