The track was angry that day, my friends.
Jake (the Mr. Speedy Pants) and I were assailed by rain and wind as we walked across the parking lot toward the track. We cut the niceties of speed work that day. I didn’t sit on the bleachers and change my shoes or pull a towel and water bottle from my gym bag and create a mid-workout care kit. Jake simply popped open his umbrella and walked to the start line while I ran an abbreviated warm-up.
And then, the workout began.
On the menu that afternoon: quarter-mile repeats at 5K pace with sixty-second rests. Specifically, twenty quarter-mile repeats at 5K pace with sixty-second rests. It was the toughest workout I had ever done up to that point, and I wasn’t wildly confident in my ability to finish it, at least not at goal pace.
At the halfway point, I wanted to quit. Fifteen laps in, my quads threatened to give out. If not for Jake standing there, yelling encouragement, telling me that I looked strong, I don’t know if I could have finished. But I did. In a test of physical and mental fortitude, I gutted out the infamous “Twenty Quarters in the Rain” workout. It was, at the time, my finest performance.
Eight years later, otherwise known as last Wednesday, I lugged my reluctant legs around the far turn of a middle school track, struggling not to lose more ground than I’d already lost in the first two hundred meters. It had been raining on and off all day, but now the precipitation was steady. I was soaked. And tired. And slow. I didn’t feel like running anymore. I thought about that gloomy yet glorious afternoon.
C’mon, chump! I told myself. You’ve run thousands of miles since then. If you could gut out twenty quarters in the rain when you didn’t even know what you were doing, surely you can run this workout.
But I couldn’t. I had gone into the workout with a minimum goal of sixteen repeats at 5K pace. If I were feeling good, I’d run twenty.
I wasn’t feeling good, so I ran sixteen. And I missed my goal pace on every single one of those sixteen laps. More than that, I ran every single one of those sixteen laps at a slower pace than I ran the twenty quarters eight years ago. In fact, it was the slowest track workout I’d ever run. Ever.
And this time, it wasn’t even raining that hard.
Eight years of hard work. Eight years of training. Eight years and thousands of miles and countless races and what do I get? A demotion, that’s what. A demotion from “Twenty Quarters in the Rain” to “Sixteen Quarters in a Drizzle.”
This phenomenon, of course, confirms what I’ve suspected all along: running is dumb.
I threw a plastic trash bag over the seat of my car before I climbed in. Wiping my face with a towel, I recapped the workout, one torturous lap at a time. I couldn’t even console myself with the reassurance that the workout had been an anomaly, an outlier in a series of stellar runs. No, for the past couple of months, I had been ordering my runs direct from the factory of mediocrity.
And with that workout, I joined the platinum buyer’s club and got free shipping on all future orders.
It’s a strange thing to feel as though you are losing ground. It’s even stranger when you’re not quite sure how it happened.
We all have our “lost ground” moments in life. In running. In training. In weight management. In careers. In relationships. In faith. It happens. Sometimes it’s the result of something outside of our control. Other times we can trace a contributing trail back to a choice or two. Either way, it happens. Progress isn’t linear. Sometimes we move forward, sometimes we fall back, and sometimes we spend (seeming) eternities on a plateau. Progress is cyclical: succeeding and failing and learning and succeeding and failing and learning some more.
What do I need to do to finish this workout?
What do I need to change so that this doesn’t happen next week?
How can I make better training decisions? Eating decision? Sleeping decisions?
How can I spin this negative experience into something positive? Motivating, even?
If my “Twenty Quarters in the Rain” workout represented all the glory of perseverance, my “Sixteen Quarters in a Drizzle” represented all the dredging along the way.
And, after all, it’s the nonlinear nature of progress that demands perseverance in the first place.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.