Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts on being "advanced", and a new method for torture

Wednesday night FAST began as any other FAST workout. We did our ridiculous-looking dynamic warm-up exercises (I wonder what the regular gym members must think when they see this huge group of people heel-walking through the lobby area). Then the coaches informed us that we would be divided up into three different groups for our workout - this was new. The groups would be White, Red and Black (FAST colors, in case anyone's wondering). As we ascended the stairs to the track area, Coach Brad assigned us to our respective groups. "Red, red, white, black, black, red, white..." When I reached the top of the stairs he looked at me and said "Black".

Well, there ya go. Black must be the slow group.

Oh sure, they would try to make us all feel equal by not putting speed/ability labels on the groups. After all, it wouldn't be very motivating to have the groups called Slow, Medium and Fast. Or Sloth, Tortoise and Hare. But let's face it, any group that I'm in can't be very high-performing.

But a strange thing happened as we all started gathering in our assigned groups. I looked around at my fellow Black group teammates and noticed they were all the fastest runners. These were the people who train at a pace at which I cannot even hope to race. Something wasn't right here. Coach Brad told us that the workout would be partner mile repeats. For this workout, pairs of runners take turns running overlapping mile repeats. Partners run together for half of each repeat, so ideally, each pair of runners would be well-matched in terms of pace. I looked around at the Black group members and found that nobody was well-matched to my pace (that is to say, slow).

Surely the coaches made a mistake.

I alerted Coach Brad to his error.

"Um, I think you put me in the wrong group... *gesturing to all the really fast runners around me* There's nobody here I could partner with."

"No, I want you in the advanced group. Trust me."

Well, first of all, never trust anyone who says "Trust me." And second of all, that still didn't help with the partner situation.

Then Jim, a very nice man who is new to FAST, offered to pair up with me. I told him to please not worry about staying with me - I didn't mind if he ran ahead during the segments we would be running "together". He said he had a foot injury and might have to slow down a bit anyway. We were to do 4 overlapping mile repeats. Jim started first, and I waited for him to get halfway through his mile and then I jumped in to join him. It was pretty apparent from the get-go that even with an injured foot, Jim was still a much faster runner than me.

After a couple of repeats, I questioned Brad's logic again. I did not feel like I belonged in this group. I lamented over the fact that I would probably be the last person to finish. He assured me that even though I may not be the fastest person in the Black group, that he really did think it was where I should be. He said that if he had put me in another group, I wouldn't be sufficiently challenged.


Well, when he put it that way it made a lot more sense. I wasn't in the advanced group because I was fast (because I'm clearly not). I was in the advanced group so I could become faster!

I ran my mile repeats consistently, and I felt great. Jim ended up pulling a hamstring after his second repeat and was forced to end his workout early. I was left to finish my workout alone... until I realized I could keep up with Kristi and her teenage daughter, Danielle, who were also in the Black group. So I ran my last repeat with them and finished my workout strong.

I am still not entirely sure I am Black Group material... but maybe if I run with them long enough, I will become Black Group material. Maybe...

Overall, it was a great week of running and I was looking forward to getting my Sunday 20-miler out of the way. I really, really, really wanted to be able to run it outside because I am getting so sick of doing long runs indoors... but alas, it was not meant to be.

There are plenty of brave souls who would run on snow and ice. I am not one of them. The roads in my area were still a right mess. The road shoulders were buried in snow, the sidewalks were spotty at best and there were patches of ice everywhere. In short, there was simply nowhere to run but the middle of the road. Given the number of drivers who have tried to personally run me off the side of the road on days when the roads were clear, I thought that this was probably not a safe option. And so I resigned myself to another indoor long run. *sigh*

The good news was that I didn't have to run it alone. Kristi wanted to get 15 miles in, and she said she would start at about 8am. I decided to start my run early (at about 7:15), so that I wouldn't be alone for the final miles, when the run would be the most difficult.

I decided to break up my run into 4-mile chunks. Four miles on the track, 4 on the treadmill, 4 on the track, and so on and so forth. My first 4 miles on the track passed quickly and easily. The track was nice and and cool and the big windows provided ample scenery to keep my mind occupied. At one point I looked out the window and saw a huge bald eagle sitting in a tree outside. I stopped to take a picture of its majestic beauty.

Crappy iPhone picture of bald eagle. It's that blob at the top of the tree. Trust me.

I was reminded of how lucky I am to live in a country where I can run. I felt patriotic and proud.

Then I got on the treadmill and my patriotism and pride went out the window as I experienced the most mind-numbingly-boring, never-ending, hot-and-sweaty, why-am-I-doing-this-to-myself torture I had ever experienced. And it was only 4 miles! Why did it feel so insanely difficult? I have run 4 miles on the treadmill many times. I have run more than 4 miles and it has been fine. But for some reason, the treadmill was not my friend that day. I felt like I was being tortured for information. And by the third mile, I wanted to confess something... ANYTHING... just so I could get off the damn treadmill. (Anyone who is in the professional torturing business should take note of this.)

After I finally got off the treadmill, I quickly reevaluated my plan. There was no way I was going to make it through another 4-mile chunk on the treadmill. Kristi had arrived by that point and mentioned she was going to run in 2-mile chunks. Oh - that's a good idea! I think I can do that! I think I can survive the treadmill in 2-mile chunks!

Turned out it was a pretty close thing. I finished another 4 miles on the refreshingly cool track with no trouble (2 of those miles with Kristi), then headed back to the treadmill for 2 miles. I chose a different machine - one that had a big fan pointed right at it. I needed some airflow. There were two televisions within viewing range so I thought I would just listen to my music while watching whatever was on the tv's. Well, one tv was tuned to the Country Music Network, and the other tv was tuned to Fox News. Are you freaking kidding me??? The torture factor increased tenfold (take note again, professional torturers!). So I spent my two miles reading a poster on the wall about heart rate training. But hey, at least I had airflow!

Then it was another 2 miles on the track, then back to the treadmill for my final treadmill chunk. I almost didn't make it. The first treadmill I got on wasn't right. It was weirdly bouncy and I could swear it was tilted. I felt like I was running on a banked road. I made it through 0.4 miles and then I hopped on the next treadmill over. It was much better in terms of bounce and tilt, but there was no fan, and thus, no airflow. I NEED AIRFLOW, PEOPLE! I started sweating like... well.. like a pig. After a mile on that machine, with sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes, I called it quits on that machine. But I still needed to do another 0.6 miles on the treadmill.

You may be wondering why I didn't just go back to the track. Well, all that track running was starting to bother my hips. I could feel my right hip tightening up with every turn (that was the hip pointing toward the outside of the track). I didn't want to do more than 12 miles total on the track just to avoid having too many uneven stresses on my body. So I had to find another treadmill, STAT.

Kristi had mentioned that some of the treadmills had built-in fans. I needed one of those. I prowled around the cardio equipment, looking for the sacred treadmill-with-built-in-fan. Finally... eureka! I hopped on, turned the fan to High (which really wasn't that blowy, but hey, it was better than nothing), and finished the remaining 0.6 miles of treadmill time in relative comfort.

Then it was just 2 more miles on the track and I was done! Thankfully, mercifully, happily, wonderfully DONE!

It was the longest 20 miles I have ever run. It took me 3:46, which wasn't my slowest 20-miler by far, but it wasn't my fastest either. Frankly, I'm amazed I was able to keep my pace consistent through the whole thing. In fact, I even managed to run negative splits. I suspect it was because I was starving and really wanted to have lunch. I'll always run faster for food.

After some much-needed stretching, Kristi and I did go get some food. One World Cafe makes the best French toast in the whole world. That's not an exaggeration. It is the best. And after 20 miles of running around in circles and/or running on a glorified hamster wheel, it is a well-deserved treat. And also, it is necessary for replenishing carbohydrate stores. True story.

Bread and syrup - excellent sources of post-run carbs

I poured the syrup all over my french toast and dug in. Then I realized Kristi was ever-so-daintily dipping her french toast chunks into the syrup. I almost felt guilty about pouring the syrup on, but then I remembered I ran 5 more miles than she did, so I earned the extra syrup. As far as I'm concerned, running 20+ miles earns you an Eat Whatever You Want For The Rest Of The Day ticket. Heck, I think running 15 miles can earn you that ticket too. So go ahead Kristi, pour that syrup on next time! You've earned it!

Peace. Love. Train.

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