Friday, June 20, 2014

Swallow your pride (don't worry, it'll return)

I set three main running goals for this year: finish a 50-mile ultra, run a sub-7 mile, and qualify for Boston. So far I’m oh-for-one—one failed attempt at the 50. At this point, just about halfway through the calendar year, I may be on course for a few other, inadvertent goals. I’ve already achieved my first DNF in that failed 50 attempt; now, as I begin speedwork for the mile and, most of all, the BQ attempt, I may get my first DLL—Did Lose Lunch.

The truth is I do not like running fast. No, I do not. There was a time I used to run fast—nothing Olympian, of course, but I’d regularly win my age group in local races, and my times for 5Ks, 10Ks, and such were quite respectable. That was before I became a distance-and-trails junkie. Nowadays I would rather run a 30-mile trail race than a 3-mile road race, odd as that may sound, because my strategy for the 30 is to relax, take it easy, take breaks, and eat and drink a lot. What’s not to like about that? I know 3 miles will be a much shorter ordeal, but that much shorter ordeal will really, really suck the whole damn way. I don’t get that runner’s high when I do shorter distances, and while a 30-miler is almost certainly going to have at least a few rough patches (sometimes more than just a few—is 14 miles considered a “patch”?), I’ll feel at least a little victorious when I finish because I did, in fact, finish 30 miles. Three miles? Pff. Do that standing on my head—and probably would enjoy it more, as it would mean I’m not trying to run it fast.

For the last couple years of my running life, I’ve focused on solely on distance. That is about to change. In order to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I need to focus on speed. I can already do the distance, but I can’t do it at more than an average-ish pace. Average doesn’t BQ. Enter speedwork.

I’ve done speed training before, but not with any real seriousness. Well, I have to shave a good 30 seconds off my PR marathon pace by November, so it’s time to get serious. The BF, who has qualified for Boston multiple times, has figured out a training program for me, and on Tuesday he and I went out to a nearby park to start the program. Speedwork optimally takes place on a track, but, mindful of recent injuries, we decided to start on trails. Even though trails would be a lot slower and harder to run fast, they are a hell of a lot easier on the legs. “What’s more,” I noted eagerly, “once we switch to roads it’ll seem like a breeze!”

That might be true in theory, but I did make one mistake in that assumption, and that was in believing that anything about speed training would be considered “a breeze.” For my first session, the BF’s plan was to do some fairly easy intervals: 12 minutes at a relaxed pace, then 2 minutes at an 8 minute/mile pace, 2 at 10 pace, 2 at 9, then back to 8, 10, 9, repeated, for an hour total of running. The idea is to get control of your pace and get your body familiar with how the different speeds feel. An 8 minute pace is not really all that fast, not even for me, and his plan seemed quite reasonable.

And with that sentence, you know it ended up feeling like anything but reasonable.

This could easily have been a disastrous move for our relationship; I might end up cursing him for pushing me too hard and he might end up cursing me for whining too much, but in fact, at least for our first session, that proved not to be the case. That’s the good news. The bad news is this proved not to be the case because I make it my life’s mission to make sure that nobody causes me more misery than I cause myself. I’m quite good at making myself miserable; I hate running fast yet there I was. But I took it on myself, and any suffering—and oh there most definitely was suffering—was brought on by me and no one else. The BF’s first-day plan was reasonable, and I believed that the whole way through—even when it started to suck, which was approximately the second we started the first interval.

When I actually got up to and maintained the required speed for the faster intervals, it took so much energy out of me that the slower intervals were practically crawls. After a while I made a few modifications, which is a euphemistic way of saying I cheated a bit. I ran all the downhills as fast as possible, I tried to do the flat sections at a pace that wouldn’t kill me, and for the uphills—well, there I simply tried to keep moving forward, pace be damned. In other words, I reverted back to being a trail ultra runner. I might add that this was June, meaning warm and humid, and there were hills on that trail, as well as the other usual trail challenges (roots and rocks and buzzy bitey insects). All of that added to the challenge, but I fully admit the real reason it didn’t go well is simply because I Don’t Like To Run Fast. I am, in fact, currently incapable of running fast, because I’ve avoided doing so for years. And so once again, there I was, starting to run as though for the first time. If running teaches you nothing else, it most definitely teaches you humility.

It didn’t go well and it wasn’t terribly enjoyable. In other words, pretty much what I expected, and if nothing else there’s a weird sort of satisfaction in that. As for the DLL? Nausea yes, puking no. Some runners will tell you if you didn’t puke, you didn’t run fast enough. Well, it’s only Week 1. There will be plenty of opportunities to go for my goals, both the ones I plan and the ones that just sort of come up along the way.




  1. Great blog post! I too have a friendie that wants to make me fast. i did a session or two with her in K3. it was miserable, but it kinda helped. then i fell in love with finding that groove and just riding it for all it's worth. you know, the groove that lasts for hours and hours...a perfect equilibrium of energy output and input. i admire you are getting back to fast running basics. it ain't easy!

  2. Until last year I had always thought a BQ was just not something to consider at all. And I was perfectly happy with that thought. However, I just entered a new age group and the qualifying time is 3:55, which seems just on the edge of doable. Which, if you're a nutty runner (which you are), means I gotta go for it I guess. Argh.