Thursday, August 15, 2013

For Speed Work to Succeed, You Need the Will to Run Through the Pain

As marathon training has progressed in earnest, I’ve been reintroduced to the funtasticness that is the speed workout. Aside from the occasional fartlek, I hadn’t done legitimate speed work since college and hadn’t set foot on a track since high school. 

I never really liked speed work. Anything shorter than a mile felt like a sprint, and, let’s face it, I wasn’t a sprinter. I spent most of my time toward the back of the pack, simultaneously marveling at the speed that my teammates had and cursing them for it. 

These days, speed work feels much different. It’s a solitary activity, as I’m not on a team, so I am only running against the clock. It’s also specifically targeted to a race goal -- a 3:10 marathon -- not to going balls to the wall and/or impressing the girls’ team as much as possible. 

The targeted times of Run Less, Run Faster help, as they make it easy (in theory, at least) to set a pace, stick with it and maintain it over the course of a workout. But they still make you hurt -- and it’s a different sort of hurt than grinding out the last miles of a long run or hitting the pace goal of a tempo run. 

Track workouts hurts because they beat you up from the first interval and don’t stop. Your legs continue to burn with each rep, and it becomes harder and harder to hit that goal time. 

This leaves you with two choices. One is to stop, to say you did all that you could, scrape what remains of your pride off the track, and stumble home with your tail between your legs. The other choice is to reach down, deep within yourself, and finish the damn workout. 

(Yes, this song is longer than some track workouts. It’s also awesome. So there.) 

I’d be lying if I said this was easy. I’d also be a hypocrite if I neglected to mention that I’ve been guilty of taking my foot off the accelerator this summer. “Who cares if my sixth 800 is a few seconds off,” I told my sweat-covered self, “if my first five 800s were all within one second of my goal pace?” 

Here’s the thing: The pain goes away. If your cooldown is slow enough and long enough -- mine is close to 1.75 miles, or the distance from the track to my house -- you’ll feel fine by the time you get home. Stretch and foam roll later on, and you won’t even be sore when you go to bed. 

But the next time you step onto the track, you’ll remember that you do, in fact, have enough in you to throw the hammer down for the entire workout. And when you step to the line for your next race, you’ll be that much more prepared than the folks in the crowd around you.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sometimes, You Gotta Let the D-Bag Drivers Win

I made the mistake of running during Monday morning rush hour this week. In a span of 20 minutes, distracted drivers narrowly avoided hitting me five separate times. (A sixth such driver was shaving at a red light. Luckily, he was on the other side of the street.) 

One driver readily admitted, after I yelled “Pay attention!” at his open window, that he didn’t see me. Another was too busy munching on a breakfast bar to acknowledge that he didn’t see me and probably still hasn’t seen me, a day and a half later. The others were making right turns and neglected to look for pedestrians in the crosswalk before inching forward. 

At first, I was mad as hell. I’m still mad, mind you, but I’ve come to a Zen sort of conclusion. (It won’t sound Zen at first, but trust me.) 

People are douchebags. People are also morons. Yelling at them while they are driving and not respecting your right to share the road with them isn’t going to suddenly turn them into MIT-bound saints. It’ll probably just piss them off -- or, if they really are morons, confuse them. 

Instead, do what I did in the remaining few miles of my run this week: Pause. Make sure the driver sees you. If he or she lets you go, give ‘em a friendly wave. If not, put your head down, curse to yourself (not to them) and use the adrenaline burst to make up the whole five seconds of time you have lost. 

By waiting for cars, even when we’re on crosswalks, are we letting the douchebags win? I suppose. But are battle scars from a fight on the side of the road or, worse, months in a wheelchair after a car accident really worth proving a point? Runners, by their very nature, are stubborn people -- but we also all have partners, spouses, pets, children, jobs and friends to come home to. 

Earlier this summer, I said no run is worth a trip to the hospital. The context then was running in the heat and humidity. The context now is different, but the message is the same. Sometimes, even when you’re right, it’s not worth fighting -- especially if it’s a fight you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How Running Makes Me a Better Person

I’ve been running for almost 18 years, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I wasn’t a runner. 

There are a few things that might be better. My wallet, for example, freed from the annual burden of buying three pairs of sneakers, several race entries and, most recently, tubs of Generation UCAN, would be considerably lighter. I’d also launder my clothes far less frequently and be able to get away with using bath towels more than once. I’d actually get to sleep in on Sunday mornings, too. 

But, let’s face it, running makes me a better person. There are many reasons why, but these are the ones that come to mind first. 

I’m hearty. Regular exercise gives you more energy, strengthens your immune systems and makes you less prone to the colds and flus that knock most everyone else down. I get a cold once or twice a year, but that’s it. And they never last more than a couple days. (Everyone hates me.) 

I’m confident. Twenty mile marathon training runs suck, and in the hours that follow, I often find myself questioning the majority of my life decisions. But the next day -- or, let’s be honest, two days later, since I’m not getting any younger -- I’m proud of what I’ve done. This pride seeps into other facets of life, too, and it makes me realize that I’m perfectly capable of taking on tough tasks at work, at home and in life. It may hurt, but I’ll power through. 

I eat as much as a small nation in the South Pacific. Yes, this lightens the wallet, and yes, I stick to a pretty healthy diet as it is, but it’s nice to know that I can enjoy free pizza or cake at work and not feel guilty about it. (Did I mention that everyone hates me?) 

I can handle adversity. I can probably count on one hand the number of perfect races I’ve had in my life. In all the rest, one, two or 1,002 things have gone wrong. But I’ve finished every race, no matter how much it hurt or how embarrassing my finishing time would be. So, when I get stuck at work late, or traffic sucks, or I spill my coffee before even taking a single sip, or the stupid raspberries in my stupid backyard scratch my stupid arms, I can shrug it off without getting stressed, panicked or otherwise freaked out. 

I never pay for T-shirts. Road race shirts are great conversation starters, too. 

I know my body well. Run long enough and you start to tell the difference between a tight muscle (which you can relieve by walking it off or stretching), a sore muscle (which you can relieve by resting) and an injured muscle (which you need help fixing). You can also tell the difference between being fatigued, exhausted and worn down to the point that you need a day off. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid injury in my running career, and a big part of the reason is knowing the difference between good pain (which builds a foundation for better, faster, stronger running) and serious pain. 


I have great friends. Runners are genuinely awesome people -- often humble, occasionally snarky, incredibly supportive and always welcoming. When I’m down, they cheer me up. When I have a bad workout, they encourage and motivate me. I gladly do the same for them, too. (I only hope I return the favor as well as they stick up for me.) 

I definitely have bad runs, bad workouts and bad races, but these seven reasons -- along with others I can’t quite articulate -- clearly illustrate why running makes me a better person and why I will never, ever regret taking up this sport. 

Running makes all of us better people. How has it changed your life?