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.