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January 18, 2012

This week, I was scheduled to do bridge repeats again as my speedwork. But the bridge is lonely when I have to do it alone, and my training partner was out of town, and to add to my lack of desire to do it alone, Monday was one of those windy, difficult days. Though facing ten bridge repeats alone would have been tough alone on a clear, sunny day, it was really difficult to do it on a dark, dreary, windy day. I decided to substitute a different workout.

To add to my general lack of desire to face a tough speed workout, I’d run the day before, which is unusual for me. As a matter of spiritual discipline and family scheduling, I generally take Sunday as a total rest day. This is partly why Mondays is my speedwork day; it’s helpful to do a difficult workout after a day of resting your legs. But this week, the Boss invited me to run with him on Sunday morning after church, and that’s not an invitation I was willing to turn down, because it’s not something I get to do often. The pace was very easygoing, and we didn’t go far–just three miles–but the fact that we ran at all wa a total deviation from my normal weekly routine.

I knew it, too–as soon as I set out for my pre-speedwork warm-up I knew that my legs were way more tired than they should have been before I even started the real work.

Like I said, I’d already decided against the bridge. Instead, I decided I’d run 6×1-mile with quarter-mile recoveries, with a 1-mile warm-up and cooldown. I’d set out from home toward my “speedwork alley,” a street near our house where I’ve mapped out about a 1¼-mile stretch to do all my repeats. I warmed up, then got to work.

That first interval was painful, though fast: 7:34. I was reminded that mile repeats are some of the toughest work because they require a fairly hard pace, sustained over a longish distance. When I did intervals last week, I did a two-mile repeat at 8:15 pace, and that was really easy. Even though the interval was long, because the pace was one I could so easily maintain, it felt really doable. On that day, the 7:45 pace was one I only had to maintain for a half-mile.

But, on Monday, I had to sustain it for a whole mile. Six times.

Like I said, I went out too fast, but I knew right away that I’d never nail down that pace for every repeat. After that, I knew I’d better settle down into a pace I could more easily carry for the rest of the workout. I’ll confess that I thought about quitting. As I ran through intervals 2 and 3, I felt very clumsy and flat-footed. Now, this is unusual for me. Though I’m not fast, I generally pride myself on an easy running stride, especially when I’m running speedwork. But on this day, I felt like I could hear my footfalls, CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK, hitting the pavement with big awkward thuds. I tried to alter my stride and land more on my forefoot, but my legs were really tired. I groaned inwardly and blamed the Sunday miles with the Boss. Intervals 2 and 3 came in at 7:49 and 7:51, short of the 7:45 goal.

As I faced down #4–halfway done, though I thought about just finishing here, telling myself there was no shame in doing 4 mile repeats. Though I’d followed the Olympic trials marathon on Twitter and on Saturday, I’d only gotten to see it on television that day, and the images of the best American runners were fresh in my mind. In the past, Kara Goucher’s clean, beautiful stride has been an inspiration to me as I seek to run with that kind of grace. But as I did my repeats Monday, I wasn’t thinking of Kara Goucher’s long legs. I was thinking of Desiree Davila. She ran on Saturday with an almost robotic, automatic motion. As Garmie beeped at me and told me to start pushing again for repeat #4, I told myself to channel that kind of robotic, unthinking running automation. Don’t think about it. Just run. I told myself not to think about the effort it would take, or the challenge of the breathing, or even my thudding footfalls, but to just endure for the mile–to settle into the pace I was running and enjoy it.

That, it turned out, was the key: to think of myself as this simple, running automaton. For the next 3 intervals, I started hitting my pace more consistently: 7:40, 7:44, 7:46. Now, I know it looks like my pace was getting slower, and you might think that’s a bad thing, but from my perspective, that’s not bad–I was aiming for a 7:45 pace, so the last two intervals are the first two where I was actually nailing my goal.

I’m a little disappointed in the late realization of what I’m missing to set my personal best–it’s the short-distance speed. While I’ve worked this season at developing my endurance and my long-distance speed, I’ve failed at developing my 5k legs. Now, it might seem that this wouldn’t matter in long races, but it does–it matters when you need a kick late in a race, for one thing, and it helps develop your heart and lungs for all kinds of running, not just the 3.1-mile races. When I was at my best, I could run this workout–not easily mind you, but with effort–at 7:35 miles. It’s only ten seconds, but it is ten seconds.

In spite of the disappointment, I’m thankful to have this weakness so clearly shown to me. I can’t fix the problem if I don’t know it’s there. So identified, I can set about doing more short-speed specific work.

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