Sunday, May 22, 2011

Satisfying the Need for Speed

When it's time for a sprint workout, I'm excited. Speedwork stands out from so many other training runs: it's purpose driven, it requires a huge amount of discipline, and it's exhausting.

So why do it? Oh, I don't know. There's reasons, and then there's the desire for it. When people ask me why I run or what I think about running, I always have the same answer: "You have to really love it... and you have to be a little crazy. Or a lot crazy." Runners are a different species.

I find something in the middle of a run that I can't get elsewhere. I can't qualify or quantify it; I can't put a name on it. But, last night, in the middle of an amazing 75 minute yoga class, we're flowing from twisted high lunge to extended side angle pose and I'm thinking about ordering sushi for dinner. With the right kind of run, the physical demand is so huge that I can't think. I'm only aware of my burning lungs and the sweat on my forehead.

Speedwork is perfect: total energy, then total exhaustion. And that's my idea of a good time.

So I begin. Four miles including warm-up, 3 x 800 meters in 3:19 with 400 meter recovery jogs, and cool-down. I drop my car keys and my workout, scribbled on a piece of lined paper, by the side of the track.

The thing about running is that anything can look reasonable on paper. Tempo runs? Marathon training for six months? Two races in a week? Sure! Sounds great! Sign me up!

But 800 meters work out to about a 1/2 mile. Do you know what a 1/2 mile in 3:19 feels like?

It's fast. I have that "Oh no!" moment when I realize just how fast it is. Counting laps and breathing hard, I hit the 800 meter mark just as my watch ticks to 3:19. When I slow for recovery, every muscle between my hips and knees seizes up. The first round is always the hardest.

As I speed up for my second 800 meters, I'm warm already and it's like revving an already running engine. I finish in a sweaty 3:07. In a few minutes, I've gone from "Do I really want do this?" to "No way am I stopping."

But I can't decide where to go from here. Do I go back to the original 3:19 goal or do I just run?

Running wins out. I fly around the curves of the track so fast I think I'm going to roll an ankle and my sneaker laces begin to loosen. T-Pain and Chris Brown sing in my ears about putting your hands in the air, but I can't really make out the lyrics because literally every bit of my consciousness is focused on making my legs cover more ground, driving my elbows back, and breathing raggedly. All the oxygen goes to my lungs and legs, none leftover for coherent thoughts. 3:06.

My last 400 meters is slow, as close you can get to walking but still call it running. By the time I ease into my cool-down, I feel good enough to bring up the pace again and, when I finish my four miles, I feel really good and, yeah, there's a little bit of a swagger as I walk off the track.

There's nothing like coming off an adrenaline high.

* I'm looking for some new running blogs to read -- leave a comment or shoot me an email with suggestions!


  1. I like the challenge of speedwork, too. Great description of a hard session of speedwork!

  2. Thanks Tina! Are you in training right now or running for fun?