There is an episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff Huxtable is recruited by his old college track coach for a special grudge match against their rival team. When Cliff returns home from his first practice in years, he describes how around the corner he met a big bear who gave him a refrigerator to carry.
I never quite understood that kind of pain until the past few months when my track workouts got longer, faster and more nap-inducing than perhaps any other workout on my training plan, with the exception of big brick days.
There are different variations of track workouts, which also go by the name “intervals” and “speed” workouts. They can be done a track or on the road or even (gasp) on a treadmill. All have the same result — to bring you pain.
Welcome to today’s workout.
Let me take you through it.
It began with finding the track. See, normally I do my track workouts with Sue. We park our cars, jog over to the track as our warmup, do our workout, then jog back to our cars for our cool down. Only, when I’m with Sue I rarely pay attention to where I’m going. This morning, I was going solo and actually got lost jogging over to the high school track. That’s right. I got lost. Add another half mile to my warmup. Awesome.
And now we’re at the track. It’s a beautiful morning. The sun is out. The air is cool. The humidity isn’t so bad and the wind seems kind of calm.
I approach the start line. Today’s workout consists of running six 800 meter repeats. That means I run 800 meters, or two complete laps of the track, six times. I get a two minute rest in between. I have time ranges I’m supposed to hit. Those always scare me.
Track workouts are designed to be hard. You’re running faster than you normally would. You’re pushing the limits of your speed. You’re trying not to puke and trying not to walk.
Already in No. 2 my legs are feeling like cement. Cliche? Why yes. But honestly, it is the most apt description I can offer. To complement my brick legs is my breathing pattern which has become so hard and loud I’m quite certain I might be disturbing a first period high school class in the buildings a quarter mile down the road.
In interval No. 3 I wonder if I could just curl up and close my eyes for a short break midway through my second lap. In No. 4 I wonder if I’ll walking the final 300 meters would really be such a bad thing. By No. 5, I’m crossing the end line, dropping my hands to my knees and praying to Jesus I don’t throw up. On No. 6 I’m pretty sure I’m just jogging because the cement blocks which have replaced my thighs are barely moving forward. Yet somehow I managed to finish — and in the prescribed time limit, too.
There is some physiological benefit to running track workouts. At least that’s what I’m told. It will make me stronger. It will make me faster. It will make me less apt to vomit at the end of a race. But perhaps the real benefit comes in psychological strength. After No. 3 I kept giving myself permission to quit. Each time, I kept going. Kept pushing myself. Kept seeing if I could last through all six intervals. Because if I stopped, I would never know.
Ah, but then comes the cruelest part of the track workout — the cool down. The jog back to the car is ugly. I mean really ugly. I’m not sure it was the sign of a bonk but I started singing Marc Anthony in my head. Even if it wasn’t a bonk, it probably wasn’t a good sign. The cool down run hurts. In fact, it almost hurts more than than intervals themselves. I pass two people running in the opposite direction. They are young, fit and running at a good clip. We say hello. I secretly hate them.
With a great deal of mercy my workout is finally completed. I am spent. But the emptiness is pleasing. It means there is now room to fill up with new things — strength, skill, speed, toughness, confidence.
But first, I need to get feeling back in my legs and settle my stomach with a nice, big bagel.