Getting fast on the track

There are times when I think my coach is trying to kill me. I will hang up from our weekly phone call,  look at the workout program he’s devised and wonder if he didn’t get me confused with someone else. Like Kara Goucher perhaps. Or Chrissie Wellington. Seriously dude. I don’t know how you think I can accomplish these workouts. But I’ll try.

Kara Goucher is an elite distance runner. I am not. (But she does inspire me!)

When I first began training, I didn’t know what I could do nor did I fully understand what times and paces meant. There actually can be a certain comfort in the unknown. When I started running speed workouts, I had no concept of how fast those 400 meter times were. I just went out, ran hard, and tried to be consistent. Then, I started to get wise to paces and times. I started to do the math. (OK, I didn’t actually do the mathematical calculations myself. I used online programs which did the math for me.) Doing the math scared me. With a bit of knowledge, I could see how fast I was supposed to run and that scared the crap out of me. I doubted. A lot. Even as I kept running well. The track workouts became as much about working on my mental game as it did about working on my speed.

And joyfully, something happened along the way. I got faster. I got stronger. And I gained some confidence.

So welcome to this morning’s 300 meter interval workout. After a warmup run, there were a dozen 300 meter repeats on the schedule. The distance was short. The speed was quick. The number of intervals was … mind numbing. The first four felt great. Five became a challenge. Six returned the sensation of pushing back the puke factor. Each interval felt harder. But each interval ended with me hitting my prescribed time. Right. On. Target.

The best part of the workout for me was entering the day with no fear. I was confident that I could hit these times. I knew what I needed to run each 100 meter segment in. I knew I had run that quickly in the past. I knew I could do it, that 12 repeats would be a challenge but that I had it in me to dig it out.

Confidence can be elusive.  I spent time last week at the University at Buffalo track and field practices to write a story focusing on the success of their throwing program. And confidence seems to be their key ingredient. The athletes put in the work. The coach patiently teaches them technical skills. But at the end of the day, they have complete belief in themselves that when they step into the competition circle, they will be successful. Sometimes developing that confidence comes from surrounding yourself with people who not only believe and encourage you but who understand what it is you need to connect with your own confidence and potential.

My favorite quote comes from throws coach Jim Garnham:

I didn’t have any confidence in myself at all and I had a coach who took me aside and said, ‘You’re going to be really good.’ I said, ‘How can I be any good? I’m terrible.’ He said because you have the ability to move things. You’re just not strong. But once you get strong, you’ll see. And a few years later, I won the NCAA regionals. I’ve taken his philosophy and put my own swirl into it and it’s been very good.

It’s been extraordinarily good for Garnham and the Bulls, who have had 16 individuals win Mid-American Conference titles in throwing events, eight advance to NCAA meets and three become All-Americans. For them, it’s not about hoping they will do well. It’s about knowing, each time they step in the circle, that they will do well. And if for some reason they have a bad throw, they leave it and return confident that this time, they will hit it.

So maybe my coach isn’t crazy after all. Maybe he just understands how to challenge me, how to push me, how to make me see myself as stronger. Because when I step on the track these days for my workouts, I don’t just hope I can make my times. I know I can.

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