Running Free

With the exception of last weekend’s half-marathon, something kooky has happened to my running: I’m getting faster without really trying. It kind of makes me doubt the reliability of my Garmin, but for now, my ego would like to go with the idea. I hadn’t mentioned it because I didn’t want to jinx the whole thing, but now I’m riding the wave like I own it.

A few weeks ago, I was running a track workout with a client, doing mile repeats at a “cautious clip.” We were shooting for 4x 1-mile and began them at a comfortable 7:00. But he was too comfortable, and so we got more ambitious. On the third repeat, I was 4 seconds off my mile PR. So, naturally, I made him run faster on the last one. On the last of the 4x 1-mile, I set a PR for that distance by 5 seconds (6:21), and it felt quite in hand. Put me in a race, and I know I could crush that time on the track.

Recharged to train by the race last Sunday, I spent this week believing in myself again, getting myself psyched up to work hard for the rest of 2012 by building speed work and volume back into my program. I maxed at 48.5 miles by the end of today’s long run with the rest of my days looking like this:

Mon: Recovery (road). 5 miles.

Tues: Intervals: 20x 2 minutes at 7:30 pace. 8.5 miles.

Wed: Arc trainer. 6 miles.

Thurs: Track: 4-mile time trial at 10k pace. 8 miles.

Fri: Recovery (track). 7 miles.

Sat: Rest (house cleaning and cooking)

Sun: Long with 5 miles at half-marathon pace. 14 miles.

Total: 48.5

That run on Thursday is where I finally began to accept that I’m inexplicably getting faster. I decided I wanted to see if I can expect to PR at the 10k in a few weeks and planned to try to run 4 miles at a PR pace (7:00s would do it). I ran 2 miles to the track to put in 4 miles in lane 6. The air was perfect, my legs felt good that morning, and I punched my Garmin to start the clock. My first mile was pretty easy, hitting a 6:59 split. I felt strong, landing on my midfoot like I do at the beginning of most runs before it falls to a crappy heel strike by mile 2.

The second mile split was a 6:57, and still I felt everything was in control. I was alone on the track, scaring a stubborn morning dove out of lane 6 on almost every lap. I couldn’t believe how weightless I felt.

Having crossed the mid-point, my legs knew what they could do, similar to how I felt in the last 10k of the Berlin marathon, where my body usurped my brain in the fastest back end I’ve ever run in a marathon. Thursday, on the track, my legs did the same thing. My third mile split was a 6:49.

It was at that point that I realized I had a 5k PR waiting at the end of mile 4, meaning the last three miles of this pace check would be my fastest 5k ever. I dug in and cranked. The fourth mile was a 6:43, which I nudged a tad lower to a 6:41 pace for the last .1.

After putting in a 6:59 mile, I ran the back 3.1 miles of that pace check in 21:09, a 15-second PR for the 5k. I ran a 5k personal best all alone on a track on a Thursday. I was also first overall female. I almost cried. I lie. I did cry, after I whooped to no one in particular. I think that 10k PR is a pretty reasonable goal; I ran the 4 miles in a 6:51, which is also faster than my 5k race PR of a few weeks ago.

Jack’s response to my e-shriek: “WTF?”

This type of thing isn’t supposed to happen, and I didn’t want to let the speed pass me by, so today, I tried to hit 5 miles at half-marathon pace in the middle of a 14-mile run. Looking for 7:24s, I ran them in 7:21, 7:22, 7:19, 7:15, and 7:14.

It’s true that I generally think the track is a mystical place where dreams come true, but that idea was more metaphysical before. Now I think the track is in an alternate universe. I’m a little surprised that morning dove in lane 6 didn’t poop a rainbow on my head when he flew off.

Another explanation is that I’m actually, somewhat illogically, running faster. I think that running warm-up miles has a lot to do with the body’s ability to hit fast splits out of the gate, and all three of those runs had more of a warmup than any recent races, so maybe that’s the essence of it. But also, I attribute my faster splits to meeting some of my 2012 goals.

Let’s review. In January, I set the following ambitions for 2012:

1. Get more sleep. Check.

2. Think less. Check… pretty much.

3. Love better. Check.

4. Be incredibly happy, even if I’m broke. Check.

5. Get my vacuum cleaner fixed. Stopped cleaning.

6. Learn how to drive a stick shift and operate a chainsaw, but not simultaneously. Check on the chainsaw.

Obviously, learning to wield a chainsaw has done wonders for my running.

Maybe the sleep and happiness play a part, too. I have so much more energy and feel lighter when I haven’t lost a pound. Let’s hear it for happy brains. It’s amazing what happens with a clear head and life’s pieces in the right place. Not only am I running faster and taking a chainsaw to every fallen branch, but I mastered that gas-powered hedge trimmer. Clearly, all is right with the world.

I’ve been reading Chrissie Wellington’s new memoir, A Life Without Limits, and think she articulates the power of running so perfectly. Running gives you a bigger belief in your potential, your own power, your body’s abilities. There’s an intensified sense of  self-sufficiency that comes from sport that leads you to build a much better life and, in the best possible turn of events, results in better athletic performance.

I think 2012 will be my best year in running, one where my potential, power, and ability in sport matches the lightness of life. Even though the Run to Remember wasn’t a fast race for me, it marked the starting line for running fearlessly.

6 responses

  1. I can help you wih the stick shift – definitely a worthy goal – another way to own the road.
    And serious great job on pulling pace together by getting life happy – inspiratonal

  2. Ah, Peaking! Enjoy it. In swimming this used to happen to me and I couldn’t understand it, I was “slogging” through miles in the pool Mon-Fri for months and my meet times weren’t getting dramatically better, and I felt tired all the time. Then I took some time off and in the first meet back from vacation I hit the wall (finish line) in my event and looked back on everyone else half a pool length behind. Where the heck did that come from? Then I would swim at this new level for months, before taking a real vacation and have to work back up when meet season approached again. When you are doing this improvement over years, it’s hard to know where your body’s limits really are. There is a danger in believing that there is no limit and that you can push yourself farther and farther. But there is a “too far” in there, the task is to reach for it and perform just short of it to new personal bests or prolonged peak performance. “Peaking” as it’s called today (40 years ago it was a brand new concept) was a new way to think about how the body cycles for optimal competition in many sports at certain times/periods.

  3. Yes to the power of the warm up, the shorter the distance, the longer the warm up (+ race pace strides to get HR up). Awesome job on the track. It will be interesting to see what will happen in your 10K – PR for sure. Maybe run a 5K, like, NOW?
    Something to keep in mind though…The track surface and its flatness make for really fast (albeit boring) running…at least for me. I can never hit in a race the paces I can hit on the track.

  4. Enlightenment, in all its glorious forms, is an evolutionary process. So it’s about having “faith” (belief) in the proces. Just keep showing up. Just ‘keep the faith’! (which has nothing to do with religion)…..or as Journey reminds us, “Don’t stop believing”! – great effort – sweet outcome!

  5. Nice! I am all about taking the occasional break (mind and body need it) and long warm-ups. I have run one of my fastest miles ever at the end of a 10-miler. It’s the marathoner in us. Yay for mental health.

  6. Great job at the RTR 1/2 marathon. I’m curious of your thoughts about the latest report on endurance training being bad for your health? I have a link to the report on my blog.

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