At some point, we all have to wake up. Shake off remnants of dreams and nightmares, and squint into the bathroom mirror, noting the blemishes and gray hairs that have erupted overnight.
This week has been equivalent to that. In early November, I broke my foot, and commenced my poolrunning saga. All of my long runs, tempos, interval workouts, etc, were replaced by their equivalents in the pool. I no longer tracked how long it took me to cover a set distance; my workouts were perceived effort over a set period of time. No numerical feedback, just my sense of how hard I was working. And who is truly honest with themselves about their effort level?
I could fantasize about the superspeedy workouts I was cranking out in the pool, and who would know the difference, or even care? Certainly not the lifeguards (who just wanted to be sure I wasn't drowning), or the swimmers (who would rather have me gone).
In my fantasy pool running world, I hit every split. Every time.
Even after I started running again, the dream continued. I could jog around, and watch the other runners crank out their workouts, convinced that if I really wanted to, I could hold my own with them (I just wasn't going to, because I was protecting my foot, of course). My hard workouts continued in the pool, where I crushed every single one.
I did a "faux workout" outside this Tuesday (warmed up, did drills and strides, and then skipped the workout and just ran easy). I had no excessive stiffness or soreness during the two days after, so Thursday afternoon I emailed my coach, and suggested that I show up for the Friday morning tempo. The group workout was scheduled to be 2 or 3 repeats of 3200m at tempo pace. My thinking was that I'd warm up, do drills and strides, then maybe 800m or so at tempo pace, and see how the foot handled that.
And of course, since it would only be half a mile, it wouldn't be very hard at all (and I could run that half mile too fast, then proclaim that pace my tempo pace, and the dream would persist a few more precious days).
Coach's response? "Great! Let's have you do the first 3200m at tempo pace, then a short cooldown and call it a day."
We all have to wake up at some point. And for me, that awakening started with a 4:45 am alarm on Friday morning. Inhaled my oatmeal, grabbed my handwarmers and mittens, and headed for the track.
My warm-up jog was simultaneously familiar and strange. As with all my post-injury runs, my legs were strong and bouncy, but the coordination was also ever so slightly off -- much like one's legs feel when one first stands on land after an extended period on a boat.
Then, the other runners and I started our drills and strides. I felt like a bit of an interloper, a sham. They were real runners, and I was a pool runner, literally out of my element.
And then we clustered around coach for our instructions, discussing the pace that each of us wanted to hit. When he looked at me, I just shrugged my shoulders. I could fantasize that I could hit certain times -- I had been doing that a lot over the past few months. But in reality, I had no freakin clue. We agreed that I'd just try for a certain effort, and "work with" my running friend Cheryl.
[this, of course, raised another conundrum. I have always been self-trained,and so my track workouts have always been solo. I have very rarely paced a friend through one of their workouts or race, and I have NEVER had someone help me during a workout, or "worked with" someone. And now, if I really screwed up, I'd be potentially screwing up someone else.]
And then, we gathered at the line. Still certain I was the poseur, I placed myself at the back, prepared for the pack to leave me far behind.
And then we started. And the pack didn't leave me behind. And my legs wanted to GO and to feel free, and I found myself growing claustrophobic in the group, and swung wide to give myself more space.
I realized that we had 8 laps of the track to run, and I couldn't wait to run each of them.
And the pack spread out, and we had room to move, and my breathing and the rhythm of my legs came back to me, as old friends.
I think I was supposed to be paying attention to the splits that coach called out each lap, but I didn't. Instead, I just held that steady tempo pace and effort. And I slowly began to understand what it meant to "work with" Cheryl -- I visualized a bungee cord between the two of us -- when she surged ahead, I would let the cord pull her back to me. And when I flowed ahead of her, I'd mentally urge her to catch-up.
My old mantras and habits came back to me. Relax those shoulders, keep those hips square, engage those lower abs. Stay easy and glide, work hard but never forcefully. How is your breathing? Running still felt slightly odd -- my mind was growing weary of coordinating my stride, but my legs and my breathing felt well under control.
And then we hit the last curve and I flowed to the finish, and hit my watch.
13:19 for the equivalent of 2 miles - 6:40 pace. Not far at all from what I would have run in November.
For a few minutes, I was tempted for a second repeat. At a minimum, I could try another mile at the same pace. And then I remembered that this was my first running at speed since November, and I stuck with the plan, heading to the pool (conveniently adjacent to the track).
Hopped into the pool, indulged in 20 minutes of easy poolrunning to regather my emotions and thoughts and elations, and then cranked out the equivalent of the rest of the workout in the pool (2 intervals of 15 minutes each at tempo effort; 1 minute recovery).
During each interval, I relived the tempo 3200m outside. Sometimes waking up ain't such a bad thing after all.