Today I entered a new level of runner-dom: the track workout.
I’ve been pretty deliberate about speed work this time around, trying to alternate weeks between tempo runs and intervals. When I was still running at the gym, all of this was on the treadmill, and since my membership expired, I’ve gotten in a couple fast runs in outside, and one rather painful set of repeats on the broken treadmill in my parents’ basement. But this was the first speed workout I’ve done on an actual track. It felt much more official.
I got an email a couple weeks ago from a local trail running club, the Wissahickon Wanderers. With the onset of daylight savings, the Wanderers were returning to their Tuesday night track workouts, conveniently held at a prep school a couple miles from my house.
I originally planned to check it out by myself, but when I mentioned it to my friend Bess, she said she’d be interested in coming along. And let me tell you, I was glad she did.
We showed up at Chestnut Hill Academy at 6:20 tonight, ten minutes before the workout was set to start. As we stepped out of the car, a guy in a red t-shirt waved enthusiastically. We walked over and took note of the mild embarrassment on his face upon seeing that we were not who he thought we were.
After hearing that he was there with the Wanderers, we exchanged pleasantries and watched the dozen or so middle schoolers in keds and jeans, running (or jogging… or skipping…) 50 meter repeats on the track.
“Do you know who these guys are?” I asked our new friend, Alex.
“Oh, they’re the ‘Help Kids Run’ group,” he said matter-of-factly. “They’re here every Tuesday when we come.”
We were able to control our laughter as we headed off around the track for a quick ‘warm up.’
I use that term loosely, because within the first half lap, I realized that we were running somewhere around a 7:00 pace.
7:00. For warm up. Holy cow. What had we gotten ourselves into?
“This is going to make for a hell of a blog entry,” I said to Bess. “I can’t wait,” she said.
We finished 3/4 of a mile and then got our workout. We had a choice, either 3x mile repeats with descending pace, or 2x 1200s followed by 3x 800s, starting at a 10k pace.
Bess and I opted for the former, and decided to take the first one around an 8:00 pace and drop it by 10 seconds on each. Neither of us knew our 5k pace or our 10k pace. Hell, I barely know my half marathon pace. But this plan seemed manageable.
So what if we were the slowest runners there?
We laughed hysterically through our first lap – at our earlier conversation with Alex about the “Help Kids Run” Club and at the prospect of him lapping us on each consecutive mile (he was running a 5:30 pace) – but then we got down to business.
The laps passed quickly and we managed a respectable showing for our repeats: 7:43, 7:42, 7:32. I actually felt reasonably comfortable the whole time, and realized that the fact that we were able to hold a conversation throughout probably meant that we should have been going faster.
As we stretched out afterward, we chatted with the head Wanderer.
“Were you guys able to get through all of the repeats?” she asked us.
“Yep, not a problem,” we responded. Who did she think we were?
We talked about past racing experience and exchanged triathlon and marathon stories. I’m not sure whether she was actually judging us, but both Bess and I secretly felt like we had to prove ourselves to her, to vindicate our slowest runner status.
“Do you have anything planned beyond the Jersey marathon?” she asked.
Bess mentioned her full schedule (but not the 14 marathons she’d already completed), and I said, “I have a few adventure races on the calendar for the summer. And if I don’t qualify for Boston in May, I’ll probably run another marathon this fall… Last year, I…”
I almost went on to say, “Last year, I finished an ironman, so I’m taking it a little bit easier this season.” But then I realized – there was no reason for that. Much as I wanted to show her that I wasn’t as much of a newbie as she might think, I didn’t need to race-drop.
Instead I said, “Last year, I was sort of jumping around between running, triathlons, and adventure racing. This year I dropped the triathlons, so now I’m just balancing the two.”
As we walked to the car, Bess said, “I totally wanted you to drop the ironman bomb.”
Great minds think alike!
We drove back to my house, making plans for our Team “Help Kids Run” t-shirts. And decided that for the next track workout, we’d each wear our Ironman hats.