Friday, August 26, 2011

Running Chronicles - the Racing Team

Wednesday was about 90 degrees with humidity out the ass, after some rain Tuesday and a threat of more (which never came). What better day for my first ever track workout with the racing team I just joined!

These Wednesday track workouts are held at a nearby college at their outdoor track. I don't recall if they go to the inside track in winter, or if they suspend the Wednesday workouts, but, whatever. They are held by the team and open to anyone, even non-team runners, and are well attended. Anyway, I went Wednesday night for the first time.

As it turns out, each week they do different repeats, sometimes with interspersed core, stretching, and other side workouts. The primary focus, though, is repeats.

For those not familiar with much of this lingo, like me until Wednesday night, let me help. Runners who wish to improve their recovery times (ie: being able to breathe and/or talk following a run sooner than a few hours), improve their speed, and generally mix up their training, speed work is an important aspect in a training plan. Once you survive rounds of speed work, it seriously makes those longer runs feel so much easier. Now, this is all relative because 10 miles is a long friggin' way to run, but you get the idea, I hope.

So I arrived, caught up with my buddy who also just joined, and we chatted a bit until a guy called everyone to one end of the track for strides. My buddy translated this to mean that we run straight stretches back and forth as fast as we can. OK, I can do that. So we did. First one, not so fast. Second, the same. By the third or fourth time, the guy said, "Let's pick it up now, GO!", and we did. And I did. I went faster. We went faster with each of the six or seven strides we did, and as we finished the next to last one, a guy looked at me and said, "Wow, you're pretty fast, have you been to these before?", to which I replied, "Oh, thank you, no this is my first time". He introduced himself and said that he thought I was pretty fast and would do well at the workout. He explained the four groupings of runners based on pace times. Group 1- these are the Boston qualifiers, the barefoot Kenyans (OK, mostly white guys with shoes on, but most without shirts, which is runner code for "I'm faster than your honor roll student"). Group 2 - OK, so we're not going to Boston, but we are really friggin' fast and we've done Chicago a dozen times. Group 3 - I run a lot and am pretty fast, I'm not going to Boston, and I don't want to come in last. Group 4 - the rest. No Kenyans, all wearing shoes and shirts, and quite happy with their pace.

Not knowing where I would best fit, I opted to start with group 4. You can group hop in these workouts, so I was assured that I could move up to group 3 at any time, or into any group I felt I would best pace with. Super!

As the group stood on the track, some announcements were made while I listened to the guy who told me I was fast explain the workouts, the team, and welcome me. Suddenly, my buddy tapped my shoulder and said, "That's you", so I looked forward and raised my hand, not knowing why. Yep, new member shout out right there. Great. My maiden voyage, and now everyone knows. Kind of felt like an AA meeting where everyone looks at you and says, "Welcome", and you stand there feeling the heat of everyone's eyes upon you. OK, it wasn't *that* awkward, it was really quite comforting, as the sounds around me were those of welcomes and support and people glad there was a newbie they could take to school as soon as we hit the track. With the welcomes and announcements over, we got to business.

The workout for Wednesday night was 7-8 x 1000 meter repeats; running 1000 meters 7-8 times with one minute breaks in between. The track is 1/4 mile, so this was 2.5 laps at a time, minute breaks. Easy enough, right? Sure. The first time around, I felt like I perhaps should have started in group 3. I felt like the group was going slower than my legs wanted to go, and I nearly passed up the pace leader for the group. Instead of getting ahead of the pack, I opted to slow myself down, knowing I had lots more of these ahead of me, and knowing my tendency to get too fast too soon. The first couple repeats were fine, and I could tell this was going to benefit me. I got the feeling that usually, each repeat is a little faster than the one before, until the final one is at balls out speed. Wednesday night, though, our group leader was pretty relaxed, just keeping a steady pace and probably increasing our speed slightly with each round. Still, we never had to kick it into mach 5 like I'd expected to, which was fine with me. I did my best with each repeat to make sure I still had some left at the end, and not to expend myself right out of the gate. I was successful! For the last two or three rounds, I was able to give a little extra at the end, getting closer to the front of the pack by the finish. Was I the fastest? No. I was also not at the back of the pack.

Interestingly enough, I listened to the other runners in my group chatter while we ran. I forgot to charge my iPod so I didn't have music, so I got the benefit of hearing about how many miles this one runs a week, how this one did after her last tri, and how this one is hoping to do in her next marathon. These are women in group 4. Not that group 4 is for losers or beginners only, but I was surprised at how many in this group were so experienced and logging such long distances, and yet they were in this group at the workout. Now, I get that perhaps they were taking it easy, they might normally be in a faster group, could have been a taper week, or perhaps they just are slow and steady runners who aren't there for speed, but for the accomplishment of a tough workout, and who enjoy the challenge of 13.1+. Regardless, all these women were very nice, they were friendly, and I was able to hang with all of them. I was actually keeping up with marathoners and women who log 4 times more miles than I do in a week. And that's what it's about - all paces, all levels, all runners. It reminded me that we're all runners regardless of how much we do, how fast we go, or why we do it. The intimidation factor that I'd felt at the beginning of the evening was instantly depleted once I realized that I was in good company.

I think that by the end of the workout we'd done 6 repeats, not 7, but I wasn't honestly counting. The group agreed we'd had enough, and when you factored in the strides and any warmup laps done before the workout, we'd logged a few miles, and that was good enough. Then I heard, "OK, shall we do a 2 mile cool down?". I'm sorry, what? 2 miles, cool down, but we'd agreed we'd had enough of the repeats? Um, OK, I guess! Figuring we were doing it on the track, I followed the group, but quickly it was obvious we were diverting to a path along side the track. The ladies, again, started out rather slow according to my legs. I felt like I should be darting ahead, but stayed with the pack instead. Good thing, too, because two miles after the workout was no slight jog. By 1.75 miles I was really feeling it, but wasn't tired enough to stop. I ended up between the group of girls right at the front and a few women in a small group at the back. I was right in between.

For most of this 'cool down' run, I was running solo between the two small packs and that was fine with me. Having no Garmin and no music to keep me company, I was actually glad to listen to my body (literally) and focus on my breathing and navigate the path we were on. Closer to the end of the run, one of the gals up front drifted back to me and introduced herself and we talked about the group, the fact I'd just joined the team and she isn't on it yet, and just general chit chat. I was impressed with my ability to hold a conversation at this point, which is no easy task after speed work, let alone any run. It felt good, and I was glad to know I have progressed to this point.

In the end, the workout was great, and the group is totally supportive. I am definitely glad I joined the team, and am looking forward to more of these workouts (remind me I said this when I'm cursing repeats in the future), and getting to know the rest of the team.