There was a certain amount of dread as I arranged my gear on the treadmill. I had my water bottle, my nutritional gels and my iPod all set to go.
But I needed to take a deep breath.
I was actually a bit scared and intimidated by this workout -- a two-hour run on the treadmill.
While the thought of running for two hours on the treadmill draws a deep "ugh" from many, for me I was more intimidated.
The first hour of my workout was spent running at an easy pace. OK. Not much problem here. I actually ran an hour at easy pace on the treadmill the day before. This I can do.
But in essence, this was my warm up.
After taking a very brief pause to reset the treadmill (surprisingly, the treadmills at the health club wouldn't let you program it for two full hours, go figure), take a nice sip of water and and ingest my apple-cinnamon flavored gel, I started on hour two.
This time, I was to run three minutes at a hard clip. The pace wasn't something that was completely out of my reach and the first three-minute interval felt not so bad.
Still, there were four more of those to go.
I had to do five three-minute hard intervals separated by four minutes at easy pace. After each hard run, my easy pace got slower, and slower, and slower.
This is not boding well.
My saving grace became two friends. Sue, who had already finished her 11-mile run outside earlier, came to do an extended cool-down walk on my right Herm, who is doing the marathon in Miami next week, ran his workout on my left. We chatted from time to time, but mostly I listened as they told stories and talked to each other.
On my final interval (which I announced to the entire gym) Sue told me to envision runners ahead of me. They are the ones whom I want to beat this year and in my mind, I'm running strong and relaxed and picking them off one by one. Her competition meditation helped. Otherwise I think I may have fallen off the back of the treadmill.
I had an extended recovery run then was supposed to gradually increase my pace until I was running my fastest clip ever at the end. My coach, though, offered some funky math, so I really wasn't sure when the increases were supposed to come. Since I had bumped my easy pace down so slow, I decided with about 20 minutes left in the workout I would start increasing my pace. Every two minutes I bumped it up.
I was finishing strong but realized there was no way my legs would carry me at the fast pace my coach had hoped would bring me home. In fact, over the final two minutes, I actually slowed the pace up a tad. It was that or straddle the treadmill and surrender. Finishing seemed to be worth it, so I gutted it out and announced how much time I had left every 15 seconds. Not the best mind game to play, but I didn't really care at that point.
Sue and Herm congratulated me.
"You looked strong," they said.
"I didn't feel strong."
"But you looked it," they replied. "And how you look is most important."
They were partly joking, of course, because appearances mean nothing. You learn that quickly when you start racing. If you glance around the start of a race and note things like body type or fashion sense and think you can figure those who will be fast, those who will be at your pace and those you will easily beat, think again.
Looking strong though was a reminder that indeed I am a stronger runner than I give myself credit for. I can take a lot more pain. I can see the wizard, move through his torture and survive. I saw the wizard on this run. It's the first time in a long time I caught up to the guy who turns workouts into the four-corners of hell. I didn't catch him but I did get pancakes afterward.
Personally, I was slightly disappointed with my workout. I didn't finish running as quick a pace as I had hoped or planned and those intervals were really, really, really hard.
My coach, however, was rather pleased.
She pointed this was the first time I had ever done this type of workout. This also was my longest run outside of doing a half marathon in Canada in September on a whim.
She also, I sensed, was a bit proud of me. See this past week was one of those rollercoasters that has you feeling like you have yet to evolve emotionally past the age of 15. If you've never had one of these moments you either deserve congratulations for being completely emotionally and spiritually adjusted or you are forever stuck at 15 and don't know the difference.
As I was an emotional wreck my coach wondered if she should adjust my training, particularly this hellish Sunday run. Sometimes she intervenes. Sometimes she sits back to see what happens, how I react, how I handle it. There were three ways it could have gone: I could have bagged the workout, I could have adapted it to a completely easy run or I could have plowed through it the best I could.
I ended up doing the later. Aside from some sore legs and a massive Sunday afternoon nap, I'm no worse for wear. Thanks to a great coach and some good friends I have the perspective I previously lacked on what it is I accomplished.
In two weeks I will be in Miami to run the half marathon. My focus for the next two weeks is on feeling and not numbers. The race, my coach reminds me, will take care of itself. I'm not to worry about numbers -- about paces and times and square roots -- just about what I'm doing. My coach told me to focus on this week and this week alone. I'm hoping to take it a step further and focus on each day alone, each task alone.
If I have any thoughts about Miami it's to be about the finish line.