September 14, 2011

How I Discovered America

Every morning after a track workout I wake as if I’d been on a bender. What the hell was I thinking? The cold floor squeezes the sole of my foot painfully. I limp to the bathroom mirror to see how much I’ve aged overnight. And there he is in the mirror - the Mad Scientist.

If running is an experiment of one, the track is a lab in which we rats are exposed to all manner of edifying maltreatment. Eight x 400m for example, is an isometric string of successively more choking rigors, designed to acquaint the subject with his limits, or else those of the next world.

Experimentation provides proof and reassurance: How fast can I run a Mile? The only way to find out, without a tune-up race (which Julie Threlkeld has convinced me would have been a good idea), is to drop the rat on the wheel and quantify his behavior at race pace.

So, 8 x 400. I execute the first four items with a heartfelt grimace. Even though I’m going fast, the tripwire of fatigue moves up earlier with each item, catching me first at the final straightaway, then the preceding curve, and by the fourth item well before the halfway mark. And the real experiment hasn’t even begun.

During the next two items my vision quickly fills with bright spots and my head lolls with heavy, dark thoughts. I let myself be passed. By the seventh item I’m slowing and depending on a kick to even out my time. Oddly, as I put together the kick in that final straight, I have a fleeting sensation of extra reserves I never felt before.

Halfway through the eighth and final item I’m prepared to surrender. I’m at my absolute limit, and I begin to slow down. But curiosity gets the better of exhaustion, and I push on. And here it is again: like a dream where you notice a little door in your bedroom for the first time, opening onto a greenish universe where the air is unbearably heavy, but completely normal. You just deal. I accelerate, and realize that in the dream world I can hold this pace well past the finish.

I ran 72’s and then 73’s for the workout. The numbers predict I could match last year’s Fifth Avenue Mile of just under 5 minutes. But what about that freaky little kick?

On our recovery jogs between items, Coach Tony was out there telling us stories. “I hate this workout,” he said. “It’s painful. Everyone always tells you, all you have to do to run a 4-minute mile is run four of these at :60. So I ran sixty-second quarters. But I never ran a 4-minute mile. My PR is 4:08. So I asked my coach, What’s up, how come I can't hit 4 minutes? He told me, Tony, you weren’t tough enough.”

For a few seconds last night I was tough. Can dreams outpace science? Per the Mad Scientist, further research is indicated.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece. A very poetic description of the pain cave...