It’s Tuesday night and I’m driving to Harvard for our first outdoor track workout of the Spring. It’s almost 6:30 and I’m annoyed at myself for being late. I’m also burdened by the feeling that my day should be over by now. I’ve been up since 5:30, spent a full “day” at work before heading over to the school to coach for another two and a half hours. The thought of heading home to dinner is dangerously appealing right now, and the thought of doing a track workout instead does little to change that. My solution is not to think about either, but to put my mind in neutral, listen to the radio, and follow the same route to Cambridge that I’ve been taking for over a decade.
It might not sound like it, but this semi-annual shift of the major workout from one weeknight to another is a big deal for me. All of the rhythms of the training microcycle are affected, from how fatigued I expect to feel on different days, to how much mileage I get in on the “off” days. If Tuesday track is here, can Thursday tempo be far behind?
We are lucky tonight. April seems to have brought mild weather — finally! March was a bear with its relentless cold and, at the end, four inches of rain in three days. But now as I approach Harvard stadium, my car thermometer tells me the temperature is a very reasonable 47 degrees, and there’s still plenty of daylight left. There’s no guarantee it will continue, of course. April nights can be pretty miserable, too, and next week it might be 40 degrees and raining. But for tonight, at least, it’s a pleasure to be outdoors and not feel the death-like grip of winter.
The nice weather has also brought a lot of other people to the track. CSU is one of four organized groups using the track, along with the Liberty Track Club, New Balance, and TMIRCE (“The most informal running club ever”). On an eight-lane track, there’s plenty of room for all, and it’s actually good to see all these strangers, some of them familiar from years past.
Because I arrived late, I’m still warming up while everyone else is doing their dynamic drills, and as a result, I’m still feeling heavy and slow when its time to start the first interval. Normally, I would do four strides prior to launching into something fast, but I haven’t had time to do strides, so instead I just run the first 400m very slowly, lagging far behind the pack. It will get better, but overall, tonight will be about slogging through, and not about feeling speedy.
On the track and with the workout underway, our group finds itself dealing with new mental challenges compared to indoor. Used to the 200-meter oval at BU, we struggle to visualize the 600s and 1000s in tonight’s workout. We take note of the wind direction, and where to start our intervals to have the wind behind us more than it’s in our faces. Since tonight’s workout calls for a 1600, we are grateful that its only four laps and not eight. We wear gloves. We “race” to finish before the light fades and we can no longer read the splits from our watches.
I admire the fitness of my teammates. Kevin, Patrick, and Terry are all running Boston and all handle 5600m of intervals with, if not ease, then with well-earned confidence. On every longer interval they leave me far behind. They are all running Boston. That means that what to me is the beginning of outdoor track is for them the final steps of their long journey to fitness that began months ago. This outdoor session in good weather is the reward for having survived the long winter.
But for me, this is simply about keeping up a habit as I try to rebuild mileage. I’m not sure that the next few track workout will make me fitter, but they should help me avoid losing the fitness I have. Come to think of it, that’s been the theme of almost all my runs lately.
We finish the workout with one final 400. Then we cool down, heading out around the perimeter of Harvard’s domain, around softball fields, parking lots, and turf fields used for soccer and lacrosse. When we get back, it’s getting dark. As it almost always happens, I seem to have more energy now than when I started , although my legs are achey and will need stretching and rolling when I get home.
Another workout. Another day of the week. Another season. What was I thinking blogging about this? Do I blog about taking out the trash?
It’s just something that needs to be done. Nothing to write home about.