(For me, the first few weeks of April always bring the same excitements and worries: celebrating (or taking refuge from) Boston Marathon hoopla, preparing young runners, jumpers, and throwers for their first meet EVER (and getting them to dress warmly enough that they will live to participate in future meets), and migrating from indoor track workouts to outdoors. CSU’s first official outdoor workout of the year was last Thursday, and the experience sent me digging through the archives to find this short paean to early Spring in New England. Originally published March 29, 2007.)
“They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away.” – Job 21, 18
There’s nothing like that first outdoor track workout in late March, knowing that whatever hothouse times you were running indoors, you can forget about them now. The track is mostly empty and the straightaways are long. It feels good striding down the backstretch but then you come around the far turn and a gust of wind hits you and suddenly you’re straining every muscle just to keep yourself moving forward.
Forget about form. Forget about maintaining a rhythm. Tuck in behind someone if you can, and if it’s your turn to lead, lower your head and try to avoid getting blown out of the first lane onto the infield.
If you were trying to run even splits, you can forget about that, too. When this workout goes into the books, it won’t look very impressive, with lap times well off what you were running only a few weeks ago in the relative comfort of indoors. This workout will not be about times, it will be about effort.
And it will also be about adaptation and survival, both individually and as a pack — sticking together with your mates, each taking a turn at the front, suffering the brunt of the wind for a bit while everyone else gets a tiny bit of relief. And then when it’s your turn to follow, running in as close a formation as possible. At all costs, not getting separated from the group. A track workout on a windy day is good mental preparation for racing. You can’t let gaps develop.
Ah, but then you come around and the wind behind you feels like a miracle — and it’s suddenly child’s play to lift and sprint and fly down the back straight like you had wings. Everyone is suddenly fast again. If you are doing intervals of 600 or 1000, you arrange them to get the maximum benefit from this tailwind.
There is a slapstick element to your workout. To an observer, the runners look comical as they scrunch their faces and bodies down to avoid the worst of the blast. It helps to see the (admittedly bleak) humor in the situation. You are Buster Keaton in racing flats, hanging on as the whirlwind does its best to blow you from the face of the planet.
And finally the last interval is complete; the howling about your ears subsides. You shake hands with those who have suffered with you. You pull on ten layers of shirts and pants and gloves and windbreakers. You manage a wan smile.
“It’s great to be outdoors again. Same time next week?”