Monday, February 21, 2011

No guarantees

The worst part about not writing for a while is knowing where to start. At times like this I find it easiest to start in the present and work backwards. It's school vacation week, which means extra time with the kids, and perhaps too much time to think about where I stand with things after 12 weeks of training. Yesterday I got to the track and put in a set of mile repeats. This was my first such test since December 26, thanks to our less than cooperative winter. And it almost didn't happen.

I hate running miles. I love running miles. I hate running miles. I love running miles. Miles hurt, maybe more than any workout I do. They make me tense. The effort always results in a few gray hairs. I fear them because of all the places where the inevitable age induced slow down could occur, no doubt it will first surface in the mile. The mile run is very much like the 2000m row. It's no sprint. You must dose effort and be smart. But you must also be on the edge the whole time. If you are comfortable, you are not going hard enough. In December my mile set was the slowest I've produced in a long time, but I had excuses then. Yesterday there was no such quarter. Yeah it was windy, but I was trained and reasonably well rest, especially compared to the day after Christmas in CT.

Despite being tight and wearing way more clothing than I'd like for a track workout, I launched into the effort. I planned to "cruise" the 1st mile, get a feel for the track and the wind (this track is very exposed). This first mile would be the benchmark for the day. At the end of the 4th lap I looked down and saw that I had clocked a 5:53, well off 2009 but better than anything I had done in December. Effort 2 resulted in a second :53. While it was work, the wheels didn't fall off so now I was feeling a little better about things. I was definitely feel the strain, though, and my face was numb. Yet for the 3rd I felt I needed to get a little more "into it," so I dumped the warm-up jacket I had worn for 1 and 2, and ran #3 in much more aerodynamic attire. Who said aerodynamics don't matter running?! Repeat #3, 5:46. That one was a surprise and a very welcome one at that. For the first time in ~2yrs I had broken 5:50 on a track. I've done it on the road on plenty of occasions, but not the track. It's a mental thing and a hurdle I needed to clear. I also had my splits headed in the right direction late in a workout. Relief. The final repeat was done on the road because I was cold and to hit my designated total workout time (and a bathroom sooner as opposed to later!) I needed to turn for home. I actually didn't get a precise split for #4, but am reasonably certain I was in the low 5:40s.

Training, racing, hell life...there are no guarantees. We all know this yet we all look for them anyway. I want to know for certain that I'm going to be able to do what I've never done in my life; break 10hrs for Ironman. I want to know that I'm not just kidding myself. I want to know that I'm not just wasting my and my family's time in pursuit of some fantasy. Indeed the cynic would wonder what right I have to expect that this is even remotely possible, given that I've never done it. I'm not a newbie athlete who is just beginning to discover themselves. I've been an athlete for a long time, and pretty much know who I am. I'm not overly fast, I just try to not be slow. And I'm not getting any faster. If anything, yesterday reminded me that despite being my strength, my run is not "elite." I'm not shaving 14min off my best time just by running better. And I am getting older. I'm not old, but facts are facts. A training race would be nice, but only for the mental break. I can already tell you what the results will say. Speedwise I'm in the ballpark of where I've always been, maybe a little worse, likely not any better. Any new records will be a matter of improved execution across all areas of the race, not just one. And there are no guarantees.

So many people fear believing in things they can't see. If there is not conclusive evidence as to the existence of something, it cannot possibly be. Just play it safe. Trust what you know. Fear the unknown. It's such a limiting existence. At least you can take comfort in knowing more or less how things will turn out. But I need more. I need to show my children that sometimes the unexpected can happen. So I continue to put in my hours, to lose the sleep, to feel the burning in my muscles. And I'll continue to see performance numbers that indicate that on any given day I'm really no better than I've ever been, all in the hope that on one very specific day all the numbers will converge in a pattern they've never before created, the sum of which is less than 10. I understand quite well I may fail. I understand it might never get there. I'd love assurances. And yet for now I continue not because of guarantees, but because I know no other way.