Friday, August 8, 2008

Balls to the wall my friend, balls to the wall

As I shut down my computer and picked up my bags to go home for the day, my co-workers asked me what I was doing that evening.

"Meeting my coach for a hard run" I answered with a little bit of excitement in my voice "Whenever i feel like working really hard I tell him to make up a hard workout for me, and keep it a surprise until we start, so I never know what we'll be doing."

"Why would you do that?" Another co-worker asked

"I just like it that way" I said plainly, Knowing that they would never understand any explination I could give them. I liked that larry pushed me harder than anyone could, even myself. I loved the pain, and there was no way you could put that to words, you just had to experience it for yourself.

On the way back into the city I wound my car through the curves of West River Drive in an effort to avoid rush hour traffic. There were several runners coasting along the path next to the river and I watched them, in awe of their speed and strength. How did they do it? I wondered what their secret was, how did they move along so fast yet so fluidly. I watched, when I should have been concentrating on the road. And I thought about it the entire way to Larry's. They just moved their feet faster.

I parked my car on campus, a place that had always felt so familiar yet grew more alien with every visit. I realized this was the last time I would bound up these steps and reach my finger out for the bell to apartment B1. I could play a mental movie montage to the hundreds of times I had climbed up thoes front steps. All the way back to last May, when Larry and I had first embarked on the journey that was training me to be a runner. To all the times we had returned from runs with me gasping for breath, convinced it was yet another mediocre effort and larry trying to convince me to be easier on myself and I would walk back and forth up the block clutching my sides and spitting every which way reminiscent of a homeless person right down to the lack of clothing.

"L or F" Larry asked as we came down the stairs. My braid went to work immediately trying to decode what he had just said. F meant fartlek, which happened to be my least favorite of all workouts ever. I hated it more than hills. More than 800's (which I actually loved). But what about L? Sensing the wheels turning and noticing a pause in conversation larry stepped in with " you should know by now what F is"

" I do, I do, but what is L?" I questioned

"Ladder" And then he went into the the detailed explanation of 1600, 1200, 800, 400 and then back down with a 400 recovery between each at about eight mile pace.

"Eight mile pace lar? I don't know if I can still do that." I was questioning my capabilities, I know I shouldn't do that before a hard workout, you should always attack it with confidence but I hadn't done any true speed work in so long and I was just starting to heal after my hip decided to rebel against my body in late june. I was feeling good but I wasn't feeling one hundred percent, never mind eight mile pace.

"So I'll adjust after the first mile if things aren't going well but lets just see how that first mile goes."

"Alright let's go then"

And with that we started out at a warm up pace out over the spring garden bridge as Larry recounted to be meeting his cadaver and cadaver team. Oh the inside story on going to med school, I have to admit the whole ordeal sounded pretty exciting. And knowing how hard he had worked to get there I couldn't help but be ridiculously excited for him.

"Eight miles right?" I asked as i dodged sandbags and construction signs that cluttered the sidewalk along our route to the river.

"I thought we were doing seven"

"Eight, why do I open up my big mouth"

More med school chatter.

Before I know it we are approaching 7 1/2 miles. I am not ready. I am never ready. But it is only a mile so I just think of it as a mile and then rest. Balls to the wall I say inside my head, just gun it and go, don't think, it's all worth the pain, just push, I rattle off every motivational saying I can conjour up. 7 1/2 comes and I start the push. I up the pace until I feel like I have reached a place I can stay for a mile and no longer. I am aiming for 2 minute quarters but when I cross through that first quarter and larry yells out my split the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, 'too fast' 1:49 or something in that rhelm. I keep going, even though larry says I could slow up my pace and still make it in under 8 I keep going. I am afraid to slack too much and come out in over 8. We hit the half mile and I am still under four minutes. I don't recall my exact split but knowing that I am still under four I just keep on going. My feet move fast beneath me as if I were literally running for my life. I know this course like the back of my hand, I know where the mile will end and I just keep pushing knowing that the faster I push the faster I get a break. I force myself to stay calm in my head and not let my emotions get the best of me. Faster feet, faster feet, and then suddenly I recall the man I saw running on the river just a few minutes earlier. I had finally figured it out, fast feet. I blew through the 3/4 mark and again when larry called out my time I don't remember the exact numbers, just that I was still under 6 minutes, still under an 8 minute mile. The last quarter was a blurr, I just pushed until the end and when we crossed the 6 1/2 mile line all I could think of was I was going to throw up. It was very difficult for me to pull myself into a slow job from an all out run. I waved my hand in the motion that larry had come to figure out meant 'what's my time?'


"Mother fucker" I let out, half in rage, half in shock. After larry had finally coaxed me to slow down enough, he finally asked

"By the way, where did that come from? You just pr'd in the mile!"

"I'll tell you where" I answered, "Last week I ran 34 miles in five days, with no rest. Saturday I gave myself a break. granted it was moving things into a truck, but that's a break to me. Sunday I did my long run and it was great, but then I took another two days of rest and then I just kind of took off."

I was nervous now. I had just opened up with my fastest mile time ever. EVER. I now had ahead of me a 1200, 800, 400, and then back up the ladder ending with a mile. I knew I would have no problem going down. Every interval would be shorter than the rest and I would attack it with just as much strength as the one before. I would never fall beneath a 2 minute quarter even though that was the goal of the workout. I just wouldn't let myself fall beneath what I knew I was capable. And I could tell larry was quite proud.

"this is how you get to boston" he said to me during our next 400 recovery. "Not this year, but that's how you get there"

I was not disappointed that I was not ready for Boston, there was no time limit no deadline, (ok Boston before twenty five was a deadline but still)

"I know, next year though, next year" I trotted on, not ready for the next quarter mile mark to appear on the sidewalk at my feet. Maybe if i trotted slow enough it would get up and move an extra few feet in the opposite direction. I was already dead tired, I had given so much to the last two intervals and while I knew I could finish the first half I was not so sure about the second. I tried to talk myself out of it for a while but then I realized there was no way around it, it just had to be done, I just had to push through.
I made it all the way back to the last mile and I was still alive and in once piece. One mile, i kept telling myself. One mile is nothing, one mile is a piece of cake. Before I had even hit the quarter mile marker I felt a tight pull in my left hip. The one that had nagged me for months, forced me to sit out almost the entire month of july from running. I let out an involuntary "ow" but kept pushing. the pain was instant but not lasting.
"There is no benefit to running injured, if you're not ok we can stop. you've already gotten everything out of this workout that you were supposed to, this is just the final push"
I didn't even bother to answer larry with words, instead I just pushed on, there was no need to say anything it would only waste air that my body desperately needed.
We hit the half mile and I knew I could finish this thing. I forced my feet to move quicker, fast feet, fast feet. My thighs ached, my stomach tightened, my breathing was erratic, and yet i forced my mind to focus and remain calm. Quarter mile mark and though I was pushing as hard as i could I doubted I could go any faster. Larry upped the pace and pulled ahead of me, knowing that I would want to catch up. I struggled to find my next gear but when I did it was like gliding forward. Fast feet. Fast feet. I remember Larry's words of encouragement, but cannot recall exactly what they were, only that they were there. I just remember pushing, and then being done. Larry called out my time, 7:45. Under eight. As we jogged back to the apartment we talked about Larry's new apartment and what was to become of our training sessions when he was no longer on the campus we were both so used to.
There was no question that we would not continue running together. I began to realize that over our lifetimes so much would change between the two of us, but if I had it my way, we would always be runners together. We would always share this bond that no one else I knew would ever understand. That the thing we both loved more than anything required so much sacrifice for progress. It required long hard hours, high pain threshold, the ability to keep going when everything seemed like it was falling apart.
We would always have running.

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