After the Long Branch Half Marathon, it’s been no secret that this spring hasn’t included a whole lot of running for me. I’m not really sure why, but for some reason, lacing up my sneakers and going for a run just sort of lost its appeal for a little while. Part of me thinks I never really recovered from the physical and emotional strain of training for a marathon and having it get cancelled because of a natural disaster, but the other part of me just knows that while I think running will always be a part of my life, I never have been and never will be one of those runners who just LOVES RUNNING SO MUCH OMG ALL THE TIME RUNNING FOREVER and sometimes I will just need a break from it and won’t miss the miles one bit. But the great part of running is that no matter why you’re taking a break, it will always be there waiting for you when you’re ready to go back to it.
And maybe it’s the fact that I’m “funemployed” while I wait for school to start or maybe I’ve just been away long enough, but slowly and surely, I’m starting to like running again. Sara and I went on a gorgeous 4.5 mile run/walk along the Puget Sound in Seattle (and she’s not even a runner!), and I found myself wanting more.
I ran 3 untimed miles last week, and while I felt rusty and 3 miles definitely felt harder than I’d like, it felt great to be back out there. So when Beth suggested I join her for her workout on Thursday morning, I couldn’t say no (even though it would involve waking up at 5:30AM while I wasn’t even working). She had a progression run on the schedule (she’s training for NYCM this fall while I attempt to PR in tv-binge-watching), but I figured I’d join for the easier beginning miles and could always bail if necessary. And when we met up at 6:15 (in 93% humidity, gross) and she informed me the plan was .5 miles at 10:00/mi, 1 mile at 9:45/mi, 1 mile at 9:30/mi, and 1 mile at 9:15/mi, the first words out of my mouth were “I might have to ditch you.” I couldn’t imagine why I had agreed to this — I’ve been spinning, cross-training, Refine-ing, and generally staying in shape, but this speed workout wouldn’t have sounded particularly fun when I was in shape, let alone when I’m out of it. But as she took off, I followed anyway.
Not only did we both survive the workout (which included the West Side rolling hills in Central Park), but we demolished the splits, finishing the 3 fast miles in 9:43, 9:17, and 8:59. Yes, we were drenched in sweat by the end, and yes, we had to make some stops for water (safety first!), but it was a perfect workout. It was the kind of speed workout I haven’t even attempted in ages – I made a conscious decision when I signed up for Long Branch that that race was going to be about fun and finishing, not speedwork and tempos and intervals and pushing. And I got exactly what I wanted out of it — a 2:07 finish, good for my 2nd best half-marathon ever (out of 4) but a full 5 minutes off my 2:02 PR from the year before.
Yesterday’s workout took me to a place that runners simultaneously love and dread — the place where you finally realize what the phrase “sucking wind” really means, your muscles are burning, and the only step you can focus on is the one you’re in, because otherwise it will all fall apart. Whether it’s tempos or intervals, it hurts, and it’s awful, but in some ways, it is the purest, best pain you’ll ever feel. There are runs that are beautifully easy and runs that are achingly difficult, but speedwork is a different animal – it hurts like hell, but everything in that moment boils down to that exact moment, where your mind isn’t allowed to wander and you’re the most in tune with your body than you’ll ever be. It’s explosive, and awful, and wonderful all at once. And when you nail that split (or don’t, but you know your body gave everything it had that day) and you’re there in that trademark pose of bent over at the waist, hands on your knees, and gasping for air, it’s a beautiful thing. And yes, my speedwork paces are others’ long run paces (or slower), but I think the feeling is the same no matter where your fitness is. It never gets easier – you just get stronger.
Maybe it’s because I am jumping into a thrilling but unknown and likely very hectic time in my life starting grad school, or maybe I’ve been away long enough, but I think I’m ready to finally go back there. Not every day, and not right away, but finding that perfectly awful pain place reminded me that there was a reason I got involved with this sport in the first place. More than once this spring/summer (usually after a mimosa or glass of wine or two), I’ve made a sweeping assertion that I’m coming for a sub-2 hour half-marathon sometime this spring/summer (originally Eugene, but now that it’s moved to July, not sure which race it will be yet), and I think I’m slowly crawling back to a place where I might be able to do it. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting ready to hurt and work hard and wake up early and push my body where it’s not sure it wants to go, and honestly, I can’t wait.