Running fast is terrifying. Writing about it is even more terrifying.
Especially since running is such a niche sport; even though a half a million of you have finished a marathon last year literally none of you even care about running. Hence, the USATF needs to be kept alive by a subsidy from a large shoe company. But I digress; the terrifying part of writing I mentioned above is knowing that maybe 20 to 25 people are going to read this essay, and that’s probably 20 to 25 more than should, so here goes…
After Boston I had been looking to scale things down a bit- I was entered in the classic east coast ultra Manitou’s Revenge (with the idea I’d run Twisted Branch 100k in August and then Grindstone 100 in October) but decided in March to withdraw from that and go the opposite direction. In short, I didn’t feel like training massive hours in the woods this summer.
Having never raced on a track, the idea seemed both awesome and preposterous. How do 41-year old runners make their track debuts? I decided to find out.
My goal was to get fast for the short stuff. I entered the “neighborhood 5k”, the Hamden Hills 5k on Memorial day weekend in May. Spent all that month intensively training for a fast 5k, only to show up on race day to 80 degrees and 70% humidity. Ah, east coast summers.
Here’s what I said about it the next day:
5k is a tough distance- all smiles at the start, then at about 800 meters in it dawns on you: this is going to hurt.
I went out with the leaders with the intention of trying to cover their moves and stay in the race as long as I could; when I was leading after 1 km it felt too hard and too unsustainable. I decided to back off and settle in behind some bigger guys and let them set the pace. At the 2.5 km turnaround me and another runner surged into the lead.
We traded the lead back and forth for another kilometer; I was constantly checking on him, monitoring his breathing, looking for any clue in his stride that he might be getting tired. He wasn’t. I asked him if he was just messing with me, he replied “no way man, this is hard” to which I though “he’s gonna unleash a monster kick and I gotta try to stay with him”. I threw a surge in with 1000 meters to go and he stuck right on me. Not yet. “You gonna start kicking?” I wondered. “Let’s see what happens last quarter mile…” he grinned.
So with about 400 meters to go he starts kicking, I stayed with him for about 50 meters and then watched him slowly pull away… I tried to reach down and give it everything I had, but it just wasn’t enough.
19:33. Good enough for second place overall and the Master’s win. Nothing is more humbling than watching an 18-year old absolutely crush you in the last quarter mile, and nothing fuels the fire like defeat…
So that was the start of my “Summer of Speed”. Pretty good, but I needed to get better. I had actually raced a race- that was a first. Never have I been there at the start and been there at the end, so that was new. Yeah, yeah- the neighborhood 5k is not very competitive, whatever. For someone who’s name has never been used in the same sentence as “fast”, this was kind of cool.
So now I have all of June to train for the Manchester Running Company’s Thursday Night Track Series at Manchester High School. The 800, the mile, the 2-mile, a 5k and a steeplechase (gulp). Add to that the possibility that I’d run in the USATF’s Connecticut Open/Master’s meet, and I was faced with the fact that I literally have no clue how to train for those middle distance events. Let’s get to work.
First up: June 9th, the Spring Street Mile. A road mile that’s billed as Connecticut’s fastest mile, it has a slight downhill (drops 130 feet!) Workouts for middle distance are basically a lot of 200, 300 and 400 meter repeats. Some sample workouts:
2x(8×300) 300’s at 60 seconds with 30 seconds float, 5 minutes between sets
5x(4×200) 200’s at 37-38 secs with 30 secs rest, 2 min between sets
8×400 at 78-80 seconds with 2 min rests
10×400 at 75-80 seconds with 90 second rests
3x(4×400) at 77-80 secs with 1 min rests and 3 min between sets
Here’s what I said at the time:
“…oh my shit.
First mile race and it sure was hard. The sensation of pure discomfort is so acute: the build up of lactic acid, the taste of fucking dirty pennies in your mouth, the stars at the edge of your peripheral vision from oxygen debt- holy fuck.
Wanted to run even splits and try to sneak in right under five minutes; so 75 second quarters was the plan. Also forced myself to not look at my watch (looked at it 5 seconds in just to make sure it was recording). They call your splits out every quarter mile, came through first 400 in 71, fuck! Too fast. Try to relax.
By this point I’m breathing in through my mouth, just taking huge gulps of air. Just tried to focus on driving my knees back and pushing my mid foot into concrete.
Two-Twenty Five, 2:26, 2:27… fuck, I’m still too fast. Three seconds now could be disaster at the finish. Relax. Look ahead to the horizon. Wait for the last 400…
3:43, 3:44, 3:45… girl calls out. I’m right on target now. Let’s start kicking! There’s a guy that looks over 40, catch him… Actually, another grey-hair, catch him too! I can’t see what’s to my side, my peripheral vision has gone full K-Hole at this point. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror, I’m disintegrating. I can see the clock ahead… 4:55, 4:56, 4:57, and…
…I hit the line and reach for my watch and look down at it. 5-even it says. Definitely broke five (started it early and stopped it late). I immediately go hands to knees and think “that was awful… that was so fucking terrible… why would anyone want to race that distance? I can’t wait to do it again…”
4:59.57, 41st place (winner ran 3:55-something), ladies winner did 4:24.xx It’s a massive downhill (drops 136 feet) so my time is about 15 seconds faster than what I could probably do on flat right now, but a huge confidence boost- racing two more miles on the track this summer and a 1500 in late July. Hoping to make some marginal gains before going back to marathon training.”
So now back into 800/mile training. Basically, it’s building a lot of lactic acid then running hard repeats of 200’s, 3’s, quarters, 500’s, 600’s, 800’s and kilometers. To continue what I said above, here’s some more sample workouts:
5×1 mile at lactate threshold with 2 min rests then 8×200 at 38-39 seconds with 200 floats
3x(500-300-200) at goal 800 pace w/ MP/HMP pace between sets
3×1 mile at LT plus 4×400 at 76-78 secs w/ 90 secs rest plus 4×200 at 35-36 secs with 1 min rests (2 min rest between sets)
5×1000 at 3:35 per km w/ 2:30 rests plus 400 at 81 (1 min rest) plus 3×200 at 36-39 seconds (30 secs rest)
Yeah, that kind of stuff. Ouch.
So I lined up for my first ever track meet on July 5th, 2018. I ran the mile on a hot and steamy night and basically died. Split 81, 83, 85 and tried to kick it in hard but could only manage an 80. Oof- only a 5:28.44.
Then 40 minutes later lined up to run the 800, and that was awful, too. Split 75 and 78 and it felt as bad as expected, for a 2:33.84.
Okay, more work to do. Next week I’ll run the 800 and the 2-mile.
But first, gonna hop in another neighborhood 5k, this time on trails at the West Rock Nature Center for the inaugural West Rock Super Prestige 5k, two loops on the course that a local semi-famous bike race is held. Another humid day, and another day where my plan was to just try to go out hard and stick with the leaders, and once again I found myself in second place. But, won the Master’s Division and won some sweet swag, a t-shirt, a few gift certificates and some lousy electrolyte mix. Good times!
Okay, next Thursday night- this time the 800 was before the 2-mile and that went even worse, split 74 and 80, just faded so incredibly hard for 2:34.72. The 2-mile went slightly better with a solid 11:42.64. All this racing and training is crushing me, I’ve gotta put it together one of these days.
I also should mention that I joined the Manchester Running Company this week, mostly because they’re a really solid and awesome group of runners- shout out to all the runners that took the time to talk to me and make me feel welcomed, as well as all the volunteers and finally Patrick for coordinating it all. The vibe there is super rad and they’re cultivating a truly amazing community of runners!
Another week goes by and suddenly we get a cooler night, I’m just racing the 5k for week 3 and I feel good, legs are ready, it’s a good night. Goal was to finally break 18 minutes, so was sticking to the plan of running a 5:50 for the first mile, a 5:45 for the second and then a 5:40 for the last mile and hopefully having enough to kick it in. I hit a lap to go at 16:35 and thought, here goes…
17:59.89, literally made it by the width of my body. Probably the best I’ve ever felt while running, it just felt effortless. Floaty. Like every stride was just grabbing the ground and pawing back at the track and spitting it out behind me.
Two days later I came back to that same track to run the USATF Connecticut Open/Masters meet, basically an all-comers meet for CT region USATF members. I was hoping there’d be some really fast guys there to drag me along to fast times, and alas, there were no runners in the 40-44 age group present. So I’d have to compete basically against myself. I was entered in the 3000 meter and the 1500, and my goals for those were 10:30 and 5-even. My legs, to be honest, were pretty wrecked after Thursday night’s 5k.
The 3000 starts and I’m just sticking to my plan of 5:45 for the first mile and 4:45 for the .86 of a mile (3000 meters = 1.86 miles). I let another runner, George, go on ahead- he was building a pretty sizable lead on me but I thought with seven laps I could really take it easy (ha!) for at least three, then start turning the screws. George came back to me on that third lap, and I just settled into cruise control for the duration. 5:45 pace just felt right, it’s what I had run Thursday night, I guess it’s what my body wanted to do today.
I hit the line at 10:45.21 in first place. My first ever win. Weird, I thought it would feel different. Maybe because I had another race to run in less than an hour, maybe because the competition wasn’t what I thought, maybe because I wasn’t expecting it.
Same for the 1500- just wanted to run hard. My legs did not feel great at all, but I just stayed moving after the 3k (they had to page me on the loudspeaker for the start of the 15 because I was jogging around the school, lol). Sorry to have held up the start for a few minutes, my bad. This one I led gun-to-tape though. Just wanted to break five minutes, thought I’d run 80 second laps through the first three and a 60 for the last 300 and call it a day. Split 75-81-81 and 58. Went out a tad too hard and it probably cost me a good 4-5 seconds, maybe could’ve broke 4:50 if I was smarter. 4:55.75 for the win.
Next Thursday would mark the end of the Track Series, and I was determined to try the steeplechase.
…and that was terrifying. It was a hot late afternoon and I watched my pace go from a respectable split of 88 seconds for the first lap to 93 for the second, to 96 seconds… oof. I just died a very beautiful death out there. I just kept telling myself “don’t get lapped” as I could see Tyler Lyon coming on strong, putting almost 90 seconds on me in the seven lap race. That was probably the hardest running event I’ve ever taken part in. 12:05-flat, and every second of it was just terrible. And awesome.
Four barriers plus a water jump every lap, that’s a crazy event. It’s almost like you need to be in insane 5k shape with 10k strength AND be a solid hurdler. 36 inches high, and I’m only 67 inches tall. Math.
I opted for the step over method on the barriers for the first few laps and then had to resort to vaulting over it with my left hand, just throwing my legs over like a sad little rabbit. Oh, did I mention my legs were completely wrecked from almost 2 months of intense middle distance training and racing? Yeah.
So, because I am so smart I opted to run the 800 meter race a little while later.
77 seconds on that first lap.
76 seconds on that second lap. I can’t believe it. 2:33.26 for a new 800 PR. That distance is pure evil.
Then I hopped in the 2-mile, but DNF’d it after three laps. Just had nothing left in the legs, and decided to call it a season. Took a down week then started to get after it again…
Signed up for the New Haven Road Race 20k, and had a somewhat solid month of training going in. Quick four-day taper and here we go!
Race day was a balmy 80 with 99% humidity at 8:30 am. Oof.
Things went from okay to what? to bad to worse at mile 8. Plan was to run 1:22 (splits = 6:35) and went through 10k at 42:14, already a minute plus off pace. Okay, maintain this and run 1:24-1:25, no big deal. Went through 8 at 54:08 (6:46 pace) and started to feel low on energy, I figured a gel with some caffeine would perk me up, and sugar is good. There was a water station just past mile 8, so I took the gel then and washed it down with 2 cups of water and…
…it stayed down for about 5 minutes, and then for the first time ever in my running career, it came out. Explosively. Right about mile 8.8, and I started jogging, then shuffling, then another first in a road race… I was walking. And continuing to empty the contents of my stomach, just retching and eventually dry heaving.
I would spend the next seven minutes there at the mile 9 water stop in Fairhaven (on Blatchley between Pine and Lombard) trying to drink water, having it come back out immediately, while the volunteers and spectators looked on in horror.
“White boy, you need to sit!” No, I’m good, just as soon as I can get this down and keep it down I’m gone. Baarrrrrffff. Nope, not yet.
I basically had another 3.4 miles to go and was not about to DNF this race. My legs felt fine. I finally got some water to stay down and slowly trotted away from there, trying to get back down to 6:45 pace but to no avail. It would take me another 27 minutes to finish that 3.4 miles, and it was not fun.
1:35:23 for a terrible day but a great lesson learned.
I probably didn’t need that gel, a caffeine pill at that point would’ve been just fine, or some RunGum. Just needed a pick me up and it wasn’t nutritionally. If there’s anything I know about running in heat, my body can’t do two things at once; digest AND stay cool. I was on the thin line of blowing up anyway, the push I needed to send me over that line was trying to drop a maltodextrin bomb into a stomach that wasn’t ready for it. Live and learn.
But what an awesome summer! I got to race on the track a whole bunch! I flooded my shit with so much lactic acid again and again that I kind of miss the taste of pennies coming down the back stretch.
Nothing like the muscles in your neck tightening up for no reason except that “Oh I just wanted to run really fast”.