I had a track work out to do today. It was the last real hard workout before my taper begins. Since school has started for the kids, I’ve been doing all of my repeats on the trail. I like the packed dirt, I like the solitude, and I like the constant shade. But today I decided to run on the track for a reason. I did it because track workouts are hard. Track workouts, while the distance and paces are the same, are everything the trail is not. There are fewer variables on the track (so fewer excuses – no hills, fallen branches, etc!). There are always people (I know they probably aren’t watching, but I always feel like I’m being critiqued). The track is always hot. Even on cooler days, the direct sun and lack of breeze always makes the track feel ten degrees hotter.
It was a threshold workout with three excruciating parts; Set One consisted of 3 reps of 1000 meters below 6:00 min pace with 200 meters recovery (walk/jog) followed by 400 meters rest. Set Two was a step up with 3 reps of 200 meter speed bursts and 100 meters of recovery, also followed by a 400 meter rest. Set Three (the hard part) was another set of 3 by 1000 meters. I’ll admit it. I went out a little too hot on my first set and was a bit ahead of pace (we’ll also not talk about how I actually ran longer repeats – which was frustrating until I realized they were not 1000 meters!) I also crushed those 200s.
But the cloud cover that had shielded me for the first half of my workout dissipated, leaving me exposed to the sun. It became incredibly hot very quickly. By the time I started my third set my legs were feeling like tree trunks filled with lead. I just couldn’t pick them up. I was shuffling along. I had decided to cut the workout short. There was no point in pushing myself, dehydrating myself, potentially injuring myself if I wasn’t even going to be making the splits. I had already put in some good, quality work, so perhaps I should cut my losses and ditch the last rep.
As I came through the finish of my 5th 1000 meter repeat (which was slow, but faster than the one before it), I reminded myself that I came to the track for a challenge. I wouldn’t be able to just drop out of the marathon at the last mile simply because it was hot or because I was tired. I was here to work, damn it! I needed to work on my psychological toughness as much as my physical toughness and here was the test: 1000 meters of hot track, daring me to run it. Lane 5 taunted me. My legs may have been begging me to quit, but my head and my heart (those insane, annoying little cheerleaders of mine) told me to do it.
I know the point of the workout was to do the work while tired and depleted, which is why there was minimal rest between each rep. But I also knew I had to compromise somewhere. I wasn’t going to have any hope of actually completing the final rep on time if I stayed to protocol. And ditching it altogether wasn’t an option. So I walked the entire 200 meter recovery, taking double the time to rest, then went for my last run. I pushed through the lead legs & the sweat dripping in my eyes and did what I could to maintain goal pace. I pushed through the mental barrier that told me to give up.
A lot of people would have quit. A lot of people would have told me to quit. In many ways it may have been beneficial to do so, but I know I gained a lot by going just one more time. I walked away feeling accomplished, strong, powerful, and fast. I walked away with my fastest 1000 meter split as well. And I saw the workout all the way through. Sometimes you have to push through to the end and give it all up to know just what you’re made of. Mental toughness is being able to go around the track one more glorious time.