Saturday, July 9, 2011

McAlpine Death March

3 mile w/u
Target: 3 mile @17-low; 2 mile @11-low; 1 mile @5:30 all w/800m jog
Revised target: 3 mile @sub-18; 2 mile @ 11:30; 1 mile @sub-5:40
Re-revised target: Don't drop out; try to hang on to Spada
Actual: 17:37 (5:50, 5:50, 5:57); 11:52 (5:53, 5:59); 5:41
1 mile c/d
Total: 11 miles

I realize that reading about how brutal the weather is might be getting a little old. And I swear, I'm doing my best to not dwell on it in every single post. But today in particular merits an exception, so please humor me as I address it up front and then move on to the nitty gritty details. The facts themselves need little elaboration: upon finishing the workout, I consulted my personal weatherman (i.e., the iPhone) and learned that the temperature was 78 degrees, with 91% humidity and a dew point of 73. The temperature wasn't the issue. Rather, it was the stifling, sweltering, stagnant air that had me literally flinging sweat off my body in every direction less than two miles into the warmup jog. Around this time last year I posted a blog written by Paul's coach, Tim Budic, which succinctly argues why the dew point is the most reliable indicator of how weather affects performance. Similarly, a current LetsRun thread explains dew point and even offers one person's aptly titled "Misery Index," or a combination of the temperature and dew point. Peruse both of these useful links at your leisure, but just know that today's weather was bordering on dangerous.

Regardless, there was work to be done. As Jordan, Paul, Spada and I set off on our warmup jog we tried not to dwell on the weather, but nonetheless noted we'd be amending our ambitious prescribed paces in favor of survival. Spada and I decided to start out at 5:50 pace for the first three-mile segment, which I knew might prove difficult considering the conditions, but I was willing to give it a shot.
For me personally, I knew the most important thing was not to lose contact with Spada or else I'd be left sputtering in no-man's land indefinitely.

The first mile, which began with a slight downhill from the three-mile marker on the trail, felt comfortable enough. By a mile and a half, however, my breathing began to noticeably labor, and despite passing through two miles at Spada's side I could tell he had more in the tank than me. He pulled ahead for the third mile, during which I made a conscious decision to back off or risk not finishing the workout. Even at that, I contemplated dropping out. After all, the interval finished at the Old Bell parking lot--how easy would it be to just call it a day and slink wearily back to the car??

But of course, we pressed on. The half mile recovery jog was over before we knew it, and within seconds of starting the second interval Spada had already dropped me. For the first mile I kept my eyes trained on his back, marveling with jealousy at the ease of his stride. It looked like he was barely jogging! I silently reminded myself to apologize to him after the workout for doing so little to help him run faster. A few minutes later, however, I noticed something strange: despite how much I was struggling and how much he appeared to be doing quite the opposite, the gap between us was almost imperceptibly narrowing. With each stride I gained another fraction of a meter, and by the time we reached 1.5 I'd pulled up alongside. He had towed me along for the first mile and a half, and now I would return the favor for the remaining 800 meters. Though this would be our slowest mile split of the day, it was also when we were working the hardest to fight through the cloying air and piercing sunlight to simply hold the workout together. We finished side by side, our breath ragged and gasping.

With only one hard mile to go, you'd think we would be elated. Instead, I again questioned my ability to continue. The only saving grace was knowing that Jordan had stashed a Nuun bottle at the start of the Footlocker course where we'd begin our final interval. If I could just take in a few precious sips, hopefully I'd be able to regulate my body temperature enough to finish strong. As Spada and I shuffled along beside each other, I voiced what I knew he was thinking: even if we barely broke six minutes for the mile--even if it was the hardest six-minute mile of our lives--we'd still be running under our goal marathon pace. For today, that would be enough. My spirits began to lift ever so slightly as I offered him encouraging words. Suddenly: disaster! Jordan had taken the water bottle! In hindsight, the action makes perfect sense; we weren't returning to that spot again, so if he didn't snag it on his way past then we might not get it back. In the moment, I was crestfallen. I literally asked Spada for an extra 30 seconds of rest to mentally regroup, which he didn't seem to mind allowing.

Maybe it was the extra recovery, or the knowledge that we were almost done, or the motivation of finally being able to match Spada stride for stride, but for whatever reason I felt surprisingly strong on the mile. After expecting to barely break six, I found myself passing through the halfway point comfortably on 5:40 pace. I kept the effort level high, but never straining, and was pleased to finish up with my fastest split of the day without going to the well. Considering that just minutes earlier I'd questioned even attempting the mile, it's hard to not look at that as a victory. Overall, though my splits were unremarkable, this workout actually ended up being a surprise confidence booster. If I can run below marathon pace in these conditions, I have to think that when the weather breaks--in, you know, three or four months--the same pace will feel like a breeze. A cool, dry, delightfully comfortable breeze.


Stephen Spada said...

What a great post...loved every minute of it, and the run!