Wednesday, June 6, 2012

So You're Sayin' There's a Chance

Tuesday, 6/5
8 miles incl. 12x1 min. on/1 min. off

Wednesday, 6/6
2+ mile w/u
Target: 2x3k @~5:50 pace (3:38/k) w/jog recovery
Actual: 10:48 (3:34, 3:37, 3:36); 4:30 jog; 10:45 (3:34, 3:35, 3:35)
2+ mile c/d
Total: ~8.5 miles

Early Tuesday morning, with Jordan out of town and the prospect of another cold, rainy run from our temporary living quarters on tap, I decided it was time. Time to break up the monotony of slow, uncomfortable slogs and actually see if my legs could move faster than 8-minute pace. I seriously questioned whether it was possible, but I needed to know. So after about 30 minutes of aforementioned slogging, I decided to spice up the return trip with 10 or 12 "minuters," a trusty baby workout that almost anyone can survive. Equally important as testing my fitness, I also needed to see if my foot and leg could hold up to the pounding of a brisker pace--if not, then it would be definitely, unquestionably time to pull the plug. 

I started out timidly, tentatively, then gradually began to relax and open up the pace. By the final six intervals I might not have been running fast (and thankfully have no way of quantifying that), but I was definitely running hard--for the first time in weeks. Mercifully, my leg and foot held up fine--in fact, my body felt better at the end of this semi-workout than it has after any recent "easy" runs. My only explanation is that, forced to travel the path of least resistance in order to achieve some semblance of a quick pace, my little legs had no choice but to fall back into "normal" form instead of the awkward gimpy shuffle of the past few weeks. My leg and foot didn't just feel okay, they actually felt better.

Which is great and all. Truly, I was beyond grateful. But at the same time, being able to run 12 minutes hard without maiming myself is far from assured success at the half-marathon distance. So, when Jordan returned home Tuesday night, I outlined what needed to happen the next morning: 2x3k on the roads. Jordan playing queenmaker, as per usual. The pace needed to be 5:50 or faster--goal half-marathon pace. If I was able to execute that simple test with little difficulty, then all hope would not be lost. If, on the other hand, I struggled mightily--or worse, fell helplessly out of his slipstream only a few minutes in--then I needed to stop deluding myself with notions of a respectable performance in Duluth. As we toed the invisible starting line at our normal workout spot, I honestly had no idea how this recently untouched pace would feel. "I can do this, right?" I asked aloud with more than a tinge of uncertainty in my voice. "Yes," he replied with a tad less conviction than I would've liked.

From the outset, however, I could tell that things were going to be just fine. The pace came easily enough, and my breathing felt relaxed and strong. My only moments of struggle came when we encountered a short, steep uphill at the end of the second kilometer--the same hill that had unexpectedly greeted me toward the end of the Beach to Beach 5k last month--but once I was up and over it didn't take long to regain my equanimity. I took a long jog back to our starting point between the intervals, and once we started up again I knew the second round would go as well as the first. I finished at or slightly than faster than goal half-marathon pace without pushing or straining, and like yesterday, my semi-injuries felt inexplicably better because of it.

It's funny; at this point in a normal training cycle, 10 days out from my goal race, I'd typically be putting the icing on the proverbial cake with one final hard workout, one last gasp to gain some tangible fitness that might manifest itself on race day. Instead, I find myself on the upswing, hoping to use today and yesterday as a springboard to actually increasing my level of training between now and next Saturday. By no means am I convinced that success is a lock--as Jordan so helpfully reminded me on our cooldown, I still need to run another 15k at the same pace--but I'm relieved to report that it at least appears to still be an option.