By Christopher Cudworth
In sync with cycling season my left IT band and left achilles have become troublesome. One can surmise there is something wrong with the bike fit, or else the riding form. But they also hurt while running, so much so that training on foot has been curtailed all this summer.
Last winter the achilles got tight when running 8 or so miles. A visit to the pedorthist recently resulted in a heel adjustment and that makes it better. I can run anyway. For a few miles.
Achilles tendons are not a body part with which to trifle however. The woman I spied at the Racine Triathlon with the big black boot and the forced smile (when asked what happened…) reminded me not to take achilles health too lightly.
Yet I know my body pretty well after 40 years of competitive running and tens of thousands of training miles. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing you can do for something that is chronically tight is to put it in a situation where it has to perform, within reason, outside its typical functions.
That’s the whole premise of yoga. Manageably stress the body and your setpoints improve in circulation, muscle strength and flexibility.
Well, speed work functions just like yoga for runners. You have to know a bit about what you’re doing, but speed work is a form of play when you do it right.
So I took my creaky legs and a back still-stiff from the bike accident 6 weeks ago and rode my mountain bike to the high school track. I was hoping it would be open. Too often these days high school tracks are gated affairs. The fence protects the precious football field, you see. The schools don’t want anyone running around on the grass during the summer months.
Fortunately one of the gates was open and I did not have to launch over an 8-foot fence like some participant in a Spartan race. I’ve done that when necessary, but my appetite for jumping to the ground from 8 feet in the air grows less each year. Too easy to pop something.
It was fun to warm up on the track even with the creaky leg protesting all the way. At 1.5 miles things started to smooth out and it was time for the workout. I ran the last two laps at sub-8:00 pace after an 8:52 first mile warmup, did some strides and got ready to go.
When you have not done speed work in a while it is best to take what your body will give you that first 200 meters. See what the legs will do, and be cautious with stride length. But passing through the first 200 I glanced at the watch and saw 48 seconds. Not the 45 I was shooting for, but still worth a good start.
My goal was simple. 4 X 400 this first time back to the track. Try to run 6:00 pace. Looking ahead I want to be racing at 7:00 per mile for a 5K in a Sprint Triathlon… whether I’m competing on a team or doing the race myself. (That depends on my swim progress. Ahem.)
As I ran those intervals a number of thoughts crept into my mind. I first raced on the Batavia track back in 1971. So it’s been more than 40 years of training and racing on that oval. That’s pretty cool if you think about it. I’m happy for the years of training and the ability I do have to run.
There’s a videotape of a meet held on that track back in 1973. I was a junior in high school and my dad brought a film recording camera to the meet. He captured the two mile race in which Batavia’s Tom Burridge raced a Crystal Lake guy named Bill Enright. It was windy and harsh outside, and their dual turned into a win for Enright.
I was entered in that race as well. The film captures me running with head slightly dropped because I decided that day not to wear my glasses. I needed them badly but was sick of pushing them up on my face to run. My thin pale face was squinched as a result of my poor vision and trying to run in a half fog. I didn’t even break 10:00. The two-mile felt unimaginably long on a track. Never liked the distance in high school. My best wound up being 9:57 and my mile time was 4:29. Really not too distinguished a high school career when you think about it.
By college my times dropped to 9:28 in the two-mile and 4:19 in the mile. After college those times dropped even further to 9:12 in the two-mile and I never raced a competitive mile at peak fitness. Based on relative improvements in other events and my workouts I would have been capable of a 4:15 or below. I always dreamed of running a sub 4:10 mile. It would have been interesting to try but the opportunity did not arise.
So there’s tons of history in my legs and memories to carry one around the local high school track. But there’s a funny thing about history and memories. They don’t really take you very far when it’s time to run the next interval.
Rising to the occasion
You still have to rise up on your toes and meet the day. So about the third interval when my body was warmed up it was time to get things moving. With the merest forward lean and a rise to the toes my first 200 passed in 41 and I finished the 400 in under 90. Sub-6:00. I used to run that pace mile after mile in training. It’s my target pace for racing these days. All those miles and years add up.
When all was said and done I was walking around the track when a fit young woman showed up to do her track workout. We talked about training and the difference between distance and sprint training. Turned out she’s a sprinter for Miami of Ohio, a Division 1 school. “Congratulations on that level of competition,” I told after a short discussion. She moved off to run and you could see the efficiency in her stride.
We’re all on track to our own objectives. The high school oval still beckons. The feeling of moving faster than normal never tires. Not in my life anyway. Not in my time.