The temperature outside this morning was eleven degrees. The Weather Channel app said it felt like minus nine. My running gear was laid out next to the bed as I rose to put in my contact lenses at 6:00 a.m. I gave that some thought: Eleven degrees. Not that bad. But that wind chill. Probably from the west. And probably really cold.
It was time to play the option and go run inside at the Vaughn Center, the club we joined a month ago. There is a nice 200-meter indoor track that hardly anyone uses so early in the morning.
When I arrived at 6:30 a.m there were plenty of people upstairs using the square jogging track. I don’t really care for that thing. It’s narrow and has nearly square turns on four sides. Yes, there are designated lanes for walkers, joggers and runners. But I wanted to do real speed work. Too often that means near collisions with slower-moving runners.
And tere was just one runner working out on the real track downstairs. He was fast and lean and doing intervals. It would be my duty to stay out of his way. Warm up in lane three.
His Aurora University shirt told me that he was training for the collegiate indoor track season. The school uses the Vaughn center a couple days a week. On those days, the team comes out in force. Forty or fifty track athletes doing sprints and working on their field events. It’s an enervating atmosphere. Track is all about speed. Nothing much else. Those kids are there to get fast.
Some days there are younger kids, middle-schoolers mostly, using the track as well. Their gangly bodies are just learning how to run fast. The girls especially seem to suffer from Long Legs Syndrome. Their leg turnover is almost a comedy of puberty. But they get the gist of it sooner or later.
The young man doing intervals on the track this morning has already been through all that. He is approaching his peak years in terms of physical ability. I asked about his workout, which consisted of a set of 300-meter intervals at 43 seconds each. That meant he’s going through the 200 in just under 30 seconds. Four-minute mile pace.
During our chat he told me that he ran high school track at a southside Chicago high school. He looks to be twenty years old now. He’s lean as can be. When I gave him a light slap on the back I felt the familiar thump of that thin layer of muscle laced over bone. The frame of a distance runner. A miler.
There was a time when I could run that fast. But not any more. This morning my goal was to do a series of quarter mile repeats as near to six-minute pace as I could manage. The first interval did not feel bad, but neither was it as fast as the pace I wanted to run. That would be 1:30 for 400 meters. The first interval took 1:48. The next 1:47. The third 1:43. The fourth dipped down to 1:41. I was warmed up. Not straining.
Without trying to press it, the fifth interval rolled in at 1:39. I smiled at my watch. Not too bad for the first interval workout of the season. Then I closed out the day with a similarly smooth 1:36. Descending pace. Excellent.
Six 400s was enough for the morning with a 200 jog between each run. One should never get too greedy with the first track workout of the season. Not when you’re about to turn sixty years old and have not run any speed in several months. Nudging toward six-minute pace the first day was a good way to start. Next week I’ll add a few more intervals. Then throw in some halves for good measure. Perhaps I’ll try to run a 6:00 mile when I turn sixty.
During my jog between intervals, I paused briefly to talk with a man rehearsing his tennis serve on the corner of the track. I shared with him that it had been difficult to get my serve back after I’d taken off many years from playing tennis. “I don’t have the hand-eye coordination I once did,” I laughed.
“But you are a beautiful runner,” he said to me.
That meant a lot to hear. I was feeling smooth this morning. Little wasted motion. It felt good to run fast even if I was never again going to be as fast as that young man doing intervals before me. He is forty years my junior. I could fit two entire track lifetimes into those years if some sort of time warp would permit.
That begs the question: Would I go back and do it all over again? It’s a tempting notion to think about how well you might run if you could apply at that life experience to the effort with a younger body. Yet that’s the price of life. In the physical realm, it’s always a task of refining what you do have to approach what you could once do.
The feeling of going as fast as I can these days is just as rewarding. The aches and pains of age were largely hidden today in my rested legs. I was free and enjoying the movement of air across my face. I was running, and getting faster as the workout proceeded. As far as I can see, I am on track for a good year. There’s nothing bad about that. Nothing bad at all.