This morning’s track workout consisted of 8 X 200 all out with a 100 meter walk-jog between. It was an experiment to see how much torque the internal engine could take. The test went well enough, but also revealed a few insights that were eye-opening.
The fifteen-minute warmup was a cranky one thanks to the lingering effects of a mild cold. As colds go this was not a bad one at all. It started Monday and is winding up today. My body aches a little as bodies do when fighting the common cold. But it wasn’t the hacking, coughing, phlegmy kind of cold that I used to get when training so hard my body teetered on illness every other week.
Leaning into gravity
Once the warmup was through, I did the requisite bathroom visit to make sure the workout would not be interrupted. When you’re going to test something, it is important to eliminate as many distractions or interruptions as possible. If Galileo had dropped his spheres of different mass from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and one of them had hit a clothesline on the way down, we might not have the theory of gravity as we know it today.
Alright, that’s an exaggeration. Some discoveries are inevitable. Learning the effects of gravity and how to measure them falls into that category. But we’re all good at deceiving ourselves, which is why the battle for sobriety is often an all-or-nothing proposition, and why making dates with porn stars when you’re already married is never really a good idea. Taking unnecessary risks only promises to increase the gravity of your situation.
Flying in the face of probability
There are indeed absolutes in this world, yet most of them hide behind the specter of how we view them. But the fact that Usain Bolt has run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds is an absolute marvel. It seems superhuman. But in our own way, we can all be superhuman. We just have to try.
Which is why I went to the track to test how fast I can actually run 200 meter repeats at the age of sixty years old. The running track is an absolute. It is precisely measured, so we don’t go about fooling ourselves. Except for a couple elderly gents walking the inside lane, I had the entire facility to myself. A clear track means an honest test.
So I ran the 8 x 200 workout and this is what I learned. While I’m not as fast as I used to be, I’m still able to run reasonably fast compared to most of the running world. The best I could manage this morning for 200 meters was 41 seconds. That’s four to six seconds over the 37.5 pace I was hoping to hit on at least one of them. That means I need to gain 3.5 seconds of speed at 200 meters to run the equivalent of 5:00 mile pace. At sixty years old that is not that bad.
The world record for the mile among men at the age of 60 is 4:51.85. Age 65 is 4:56 and age 70 is 5:21. But here’s the shocker. The dropoff from age 55 to 60 is tremendous, because the mile world record for a 55-year old is 4:35. Age 50 goes down to 4:25. And the age 40 mile world record is 3:57 by Bernard Lagat.
As for my personal record mile, it will sit at 4:19 forever, because that’s what I ran in college, which is 64-65 seconds per lap, or 32-33 seconds per 200 meters. I’m not even going to pretend I’m able to run that quickly at my age.
I’m currently going through 100 meters at 20-22 seconds. To run 5:00 pace will require 18 seconds per 100, or about twice as slow as Usain Bolt! But for me, that’s not a huge gap between where I am and where I want to be. With some practice I think I can get there.
Part of the challenge of keeping the pace for 200 meters is the oxygen uptake factor of running the full 200 meters at 100% effort. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The last 100 of each interval was 1-2 seconds slower on my four fastest 200s, which were 41-42 seconds each. Then I slowed down overall for the last three, running times closer to 44 seconds. Admittedly, the last one was at 46. But that’s still just 23 seconds per 100. So it wasn’t a total collapse. Perhaps I should rest more than 100 meters between intervals.
I could really feel it in the lungs. They aren’t used to working at maximum effort like that. I’ve been running interval 400s at 6:30-7:20 pace depending on the week. That is coming through the 200 at closer to 50 seconds. That’s the other objective of these faster 200s, to make my training pace of 6:30 per mile feel easier.
Not quite a miler
I was never all-out speedy.
My all-time record at the 200 meters, as far as I can recall, is a not-so-blazing 26.7. And my best ever 400 was 55.5. For a skinny middle distance runner, that’s not terrible speedy.
But that helps explain why I never got faster than I actually did at the mile. I didn’t have a miler’s raw speed, so technically my PR is 4:19. But that was run in college, and I got faster at every distance after I graduated. My PR at 5000 meters in college was 15:01. I ran near 14:45 for the distance three years later. So I honestly think a 4:16 mile was within my reach given the workouts I was doing with repeat 400s at 60-63 seconds.
Too bad, so sad, I never tested that fitness in an all-out mile. I did win a mile race in a Friday night race that summer of maximum fitness in an easy cruise at 4:22. I was saving myself for a Sunday morning 15K that I nearly won before succumbing to a competitor with a sub-30:00 10K and sub 2:20 marathon to his credit. So I was supremely fit at the time. Part of me wishes I’d gone all out in that mile to see what I could really have run.
Days gone by
These days it is hard to imagine being able to run that fast. My body just can’t do it. The body that I now have is some 40 pounds heavier, for one thing. I weighed 140 at racing weight during those peak years. I weigh 185 these days, with hopes of getting down to 175 this summer during training. Can’t lie about it. I’m thicker now but with no regrets. For on thing, I also don’t get as many colds, or look like a stiff wind could snap me in two.
If I’m lucky (or something like that) I’ve got perhaps another 30 years on this earth. Maybe I’ll keep running till I’m 80. There was a guy with an Air Force jacket at the track doing little run drills on one end of the track. He told me he just turned 79 years old.
If I live to the age of 90, I’ll reach 2047. And if I reach one hundred (which I doubt) the year will be 2057. If I were to go all biblical or Green Mile on you and live to be 200 years old, the year would be 2157. Wouldn’t that be a trip. I’d have to be Benjamin Button.
It’s good to think about mortality, because without awareness of the preciousness of life, days go by and we take them for granted. So for now, I’m experimenting with going as fast as I can so I can stay in one place.
Every endurance athlete knows the battle with gravity is eternal, until it’s not.