Last weekend my wife was given a time trial to do. Her coach Steve Brandes has been guiding her through improved run performance the last couple years and the results, I am here to tell you, are noticeable and impressive.
So we lined up on a quiet exercise path on a fresh Sunday morning. He gave her a target pace to stay under and we discussed that briefly during a fifteen minute warmup. Like all runners, she was slightly anxious at the idea of going fast for a 5K, but once we got the warmup done and the bathroom duties out of the way, she seemed ready to go. We’d also landed on a perfect morning. Fifty-some degrees. Not much wind. We peeled down to basic long-sleeves and were ready to go.
We’d agreed to start at a park on the south side of Batavia where the bike path sits next to the Quarry pool. That’s the starting area for a local triathlon and duathlon, and we’ve both raced on that path many times. But it all seemed rather abrupt standing there together in the sunlight. How do you start a time trial on your own?
I looked ahead and realized what we needed to do. First I gave her a kiss and a quick hug, then said, “Let’s start our watches up there at that sign,” I told her, pointing out the park district pole indicating a mile marker.
Nothing breaks physical and mental tension better than rolling into a time trial. Otherwise you stand there awkwardly with a finger on your watch and all kinds of dreadful thoughts can go through your head.
Keep calm and run on
That’s actually one of the reasons why I was so impressed with everything that transpired during our time trial last weekend. My wife not only kept calm during the entire session, she dealt with the type of quick little fallouts we all experience during fast running. There are few fast runs where the pistons fire perfectly the whole way. Normally we feel good for stretches, then struggle a bit. It’s the getting back on track that makes all the difference.
As we moved through the first mile I was careful to let her dictate the pace. Running next to someone is fine, but nudging ahead is not at all helpful when the runner next to you has a goal pace and concentration is critical. We passed through the half mile point in good shape and I noticed that her breathing was steady and her stride light.
Change for the good
That’s the biggest change I’ve seen in her since we first met seven years ago. Her running form has improved so much. When I first met her, there was a plodding aspect to her stride, but over the years she’s learned to run more efficiently by using her midfoot more effectively. Her cadence has improved, as has her arm carriage. She’s now gotten faster even as we’ve aged. And we train together quite often.
Her coach has encouraged her to do more speed work. That has profound effects on an athlete’s overall carriage and efficiency. You can’t fake it if you’re running fast with an eye on the watch. We’ve done early morning interval sessions on indoor tracks and trained together in the breeze and heat of outdoor ovals as well. All the while we’ve discussed what makes her faster and what slows her down.
Thus when we passed through the first mile a full thirty seconds under the goal pace for the morning I was not necessarily amazed, because I’ve seen her do the work. But I was thankful that she was letting herself explore her capabilities. Going for it.
The middle mile went just as well. Which left us with a mile-point-one to go, and that’s where the going often gets tough. Yet she ran that last mile ten seconds faster than the middle mile.
At the three-mile-mark we neared the bridge in North Aurora where the trail dips down to the river grade and back up again. We zoomed along and I could tell the pace of the day was adding up for her. Then those hundredths of a second seemed to drag. I was watching my watch as they ticked away. I let out a little chuckle at that point and she sighed, as in “When is this going to end?”
Finally, it was over. She’d rocked the time trial close to the times she was running ten years ago. “You know,” she turned to me and said, “Running a fast 5K is almost harder than running a half-marathon.”
Her revelation meant a ton to me. I’ve told her many times that “back in the day” we journeyman road racers did the occasional half marathon but more often we banged away at 5Ks and 10Ks trying to drop our times week-by-week. Those competitive efforts required intense focus and constant training to achieve. I feel like she tapped into that spirit with her time trial this past weekend.
Nothing gives you more confidence than blowing through your perceived limits at a 5K pace that seemed unreachable. Whenever the triathlon world opens back up again it feels like she’ll have more belief in her ability to come off the bike and run confidently and a bit quicker. That’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be amazing to be fun. But it sure helps to feel a dose of both now and then.
Nice job, Suzanne Astra. And thanks Steve Brandes for being an awesome coach for my wife.
And all you people out there training for who-knows-what…keep the faith. You can improve even if there are no races on the calendar. Take pride and interest in what you’re doing. Be inspired.