My running partner and I both had breakout runs on Friday. They didn’t happen at the same time or place and could not possibly have been more different, but I think their origins were the same: a tingly excitement over the way it feels to run faster than we ever thought possible.
I’m sure we’ve both run 8 mph before during interval workouts, but those are pretty much running blind, going from point A to point B without even a stopwatch going. We never knew how fast we were going. A recent treadmill ladder workout, however, pushed us into new territory on that machine. At first, 8 mph (a 7:30 pace) felt so fast I grabbed the bar in a panic. I managed to get through the full 60 seconds the workout called for, but couldn’t imagine doing more.
A few days later, though, when both my sister and I got the urge to try it again, it felt more doable. We didn’t hold onto the bar. We began to wonder if we could go longer — or even faster.
I wouldn’t have guessed it would happen on Friday, which started out looking like our training plans were falling apart. Freezing rain was forecast for the next day’s long run, but we couldn’t push it up a day because of conflicting schedules. Traci decided to do a treadmill run, and I’d figure something out when I got done substitute teaching for the day.
The weather felt less arctic as I was driving home, and I was eager to decompress with an outdoor run of some kind. Then Traci called. She was as excited as a little kid over her treadmill run, and no wonder: She’d done multiple intervals of 8 mph during an hour’s run, sometimes going up to 2 minutes at a time. She’d gone 6 miles despite recovery periods at 5 mph, which meant she’d done a bunch of speed work. I was floored. I mean, she’s never been very thrilled about treadmill running, and what she’d just accomplished blew way past anything I’ve ever done.
Talk about motivation! But I didn’t want to try to duplicate her treadmill run because I’d just done some treadmill speed work (of a much less impressive nature) the day before. I still wanted to run outdoors, preferably a 10-miler. But I was running out of daylight.
I finally settled on our old 10-mile route, an out-and-back paved trail from Hardee’s in Bluffton to the Ouabache State Park campground. I wasn’t thrilled about all that pavement, having gotten used to trail running. And I was still worried about the impending darkness, but I thought if I hustled I could at least get out of the park and be back on the greenway in the dying light.
I started out easy, then tried a few intervals on the second half of the Greenway to make that part go faster. What really made the difference on this run, though – besides Traci’s inspiring phone call – was the fact that the path wasn’t cleared past the bridge. Suddenly instead of pounding pavement I was having to pick my way through snow, ice and leaves. Once upon a time this would’ve been a big downer, having to plod through all that debris. But I was thrilled. I switched into trail running mode and took off, running as fast as I could when I felt good and slowing down to a trot when I needed to recover.
By the time I got to the turnaround, the sun was very low in the sky. I knew I’d have to hurry to get out of the woods before it got dark. With that extra bit of motivation, and with that 8 mph figure flashing in my brain, I flew through that section of the path with only occasional recovery jogs. I couldn’t believe how quickly the gatehouse appeared, and then the bridge a mile later.
“Is this how it feels to be a faster runner?” I thought. I was pretty cooked by then and took it much easier over the last mile or so, but I had a huge grin on my face the whole way. I didn’t have a time for this run, but I knew it had to be good, because — amazingly — it still wasn’t completely dark when I arrived back at Hardee’s.
I couldn’t wait to text Traci.