Which is really to say, the weather finally broke.
I’m not about to say we are out of the thick (air) of it just yet as we still have some high 80s temperatures raising the mercury this week, but we have enough consistent low to mid 80s temperatures and a 78 thrown in to offer a sense of relief blowing in on a breeze. Yesterday’s “Tuesday Night Terror” workout was evidence of this.
For weeks now we’ve been struggling desperately to hit the goal times our coach has been throwing at us, which this late in the game shouldn’t be that difficult. Whether it was half-marathon pace (5:10 – 5:13) or marathon goal pace (5:18) didn’t matter, we were off every time. It was easy to blame the weather, the choking blanket of air stuffed down our throats and wrapped around our legs, but after so many failed runs we started to question whether it was just a compromised level of fitness. Then finally, after a relative break in the weather, when the sun looked the other way and the air temperature fluxuated with the breezes, we were able to throw down a speed workout that was defined more by the speed and not the workout.
With a 1/2 marathon race coming up this weekend we have a week of scaled back mileage and a workout of 4 miles at 1/2 marathon pace. We discussed potential goal times during our warmup, but none of us were confident we would get close or even hang on for marathon pace. Our confidence has been beat so much this summer that it was hard to stay hopeful, but then we started the run.
Our first mile and a half was on a gradual incline with the next going down before ending on a flat stretch. After some nervous pre-workout discussion we gave into the task ahead of us and took off up the rail trail. And something was different.
Poray and I were off quick and our breathing stayed under control. The trail climbed upwards ever so slightly, but where I often felt the incline and my legs noticeably worked to push harder, this time I felt smooth and controlled. Fast even. Farther up the first mile when normally my heartrate would increase and my breathing would become forceful and sounded, I became aware that this WASN’T happening. I was actually still breathing easy and in control, still running smooth and still feeling fast. We went through the uphill mile at 5:10. On the dot.
Continuing upwards Poray and I ran together, only slightly gaining a quarter-step on each other, helping keep pace by way of not going lazy in our own heads, giving in to the increasing effort stretching out on the trail before us. Blowing by groups of other runners we hit the 1/2 way point of mile two at 2:35 before turning around to head towards the declining miles. Still feeling strong and only encouraged by the assistance of the decline we pushed past mile 2 at 5:07.
Personally, I didn’t feel out of the clear of an ever worsening effort as the run wore on, but despite my more rapid breathing at this pace, I wasn’t quite yet out of control, still running smooth and breathing rhythmically. The 5:07 mile was an assurance that this run was truly different than our past runs where we would have struggled to stay in the 5:20s.
Pushing further down mile 3 Poray started to make a small gap on me that drug me onward. The start of mile 3 felt difficult as my breathing became more labored and the snap in my legs gave way to a more concentrated effort to push off the ground and stay smooth instead of pounding back down. Poray looked as if he was running effortlessly and although I felt a change in my form, I was surprised at how I felt knowing the speed at which we were running, with another gear or two if we needed it. We glided through mile 3, myself at 5:08.
Soon after that marker we came upon a busy intersection with cars stopped in the far lane and a steady stream coming off the turn. Poray, a couple seconds ahead of me, had to pull up and wait for a gap to continue on, but I didn’t want to lose momentum. Pulling out my experience as a bike messenger I slowed up ever so slightly to time a crossing, looked a driver in the eye and blasted between the front and rear bumper of two large vehicles before stepping up momentum and transitioning back to my previous pace. Poray threw up his hands in frustration when I sprinted ahead (I promise I wasn’t racing you Poray) before making the crossing and then blowing by me in the first 400. We hit the flattened trail stretching out towards the finishing mile and continued to push. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline rush of brazenly braving the traffic line or another indicator that I really am in a heightened state of fitness, but I didn’t slow the last mile and STILL felt fast and smooth. My watch ticked off 2:33 at the half, even with the brief slowing and I focused on staying within a few paces of Poray’s rotating legs. Leading into the last 400 we continued to blow by everyone else moving down the trail in various paces and began the finishing effort staying in control and refraining from opening up into another gear. I hit the watch at the line and it read 5:07, which I estimated to be around 5:05 from the frogger challenge in the last mile.
I was stoked.
Finally. Finally we were able to really put down a fast workout, hit our times and even surpass them without any unavoidable obstacle. With this weekend’s race coming up it was imperative to have that confidence builder, knowing that our fitness has been smothered under a blanket of air all this time, no matter how hard we tried to drag it into the open. The wet air was just too heavy, but now that the seasons are finding their rightful place on the calendar, we are able to really gauge just where we stand and just where we need to be in about 6 months.
Let’s hope this seasonal shift is legit and lasting. We are going to need every workout we can get leading up to October 10th to really count. Regardless, it was nice to finally have this first one.