Going Primal

AJWs TaproomToday, for the first time in a year, and seven months after major hip surgery, I returned to the track to run. For me, going to the track has always been a sign. Not just a sign of work that needs to be done and goals that need to be met but also a sign that it’s time to test myself against the merciless, desperate loneliness of a track workout on a Wednesday morning in the middle of April.

The plan for the morning was a rather simple one. After a two-mile relaxed warm-up at 8:30 pace I was to roll into 8×1200 meters with descending rests. The idea behind the workout is to stimulate fast-twitch muscles to the extent that you go into mild oxygen debt without over-extending the system and going into an anaerobic state. It’s a total fine-line workout and one I have often used as a monthly test piece as I go into a big summer hundred. Given the last two years of my life I had no idea how my body would respond, but I was curious to plunge in.

The first repeat went by rather innocently. I ran a steady pace and closed with a 4:56. “Okay,” I said to myself, “You can still do this.” After the 60-second rest I jumped into the second one. Good, solid, controlled. 4:53. I grabbed my water bottle, drank deep, and after the second 60-second rest, pranced out for the third one.

I started to feel it around the 200-meter mark of the second lap. This was getting good! When I hit the 800-meter mark I was floating, and when I finished the third in 4:49 I knew things were flowing. Now, I only had 45 seconds rest but I was in a zone. I took my shirt off, took a swig of water, and was off. Fourth one, 4:45.

Then, after that, I was in full on pain-cave mode. Forty-five seconds later it was on to the fifth. 4:42. Then, only 30 seconds rest. I didn’t care. 4:40. Before the sixth, I only had another 30 seconds rest, it was getting real. As in, really real. Didn’t matter, 4:39. I was channeling my inner Jared Campbell.

Now, there were two repeats left with 15 seconds rest between them. Basically a mile and half time trial. I had not felt this way in a long, long time.

Alive, whole, complete.

On the one hand, I was just a middle-aged man on a track trying to drag himself back into shape. On the other hand, I felt myself inexplicably and somewhat mysteriously becoming primal again. In the beautiful words of my favorite poet Mary Oliver, I was finding the answer to her ultimate essential question:

“Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I jumped out for the seventh full of hope and vim and vigor. After two laps I got a little worried but I stayed calm and got back home in 4:38. I had one left, and no time to waste.

I jumped out on the eighth. Hitting 200 in 45 flat I knew my legs weren’t going to fail me but my head and my heart might be another story. I settled in and finished the first quarter right on 1:32. I tried to pay attention to form, ignore the taste of blood in my mouth, and block out the numbness in my arms, but I couldn’t. I hit 800 in 3:10. It was so freaking good!

It was time to dig deep. I actually let out a bit of a guttural groan as I rounded the first turn and headed down, for the last time, the backstretch that had that little bit of the tailwind I’d been sailing on all day. I hit the 1,000 in 3:50 and knew I was good.

I was back.

Stopping my watch at 4:35 with a 1:25 last quarter filled my heart. I admit, I cried a little.

A year ago I didn’t know if I would ever be here again. A year ago I was filled with the doubt and uncertainty that is inevitably part of aging, injury, and a lifetime of risk. Today, I am on the other side of that boat.

Today, damn it, I am so full of life and hope and dreams that I can barely contain myself. Today, I am back to my primal self.

I have returned to find the essence of my being.

I am home.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery Give BockThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Richmond, Virginia and Taproom favorite Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. Known for their award-winning Gingerbread Stout, Hardywood also makes a nifty little German varietal called Give Bock. A tasty, Bock-style beer the proceeds of which all go to support hunger initiatives in the Commonwealth. Definitely worth a try.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Can you describe the last time you were in a similar position to AJW, where you were coming back from time away from the sport and you found yourself in a workout you wouldn’t have been able to do during your time away? What was that experience like?
  • For AJW, it’s this track workout. What kind of workout is it for you that helps you realize you are turning the corner with your return to running and fitness?

There are 12 comments

  1. Geoff Burns

    Love it! I had (one of several) stress fracture during graduate school, and was relegated to the pool for aerobic maintenance for months, but during that period, I made a conscious effort to work on core strength and flexibility so that when I came back, I was even stronger. I remember doing all of that not knowing if I would even keep running competitively, as college was nearing a close. A couple weeks after I started jogging again, I took up an offer from some friends to go run a 4-mile road race (Steamboat Classic down in Peoria, Il). Nervous for not having done any workouts, but unquestionably excited to go travel and race with close freinds, I ventured down. I ended up running 19:57, which for context, I had run a 1500m race on my stress fracture a few months prior at roughly the same pace (which was the straw that broke the camel’s back, haha). The feeling I had at the end was EXACTLY what you described. I felt both connected to the old self I feared was gone, but also somehow reborn. Thanks for sharing man, and keep grinding!

  2. AJW

    [Editor’s Note: This comment has been removed. Comments made while impersonating others are contrary to our comment policy and will not be tolerated.]

  3. Joe Coppom

    Andy, It’s really inspiring to hear you go through the repeats. Can’t wait to get out there after reading this. Love the quote from Mary Oliver, too. Sorta’ captures the essential question of life in a provocative way. What ARE we doing with our lives? I’ll be ruminating on that while on the trails.
    Thanks!

  4. Lauren

    Way to go Andy! I still fear the sprint/speed work to this day 6 years after first hip surgery and almost 2 years from second. How did you wrap your brain around the idea that you wouldn’t break out there?

  5. William Read

    Sounds like this hip resurfacing is amazing. I am amazed that you can come back so strong. I am envious. Two years ago I signed up for a trail race and decided to go back to the track to get my speed back. The last time I did structured track workouts was when I was 40 preparing for a corporate challenge 5k. I did that run in 15:52 which was really good I thought considering in college my best was only 15:10. I was 57 when I tried to make the comeback and it was a disaster for me. The old formula of doing these once a week going from 8-10-12-14-16 440s broke me. When I was 40 I used to do them in 70 seconds just like in college. This time around I struggled to do them in 80-85 seconds and after the 12 400 week, I was hurting so badly I had to quit the progression. I saw a doctor and he told me I had insertional Achilles tendonitis. This experience unfortunately marks the beginning of the end of my running activities. I still run but find that I can’t push things like I used to now and running is becoming harder and more difficult. I think I am in very good shape physically because I do a lot of calisthenics and people comment on how good and fit I look these days so my running decline is not that I am out of shape. It just seems like a am not aging well in running. Sigh. I hope this doesn’t happen to you or anyone.

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