Today, 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.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This 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?