Track Work Recovery

I remember when I was growing up I hated that video games that wouldn’t always let me save my progress in the game. I would spend so many hours progressing through the game and suddenly I would run out of lives and would be back at the beginning. I hated that concept. Why do I have to repeat the progress that I already endured?

After the marathon, I took two weeks off as prescribed by my doctor. At first, I was uneasy about it, and I couldn’t sleep right. I was still waking up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning as if I refused to acknowledge I had nowhere to go. I know I could have found different types of workouts, but I didn’t want to. I say it all the time (and I think only runners understand this) but running is intimate. It sounds sanctimonious, but I don’t think of running as exercises like maybe the guy who signs up for cross fit or a biking class at the gym that is looking to improve how they look at the beach for the summer. And as much as I gauge myself on time and speed, the urgency to run is not driven by improving the results but by the act itself.

That leaves me in this place where I painfully waited two weeks to start running again. After those slow two weeks, the doctor said it was okay to go out for shorter distances and not to push myself too hard, so I listened. Each day my leg felt better but I felt more and more sluggish and stir crazy. I finally went out and while the injury was not entirely resolved, I had improved. My strides felt more natural, but I did feel the rust coming off with the muscles in my right glute feeling tighter than usual. I felt the extra weight I had probably added during my hiatus. I fought the urge to push harder and focused on my breathing and how I wanted my gait to stay consistent. It is the cruelty of running and injuries that you don’t get to save your progress.

My first race of 2017 was in February. A 4 miler around the flatter parts of Central Park that takes place annually on the day of the Super Bowl. Three days before this race, I felt awful. I had some stomach virus that didn’t allow me to eat anything substantive for at least two days. I started feeling better by Saturday, so I decided to run the race the next morning. I woke up, still without an appetite and barely able to sip my morning coffee, and made my way to Central Park on a cold day. I got into the corral and decided it was cold enough that I would just push as hard as I can for as long as I can and hopefully I could get home to slip into warm sweats and wrap myself in a blanket. Twenty-six minutes and twenty-three seconds later, I had crossed the finish line. I had a new personal record. I had also managed to run a race over 9 miles an hour, which for a professional means nothing but for someone like me, it was exhilarating. It was only four miles, but it felt good. And I had done it when I wasn’t 100% so imagine what I could do on a good day. Despite all my concerns about everything else going on in the world in 2017, I would manage to take the next step. But I was wrong.

The last three weeks since the marathon have been my reset. I was at level 10, and now I got pushed back to level 4 or at least feels that way when I am slugging through 4 miles at 8:00 per mile in the rain. I feel the lingering tightness in the back of my right leg, and it feels like level 10 is so far away and the levels I anticipated getting to are even further away. But the thing that hangs the most is not the result, it’s the desire to still be out there without the risk of hurting myself.

And that drove me to a day like today. I decided that after a slow 10-K yesterday I would stick to my doctor’s advice to stick with short runs on soft surfaces. That probably should have meant going to the gym and grinding through a boring treadmill run surrounded by all those people staring or glaring at themselves in the mirror. But I decided that the right place to go was the track in Astoria Park. It felt colder than it was as I walked to the track from the parking lot. I went through my stretching routine and glared out at the track. It had been a while since I had been there. During my marathon training, I had been scared of doing work at the track because I would push too hard. The first mile felt okay, nothing too hard or too soft. I thought how tedious track work could be if you haven’t incorporated some speed work into the workout. About midway through the second mile, I could feel the sweat on my brow when the familiar breeze would hit me on one side of the track. When I hit the third mile, I decided it was time for me to let it rip and push a little, not too hard but hard enough to challenge my legs. I still felt like I was going slow but I felt better. I didn’t bother looking at my watch. The laps around the track were boring but it felt good.

I finished the fourth mile and glanced down at my watch to see how far over 30 minutes I was, and I surprisingly saw 29:47. I smiled and started to slow down. Maybe level 10 isn’t that far away.