The wind was picking up as I walked to my car in the dark parking lot. Though already dressed in my running clothes, I was negotiating ways to get out of my impending workout. 6x600s in the middle of 8 total miles. On a cool, sunny morning with fresh legs, this would be easy and exhilarating. But tonight, it would be a challenge.
I let the GPS take me to the track via the fastest route. Google is a godsend in Atlanta at 6 p.m. I secretly hoped the lights would be out and I could just take to the streets for a dark tempo run instead. But the track was lit up brightly and the parking lot was half filled with cars.
My long sleeved shirt was necessary as the temperature had dropped in the relatively short time it took me to get to the track. I took a deep breath and tried to forget that my legs ached with 12,000 steps on them for the day and a half marathon pace run of 11 miles the day before. Whatever I had left to give, I would save it for that final 600.
I clicked the on button and trotted around the oval. Everything feels stiff. I am counting on the warm up to truly warm my muscles up. 2 miles on the Greenway seems to click off relatively fast. 2 miles on the track seems to take much, much longer.
I feel as though I'm on the climbing portion of a roller coaster as I head into the second warm up mile. It is both terrifying and exciting what awaits on the other side. Every time I do speed work, I wonder if it is worth the lung-searing pain, the waves of nausea, and the fear of getting to the last repetition.
But like the roller coaster, I suddenly hear the loud chirping of the Garmin signaling the first repeat is on deck. Time to go over the edge. I toss my long sleeve shirt off.
I pick up the pace and go out way too fast in the first 100 meters. As always. It doesn't matter the workout, it doesn't matter how long I've been doing it, I still sprint the first 100 meters each time I do speed work. Garmin is yelling at me that I'm way out of line with my pace. I had chosen 6:40-6:55 as my 600 meter pace. Pfitzinger says to do it at 5K pace. I don't race 5Ks. So I just guessed.
As I cross over the 200 meter mark, I slowly get into a groove. The pain eases a bit. I follow along the curve and use the wind at my back to go hard down the flat. Ouch. With just 200 meters left at the final curve, I lay it on again and hold tight until I hear the Garmin chirping that the pain is almost over.
For 1 minute and 30 seconds, I reprieve. I want to just let my form go, but there are still 5 reps on the line. I can't get sloppy yet. So I concentrate on taking short strides at a very slow pace. I jog 200 meters in 1:30 and am happy that my start/finish line should be the same with each rep.
I didn't plug in the pace goal when I set the next 5 reps so as I get to the end of my 100 meter sprint, I glance down to see that there is a 5:XX on my watch. Oops. That will not get me to #6. I dial back the pain. A similar situation that occurred in rep #1 unfolds in rep #2 and I fartlek the entire thing.
The new plan is to go 200 easy, 200 medium, 200 hard. I jog out my recovery and aim to stay steady in the first 200 meters. It seems better. But I'm not looking at Garmin. Takes too much work. So I just stare straight ahead and fly around the curves.
I'm conscious of the small crowd that has formed by the exit. Parents watching the last few minutes of practice are suddenly multiplying. My 'finish line' happens to be by the exit. I know they are there to watch their kids, but I pretend like they are my spectators. Grinding out a faster finish is easier when I have an audience.
I make a false promise that I can stop to get water after the 4th rep. Just one more and then I'll be on the homestretch.
My feet burn with the days' work. This workout couldn't be any more different than the 1200s I did in daylight on my day off last week. But I'm stronger for it. My form is still intact and the ache is not injury, it's fatigue.
I push on. When I finish the 4th rep, I decide to just finish the workout with nary a pause for water. The second to last rep is always such as tease. It reminds me of the 26 mile marker in the marathon. But wait, there's more!
I purposely save a little gas in the tank on the 5th rep. I want the last one to be fast. Really fast. So I maintain a bit of control. But I'm still not looking at my Garmin.
By the time I'm heading into the final rep, the field is completely cleared and a couple is power walking on the track. My audience is mostly gone. But I'm still working.
The first 200 meters takes forever. As I get to the final lap point, I aim to just speed up through the last 400 meters. My chest wails in pain as I hit 300 meters, but I am not backing down. Through the back straight and into the last curve, I wait to hit the sweet spot of 100 meters left to go. As I head down the final straight, I stretch my tired legs out as far and fast as they will allow.
There was never a sweeter beep than the one signaling the hard part was over.
The last 2.85 miles of cool down could be at whatever pace my body allowed. I just followed the oval around and around. The hard part was over.