I hadn't really tried fast-fast speed in a while. The weather was looking good, my training has been coming along consistently, and I had the day off. Decided I needed to hit the track, if only to satisfy my curiosity. I recently read Hunter Allen's and Andrew Coggan's Training and Racing with a Power Meter, which drove home the point that the only real way to benchmark my upper-end speed is to work hard (run fast). I inherently like running easy, but I crave self-knowledge. I want to have a much better sense of how fast I can run, and what it feels like to run that speed. Maybe not so much that second one, but it's critical to racing well. Beating my high school 5k time has been in the back of my mind recently. Today, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone with just about the hardest thing I could force myself to do: a critical velocity test on the track. I love the idea of benchmarking my fitness with diagnostic tests, but I don't like doing the tests. I don't like running fast. I tend feel a lot of things.
The original plan was to head to Centennial Middle School's track. I ran there and saw a lot of bodies. I decided to check it out closer, but it seemed like a shit show. People were doing sprints in the inside lanes, running the opposite direction in the middle lanes, walking all over...and there were kids. I have NOTHING against any of these things. I just didn't want to be around them. My critical velocity test meant I would be running as fast as I could for three minutes. Not by pacing myself out for three minutes, but by literally running as fast as I could at each point in time, slowing down as I depleted my anaerobic energy stores. I just knew I didn't have enough confidence to do that in front of people. I have a weird thing where I blow up when I push hard in front of strangers - something I'm working on. And what's more, I wouldn't be running under control. I would be going all out. I knew how ugly that would look, and I wasn't sure if I'd be willing to put on a show like that. Not that I wouldn't be willing to try, but I suspect I would dial back my pace to look more graceful.
So after that quick jog, I headed back home and hopped in the car to head to another track. The Manhattan School was less crowded, and I had psyched myself up. I got a few warmup laps in amongst the people and dogs (why dogs why?), and decided to let it rip. I was still vigilant, though. I was a little more aware of the people around me than I would have liked. I needed to focus and just run flat-out. I bailed after less than a lap. I can't remember what exactly what was going through my head, but it was hurting. It felt like everyone was making fun of me, even though it was just random groups and individuals doing their own thing. In moments of intensity, I feel like our whole body-mind system tries to slow us down. Sometimes I'll feel like I need to go to the bathroom really bad, then the feeling will subside as soon as I stop. In this case, mental tricks were deployed. My mind convinced me that everyone cared how fast I was running, or judged what I was doing. While there is always a chance of that happening, it felt absolutely true to me. I felt embarrassed and ashamed as I pulled off into the grass before I had completed even 400 meters. I kind of ran off with my tail between my legs. Well, I literally ran off, because I still had mileage to do - the tail was the figurative part.
I am proud of what happened next. I just gave myself space to stop analyzing what went wrong and beating myself up. The tides turned pretty quickly. I headed off to the Bobolink Trail and just enjoyed the beautiful day, with a backup plan quickly coalescing. Last year, I would do repeats on a flat, straight section of path near a golf course. Compared to the headcase I can become when I step onto a track ("oh my god look at all these fast people, I wonder who they are, oh god they can just tell I suck relative to them, fuck."), I do much better when I'm just out running. I don't play the comparison game with walkers, bikers, and people pushing strollers. I just focus on me and I run. I went to my starting point and went for it. I tried not to focus on how long I needed to run, but rather on pushing at each instant. I needed to run as fast as I could the whole time, and then I would naturally slow down to my critical velocity once I had depleted my anaerobic energy stores. But that would only be true if I kept pushing at the end, after 2.5 minutes of the hardest running I could muster. I'll tell you, three minutes seems trivially short until you are maxing out your aerobic energy pathways. I looked down at my watch around 1.5 minutes and couldn't believe it - I had been sure I was almost finished. I kept running and checked my watch again when it was time to stop. Nope, it was 2 minutes in. I came up to a group of people and blew up. Pulled off the path and spat into the grass. The problem I'm having is that I can work myself down nearly to that critical velocity place, but then it's so hard to keep running. I had better luck on my second attempt on the path, but I still didn't make it. What seemed to work was that I focused on running hard and not on speed. As long as I felt like I couldn't possibly run any faster, I was doing it right. But I just didn't get there. I didn't get my precious data.
Now for the analysis. It's tricky because on the first lap, I didn't completely use up my D' (the distance I can travel above my critical velocity). It seems that each person has a particular critical velocity and D'. Between the two trials, it would be easier to make a guess about my critical velocity than to infer my D'. From the research I've read, it's unclear how quickly D' replenishes - meaning there is a possibility that I could have regenerated a portion of my depleted D' between the first and second intervals. But how much is uncertain. I won't make any conclusions about D'. From a quick glance at the data from both intervals, it seems like I was still running faster than CV when I chose to stop. It is extremely unlikely I could deplete D' in less than a quarter mile, which would have had to happen in the first interval. But in the second interval, my pace at the end was still faster than my CV ballpark. Like, it could have been my real CV, but that would also mean I have made a quantum leap in my training. So, before slicing and dicing the time series here, I will say it's unlikely that this workout amounted to anything more than a nice couple of hard efforts. I do so little hard running that almost ANYTHING is good stuff.
This is definitely where The Work is for me. I have such an issue with running hard, especially in front of people. I want to learn to handle that discomfort. I wonder if it was different when I ran cross country - I remember having an easier time hanging in there. But I was always running with people! Or against them. It is so tough to self-motivate, especially when the motivation means firing my central nervous system as hard as I can for three minutes. It felt so foreign to me. As I was wrapping up the workout, I reminded myself how crazy and hard it used to feel just to run at all. I enjoy such ease while running most of the time, and I take it for granted. I see no reason why I couldn't run with more ease at the upper end. I suspect my running at all paces would benefit. I'm excited to take on speedwork, even though it will likely be pretty hard to get in the swing of. The data analysis makes it all worth it. Now I get to analyze data with a variety of paces and intensities! I typically run at paces I call "recovery" or "easy", and the analysis is pretty bland. I can't remember the last time I kicked my intensity above threshold. I think there's something beneficial that happens in my brain, too. I think there's a lot to explore here. I can get used to running intensity as a gateway into other kinds of emotional intensity. I definitely feel like I learned to avoid these feelings by maintaining control and never pushing too hard. But what about dipping my toes back in there. It was fun last year, after I read Koop's ultrarunning book and decided I just had to introduce hard stuff back in. Towards the end of an interval, if I can talk, I might tell you that I only ever want to go slow and running fast is just not for me and I don't care about performance. That's not entirely true. I think running hard like this can teach me how to not take my thoughts so seriously, as they ebb and flow with the intensity. Gotta tap into that Zen.