The floor felt good. I took a moment to just breathe. To feel each breath crash and recede like the tide upon the shore. To feel the warmth still in my muscles. To let my eyes go out of focus and wait for constellations to emerge from the stipple on our ceilings. To absorb the effort. To pause.
You see, I’ve been at it for nine-and-a-half weeks now. I started slow, just a few easy miles every other day to get the feeling back. But once it started, the bus – as it were – hadn’t stopped.
My coach piled on more miles each week, methodically and purposefully. He added in various hill repeats once a week, which I dutifully strode up (and back down). My long run peaked at 19 miles last weekend, capping off a 90-mile week (my highest of the buildup). And last Wednesday, I officially brought the base phase to a close, and might I add, with an exclamation point.
The session that brought me to the floor called for four miles easy, plus 4x(4x400m) starting at 81-80 seconds and moving down to 74-75 seconds, with 45 seconds between each rep and 2 minutes between sets, plus 8x200m slightly faster than 400 pace, with a 200m jog between each rep, plus an easy cool down. In all, I logged 13 miles total. Given the paces and the short rest, runDanrun called it a 5K workout for a marathoner. My coach simply called it “economy.”
My body sounded alarm bells during that opening 400, but experience taught me to switch them off and just keep pushing. I quickly found myself in rhythm. I clicked off 80s for that first set, locking into the feel and striding confidently, machine-like, a human metronome, up and down the strip of neighborhood street, quietly edging back the margins. Forty-five seconds came and went with barely enough time to circle back to the sign pole marking the quarter mile. Yet my breath went from labored, to easy, to normal just in time to tackle the next one.
Fatigue began to seep into the tops of my quads on set 3 rep 4, but the watch showed a 75. During those luxurious 2 minutes before the final set, I ran through my cues: turnover, efficient, power. I thought about how I labored over an aggravated back on Monday, threatening to undo all of this work. The tight glute that had plagued me since Christmas. Yet here I was. One measly mile away from a scheduled 10-day down period.
Along the way, I collected pastel sunrises, crunched through snow, followed the triangle of light from my headlamp past dark houses, felt the icy sting of sleet on my cheeks, and the mild wind of a 60-degree day on the back of my neck. I had ducked my head into the pit and gotten swallowed by the darkness.
I lined up next to the stop sign, took one inhale, and clicked my watch. I thundered down the street wearing a mask of calm, but feeling the effort like fire spreading slowly through my legs. Just as it peaked, I was done: 74.
The even number reps retrace the same street in reverse, with one caveat: they are slightly uphill. “Seventy-five,” I told myself, and thundered off again. My arms pumped hard but smooth to 300m before the fire raged and my breath became an audible rasp. Beep! 75.
After another 74, I stared down the final rep. The stop sign was a fuzzy red dot at the end of the street. “Seventy-five,” I repeated. I drove hard off the line and came into my cadence. Turnover, efficient, power, turnover, efficient, power….
The effort pulled tight across my face, and a grimace involuntarily broke out. Form, I reminded myself and composed my face once again. My legs grew heavy, weighed down with the fifteen-and-a-half reps prior, the nine-weeks-and-two-days before them. My breath heavy and ragged. I flashed by the stop sign, Beep! 75. Fist pump. Exclamation point.
If pushed to pinpoint a mantra for these nine-and-a-half weeks, it’s simply: building. I’ve tried to be unemotional about every run, neither too up or down about any one because the goal has simply been to run miles, and establish the foundation upon which we’ll build the barn. Or forge the sword that we’ll hone to a slippery sharp edge, if you like.
I closed the book on those nine-and-a-half weeks and let my mind wander briefly to ten days from now. When the mileage will creep toward and hit triple digits. When I’ll long for that 400m/200m workout again. When anything below a 20-mile long run will seem short. When I’ll visit the pit every week….
But for the moment, the floor felt good.