I went for my annual jog today.
At 4:00 pm my Pebble (RIP) fitness tracker read a record low steps: 458. (How is that even possible?! The plight of working from home…)
For some reason I put on my shorts and decided to jog. I was thinking, jogging is probably the best way to get out of the step-deficit fast. Also, I was in a sort of third-cup-of-coffee delirium where I had less of a sense of my physical body and it’s current aged-state in time and space, than a sort ethereal personage transcending time and place. And in that ethereal personage, I really am still a distance runner, despite 15+ years since my last consistent running in college.
And this is how my annual runs always begin: ON A WHIM.
Now, I firmly believe that the human body is finely tuned to go running, despite age or fitness, for exactly one sustained effort. The disturbing spectacle of public-transit users chasing busses, trains, and airplanes is enough to prove this. It’s just a survival instinct. But here’s the thing: you really only get one good burst before tendons, muscles, joints, heart, lungs, brain… all the pieces figure out what’s going on.
And thus my annual jogging routine: run once– too fast, too far, or both–feel incredible for those glorious 10+/- minutes, and immediately feel my achilles tendons lock, my knees quiver, my back curl.
AND SO GLORY FADES. Or something.
But this year I went a step further: inspired by an odd dream, I took to the local high school TRACK to try some time trials.
In the dream, last week, at the ripe age of 33, I was certain: “I still have one season to run track! This is my senior year of high school… and if I loose weight and really get lean, I could run faster than ever!”
Wait, no– not indeed! (Well, the loosing weight part is certainly a current concern after gaining some sympathy weight through my wife’s pregnancy.)
So I jogged through our open space to the local track. I was jogging lightly like a true Tarahumara, on-my-toes, barefoot-style though wearing shoes, feeling nostalgic, strong, and over-confident. Why not try an all-out 400? Maybe even a mile?! Hey, hey, this stuff is easy!
So I queued up my stopwatch and took off at a reasonable dash.
In high school I ran the 400 between 53 and 55 seconds.
Today I ran the 400 in… 1:47. Ouch.
Now, my first major running effort EVER, before I even joined track, was breaking the 6:00 mile as a sophomore in my weight lifting class. Next, I ran around a 5:30 in a distance-medley-relay at some point in high school. My final attempt at a fast mile came in 2011, I must have been 27, and I managed just over 6:00 minutes in an attempt to return to that breaking point that got me started in the first place.
Todays 1:47 400 puts me on pace for a slowwww 7:08 mile IF I could maintain that pace for 3 more laps. No way.
But maybe I could sustain a 2:00/400(/lap) pace for a solid 8:00 mile?
I tried an 800 to test it out. Ouch, my body was starting to feel the shock, but I pushed myself to stay on pace, checking every 200, and I came in at 3:47 for the 800. LIKE A CHAMPION. Well, not really. But it felt GREAT to hurt. To burn. To push through that feeling.
And then I stopped, and it DIDN’T feel great anymore.
My seemingly supple achilles turned to brittle plastic, my stomach folded-over on itself and prickled-up like a cactus, and I was a half-mile or so from home.
But how fast could I run a mile? I’m already sore, it couldn’t hurt me that much to try, right?
So I cleared my stopwatch, and took the classic long-distance runner’s half-hunched stance at the starting line… and prepared to give it my ALL.
About 10 meters into the effort I stuttered to a walk laughing. Not today!
Maybe this year I’ll get in more than one jog. Not because I need to get back to a 6:00 minute mile. Not because it’s my senior year and I’ve got one more shot! Because there’s something great about middle distance. There’s something mystical about being back on the track, up-on-my-toes, swinging my arms, and pulling around that final corner.
Maybe this year I’ll train like a track athlete, not just like a 5k/10k/half-marathon recreational-runner.
And if not… there’s ALWAYS next year!
For now, I’m bracing for two hard days of my lower legs not working. Worth it. Completely and totally worth it, just to taste a little bit of that old dream, despite the years in passing.