Here is a truth about training that is hard to swallow: It’s not that you get in shape and the workout hurts less. It’s that you get in shape and are able and ready to hurt more. It’s not about masochism. It’s about mastery. Controlling pain, focusing, performing. As Henry Rollins said, “pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness.”
Crossing the line for a sub- 5:00 mile in June 2007 at the historic Cardozo HS track in Washington. I believe all of my adult sub-5 miles (14 of them now) have been done in those red shorts, those zoom loco brand shoes, and no shirt.
The mile is my favorite race. At age 18, I once ran seven sub 5:00 miles in a single school day (I went out to the track between every class). Now, it’s harder as I’m older and I generally do it only once a year. Because Dan Yi once told me “If I can run 5 minute miles until age 40, it will mean I haven’t completely gone to seed.”
The yearly thing has been on since I came back on the track seriously in 2006 to train with Skye to run a sub 5:00 mile. Yes, Skye brought me back to the track and coaxed me into ultramarathons both. The mile is not really about pure speed, but compared to running ultras, you have to work to turn those legs over to run a fast mile. This year I definitely went the distance, running four ultras, including two 100 milers. Now it was time to go for speed.
And so it goes, on the track. Interval workouts. 800’s. 400’s. 200’s. They all hurt in their own way. But they also make me feel very comfortable, at home almost. I’ve been doing interval workouts and running 5 minute miles on the track since age 14. It’s a good, familiar kind of pain.
I approach track workouts in a very similar way that Henry Rollins does weightlifting. His essay on weightlifting, The Iron, is justifiably classic. A choice morsel: “The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”
And 400 meters is always 400 meters. Sometimes 68 seconds is easy. Sometimes 75 seconds is hard. It’s you who is weaker, not some change in the length of the track. Yes, in an interval workout, seconds matter. There are many good places for the Naked Wrist. But the track workout is the one place it doesn’t really belong.
It hurts so much that you absolutely consider cutting the workout short. In fact, you know you are doing it correctly when in the middle of one of the later repeats you seriously consider quitting the whole sport. Walking away for good, instead taking up acting or some such hobby. This last level of pain intensity is a rarity. But when it happens, I know I’m finally in good enough shape and working myself hard.
“One must persevere to get anywhere and as you want to get more out of anything, you will experience pain. It is what separates the wheat from the chaff.” -Rollins
Most of these miles in the past years, I’ve been fortunate to train and time trial with other people. Some faster, some slower. This year I have a fairly large training team– the “Econ Runners. ” Maybe around 15 people come out to train with us on and off; today 5 of us came out for the mile. Self-organized, unofficial. But still an important event. Matt and Andy set PRs today, and I was more proud of them than I was for myself. No PR for me, but I turned out another one like clockwork. Only in the last 300 meters did the pain get bad enough for me to dread having to do this every year for the next 9 years.
So it went, the speed and the distance, an ultra and a fast mile, within a month. Dec 1, 2011 mile splits 1:14, 2:30, 3:44, 4:57. No pics, but it was probably as haggard as the shot from 2007 above.
“I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline…I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour – this greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious.” – Vince Lombardi