It was the Monday of Conference Week, November 2008, and it was our last workout on the cinders before race day on Saturday.
We knew the schedule said 12×400, but there was a twist we learned when Paul was giving us the paces and the rest intervals.
After the first quarter, we would have 2:00 rest. After the second quarter, we would have 1:50 rest. And so on. You were allowed to go over your goal time by 1 second only once, and if you went over it again after that, you had to stop. It was a game of attrition.
If you made it through all 12 quarters, you took your 10 seconds rest and started running again, this time running as many laps as you could on pace until you fell off. The challenge was set!
Usually we would run workouts all together, both the men’s and women’s teams, but the mechanics of this workout proved it necessary to keep one pace group on the cinders at a time. There were 2 pace groups for each team, so we had 4 workouts to get through before everyone was done.
I was a college freshman, fiercely competitive and eager to earn my spot on the trip to Nationals with a good finish at Conference on Saturday. I was itching to make it to the 13th quarter and beyond. But a workout like this begins with patience.
We came through the first rep in a smooth 88. Two whole minutes of rest felt lavish.
Second rep in 89, and the rest is still feeling excessive.
Reps 3-7 were all 89s as well, but after rep 7, we were down to just 1 minute rest. It’s feeling a bit shorter now, like the time is slipping away before I’m ready to start again.
I managed another 89 for rep 8 but am really feeling it now. There was only 50 seconds of rest before I’m expected at the line again.
Rep 9 feels like the end. I’m going to be over pace. I know it. I manage to fight my way back down the home stretch to come in under the wire at 90.
But I’m spent. I’m still gasping for breath at the end of our 40 seconds of rest when the 10th rep starts with, “Runners set….GO!”
I push off from the line, but there’s nothing left. My legs are a pool of lactic acid, and the pace group runs away from me. I trudged along the back stretch, around the final curve, and finally made it down the home stretch to cross the line in 1:43 – 13 seconds over pace. 10 reps in, and I was out of the game.
And while that sounds like a disappointing ending, it’s actually not the point of this story at all. Because when I think of this workout, I don’t remember how many reps I made it through (I had to look it up in my log). I think about what a special day it was for our team.
You see, typically, practice started at 4pm, and we were done by 6-6:30pm. But that is when we ran workouts concurrently. Since we ran as 4 distinct groups, and since the ladies went first, the last group of guys didn’t start their workout until 6:30pm.
To make things more interesting, the day before had been “fall back” for Daylight Savings time. So not only had this group been waiting about 2 hours to do their workout (and cheering on the other groups), they were getting started in the dark.
There are no lights at cinders, so we had to improvise. Four people drove their cars onto the field and pointed their headlights into the 4 corners of the track to light the way for the runners. Those of us who enjoyed the cheers earlier repaid the favor by yelling just as loud for the last group to take on the challenge of the decreasing rest.
At the end of the workout, our whole team had been at practice for over 3 hours. I don’t think a single person left. And that’s what I remember about this workout. I remember the headlights and the late dinner and the realization of the lengths this group would go to in order to support each other.
And I don’t remember if we did or not, but this seems like the type of practice we would have ended with a, “RAGE!”