Waking up at 5:15 am, stumbling around sleepily, pulling on tights, strapping on the heart rate monitor, donning T-shirt and long sleeve layers, changing the battery in the footpod, doing battle with the shoes, lurching into the elevator, clicking the watch to start, off and running into the dark, cold morning.
Sometimes I embrace this routine like a reunion with an old friend--warmly, welcoming, breathing in each other's very being. Occasionally, when sleep is short and future goals hazy, I dread it like the approach of a cloyingly musty old aunt -- how do I get out of this? You can't! Just grit your teeth and give her a hug. Ugh!
This morning it was a feeling somewhere in between. I am driven by the thought of Tokyo Marathon just over two weeks away, but I am also getting tired and slightly leg-weary from some recent hard workouts and have a building trepidation of overdoing things too close to the marathon. Late yesterday I learn that we have a work function tonight. If I am to run today it is this morning or lunchtime. Lunchtime offers too little time, involves lugging gear to work, and runs the risk of being scuttled by the demands of work. So I choose morning, and thus, with the familiar "pip pip peep" of my Polar alarm at 5:15, the routine swings into action.
Today it was time for some speed. I was tossing up between four progressive paced post office loops (3.3 km per loop) or four 1600-m repeats at Komazawa Park. For reasons I can't well explain, I chose the 1600s. Last time I attempted this workout I pulled up very sore in my left knee. But I have had my Three Good Weeks since then. I still experience some pain in that old left leg, but it is higher in the thigh and and towards the groin...and quite bearable. The knee has actually been very settled.
I run the 4 km to the park and immediately have to have a toilet break. Good. Better than halfway through the repeats. I continue up to the start line in Komazawa Park and click the split button and I'm off. I'm running pretty hard and it feels fairly fast, but not flat out. It shouldn't need to be as it is only the first repeat. I do not look at my watch and try to run by feel. In the last 500 m I am working hard and breathing hard. This should be a reasonably fast effort I think. At least below 6:10.
I click my watch and am dismayed to see a time of 6:23. What!! I've been running so well lately. Fast, strong. Is it only my endurance system I've trained? Has my VO2 and leg speed gone completely? Do I pull out of this workout now and just go into the marathon on aerobic workouts alone? Finally I decide that, no, whatever happens I am not going to quit. I will finish this workout come hell or high water.
The next repeat I grit my teeth and try to push harder. Surely I have more to give than 6:23!! It gets tough over the last 400 m, which is slightly uphill, and finally I am encouraged to see a more respectable 6:07 on the watch. I have done my best here and don't expect to see any more improvement, so despite hoping that they'd all be under 6:05, at least this is getting closer to the territory I want to be in.
I jog back to the start and push hard in the third repeat. I am more warmed up now, my body more familiar with the hard effort. I focus more on my stride and foot strike, looking for ways to squeeze more out. It's been a long time since I've done intervals. Maybe I am just out of practice. And though I suffer again over those last 600 m, I'm even happier to see a flat 6:00 on the watch. Well, that's more like it. The cobwebs are clearing.
On the last repeat, with great prescience I say to myself, hey, this is the last repeat! and somehow, when I search inside, I find there is actually a little more to give. Oh, it hurts though. That rotten uphill over the last 600 m never gets any easier. But I push it right to the end, scaring the other denizens of the dawn, the old ladies and small dogs, with my hard breathing. Final rep: 5:56! Finally I can feel something approaching satisfaction!
This was not a perfect workout. In some respects it was even a bit ugly having such a wide spread of numbers, but at least there was a steady improvement with each rep. The temperature was only 3 degrees today, so I guess that simply getting warmed up was one of the problems. Ultimately though, I was most pleased with the fact that I simply stuck with it after the bad start and completed what I set out to do. I am sure it blew out some cobwebs. Running the 4 km home I was doing about 4:30 pace and it just felt like a stroll, my heart rate was barely getting over 135 (72%) and my cadence was easy.
When I got home, I quickly did some stretches and a few core exercises as it was after 7:00 and there was no time to linger. But as I picked up my heart rate monitor off the ground and walked slowly towards the front door, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief to have this run under my belt. Nothing could take it away from me now. Neither work, nor the mental contortions of mind versus will. And a feeling of satisfaction and warmth spread through my body. Except for my painfully frozen fingers.