I feel that I am at some kind of turning point in my running. I am very excited, yet I am full of dread. I am accruing very few miles, but my workouts have increased in intensity (largely due to my running group). I am carrying a raft of injuries (left ring finger, left groin, right middle toe, right hamstring, right shoulder), yet I’ve never been stronger. It could be that the turning point involves my body just exploding in some kind of incandescent flowering of middle-aged hubris, defeated. Or it could be that I get stronger, faster. Part of the fun is that I’m just unsure. But my intuition is that if I stick with it, I’m moving in the right direction.
Today, for instance, was curious. Fully expecting a nice, rigorous hike with hill pushes up onto the high ridge, the backbone of the park, with a long loping return — instead, we head over to what my group calls “piney slope.” This is a couple of loose, dusty, rocky trails, covered in pine needles. From top to bottom, the elevation gain is probably 200 feet. I feel resentful. This is going to be hard work. (The hiking and pushes though also hard, heart-pounding work, are less technical, and you can get more into the flow of running.) It is going to involve 15-second relaxed sprints to warm up. There is already some talk of body mechanics — “you want to spend some energy raising your upper body, from T12 up [coach is very anatomy oriented], so that your hips can release. You want to unload your hips.” The 15s will be followed by form drills on the way to the main event, and then downhill racing and then some sprints on the flat. I do not feel up to it. When a hawk alights on a nearby telephone pole, I am fascinated. But the drills come. Single leg hopping uphill. 10 at a time. Then switch legs. Then bounding. More bounding. Then the deliberate hike to piney slope.
There, the uphill workout include one coach* has us doing recently, to increase upper body strength. We run on hands and feet, punching our fists into the pine needles (and pinecones, and rocks), putting as much weight as possible from the upper body to the hands, it lasts about 10 seconds. The other sprints, too, last about 10 seconds. These involve various form cues and ad hoc races: Keep your right foot pointed forward! Pump your arms quickly, don’t try to long-arm it! Your first footfall should be here, the second here! See what his feet are doing? Don’t do that! How much of a lead can I give him so you’ll have trouble catching him? Coach is, in my opinion, great with this stuff.
My performance on the hill sprinting today was not very good. The week after straining my left inguinal tendon, I was tentative, uncommitted to all-out effort. Coach thinks I worry too much about “injuries” and coddle myself. This is true. But his passion sometimes, I believe, crosses over into the irrationally exuberant. Yesterday, for one of the first times ever, I saw a glimmer of concern. He might have overdone it last week. We had done speed sessions both days. And he was goading us. “I don’t think Magnus will *ever* catch you from that far out.” Right toward the end of Sunday’s workout I strained something. An adductor? No. “It’s the inguinal tendon at the insertion point. Don’t run for 3 days.”
Since he never says things like this, I listened.
“It’s a sprinter’s injury.”
“Does that mean he was running fast?”
“No, it means he was running wrong.”
This week he was more toned down. “Can you run 15s?”
Today, the downhill races were frankly, bad. Never super confident on the downhill, I was tentative and lame. Paired with another injured runner we coasted in to finish like we were headed to hospital. I regained a little momentum during the last few sprints, on the flat.
Occasionally, at the end of one of these workouts we go to a set of stairs. If you know Griffith Park, these stairs, which lead up to the area of the Old Zoo, appear to be made of old railroad ties. Big blocks of lumber. We hop these stairs, a few at a time. When I first came, hopping three at a time was a challenge. A few months ago, I was surprised to find I could, even once, hop four. Today I hopped four, without much trouble. Previously, I viewed hopping five of these steps as something out of my realm. I’ve watched a couple younger, very athletic guys hop five steps. I don’t really consider myself as particularly athletic. I viewed these guys as a different breed, fast-twitch type athletes (which, actually, I’m pretty they are). One of them, for instance, loves the 800 meters. He has explosive power. I’m never going to run the 800 meters. It would be silly. Coach stops me. “I think you can do five.” I shake my head. Five? It took a few times. Coach prodded a little. “Ye have little faith.” I did it. It was a little sloppy, but clearly it was more about confidence than technique. Five has become the new four.
Whatever my limitations, at 47, today I feel like I’ve (almost radically) expanded my belief in what I can do. That’s a surprising and good feeling. Who cares about piney slope.
*deserves a post