Friday, November 5, 2010

The dreaded Mile Repeats, or Why I Need a Coach

Yesterday's workout was 4 x 1 mile repeats at what I hope is my actual 5K pace or maybe even a little slower.  Mile repeats scare me--they take long enough that I have time to think during each effort, and that's not always a good thing for me.  But anything that scares me, workout-wise, also excites me a little bit, because it's a chance to see what I can do.  So I headed into this workout with sort of pre-race jitters.

The weather was dismal.  I don't mind cold, and I don't mind rainy.  But cold and rainy, I mind.  I would have preferred it just dip a few more degrees lower and start snowing.  Snow it did not, so at the last minute, as I walked over to the gym to change between office hours and a meeting, I decided to do the workout on the college's indoor track.  To me this is a step up from the treadmill, but only just.  An indoor track is great for racing 600 meters (or even better, 600 yards) on, and that's about it, in my mind.  I gave myself 2 minutes to hate the indoor track, and then I got over it and focused on the workout.

The best part was that, just as I was finishing my warmup, my Santa duathlon friend (who works here part of the time) showed up at the track.  He had no plan, and like the crazy endurance athlete he is, said "yes" to the question, "Do you want to join me for some mile repeats?"  He warmed up while I did the first one, then joined me for the middle two, then toddled off to ride the stationary bike for awhile.  It is good to have friends who will jump over their lactate threshold with both feet at a moment's notice.  The company really made a difference, and the workout kind of flew by.  I hit my pace, kept my form under control, then toddled off myself to a meeting where I supplemented my recovery drink with the refreshments provided: cheese and crackers plus little cannoli.  Not the best recovery meal, but the working athlete sometimes makes compromises.

What did I think about during those mile repeats?  I thought that this is why I need a coach.  Not everyone does, and not everyone needs the same kind of coach.  Some people like to write their own training plans.  I certainly like to understand what my training plan is supposed to accomplish, and I like to read about training to see if I can get ideas for how to improve.  I like being able to develop a plan with my coach, so I can put forth my ideas when I have them.  But I really, really need someone to tell me what do to.  I need to trust that person, so I can go into a workout like yesterday a little nervous but with the faith that I really can do what she's told me to do.  If it were up to me, I don't think I would have come up with 4 repeats instead of 3, and I am not sure I would have thought I could hold that pace.  But what's even more critical for me is that, even if I had come up with that workout, when things got hard partway through, I would have had doubts.  Doubts that I could keep it up the whole time, doubts that maybe I'd overestimated my fitness, my toughness, whatever.  Having a coach I trust eliminates that.  I just accept that she knows what I can do, and I do my best to do it.

The trust thing is, I suspect, the hardest part.  I've been lucky to have a lot of great coaches, from high school through college through running clubs until now.  For me the best coach is always someone who believes I'm capable of a little more than I think I am.  But the coach can't just be a pollyanna--s/he actually has to be right, and there's certainly a way to be wrong here.

The other thing I need a coach to do is to tell me when to rest and how much.  Left to my own devices, like I suspect the vast majority of endurance athletes, I would overtrain.  I feel guilty taking rest, but if my coach tells me to do it, I do it.  And she tells me to rest a lot.  This has actually helped me get better at reading my body, so that now sometimes I take rest on my own initiative, but it's important to have that feedback from someone I trust.

All of this makes me laugh, because in most areas of my life, there is nothing I dislike more than having someone else tell me what to do.

And just to clarify, I'm pretty sure (though I haven't asked her) that my coach would not advise me to refuel with cannoli.

OK, speaking of laughing: in my race report about the Tufts 10K, I said that I laughed when a woman I passed near the finish passed me back.  In case you didn't believe that, here's the photographic evidence, taken right after I reacted and started to pass her back:

OK, it's sort of a combination laugh/grimace, but work with me.

Here's where it really crossed the line into full-on grimace, I think:

. . . and here's where I gave my slightly-too-vigorous high five to Joanie:

Nice palsied-looking right hand for me, but we'll leave that for another day.

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