The First Speed Workout JSRC-Nashville Member Grady Cash provides a look into his return to training on the track.
85°F. It could be worse. My friends and I were warming up on Vanderbilt University's newly-surfaced outdoor track. Soon the gates blocking lanes one to four would be open and this multi-million dollar facility would ours, one of the perks of training with the Jim Spivey Running Club.
Jim usually has us do combinations of distances and that would be the case for everyone except me. In a group of mostly marathoners, I was the sole middle distance runner. My goals this summer would be to break the state record in the 800 meters in the M60-64 age group.
In preparation for that race, Jim was moving me into the speed phase of training. Tonight would be my first speed workout since the USATF Masters Indoor Championships in March.
"Marc, run with me, I don't want to do this workout alone." I explained the workout: 400m, a short recovery, and a fast 200. We'd do three sets. Marc listened with his deadpan face of a senior law firm partner and politely declined. I would be on my own.
"You want me to time you?" Jim lives in Chicago, so John Thorpe, one of Nashville's top runners, is the on-site coach and times workouts for the Nashville branch of the Jim Spivey Running Club.
"No, I'm just psyching myself up to do this." He nodded, fully understanding, and turned his attention to the other runners.
I walked to the line, punched my watch and took off on the first rep. 400 meters. The first rep always hurts worse for me, so I started out hard, knowing it would hurt anyway. At the 200m split, I looked at my watch: 35 seconds. A little too fast. I slowed and finished the 400m in 73 seconds. After a 200m jog, I hit the line for a fast 200 meters in 36 seconds. Jim wanted me to run in 38-39 seconds, so this was pretty close.
One of Jim's rules is that you should be able to finish the workout at the same pace you start or else you're doing the workout too fast. Could I run two more sets at those paces? I felt strong, so that would be my pace for the rest of the workout.
I ran the next 400m under control with nearly perfect splits, flashing by fellow JSRCers who were recovering from their longer intervals.
"How'd you do?" Kelly Murphy, a fellow JSRCer, had run track in college and knew the pain of these workouts.
71, I said.
Way to go! She jogged off without even a glow of sweat to show for her 800 meter interval at Jim's "fresh" pace. Even though she wasn't running with me, her enthusiasm gave me strength.
After the 200 meter recovery jog, I was sweating hard, but felt ready to go. I hit the next 200m in 37 seconds, just a tick under Jim's goal of 38-39. So far, so good. One set to go.
Jim coaches his runners that lactic acid continues to build up during recovery, so when you start the final interval, your legs are going to feel heavy pretty quickly. Jim says it helps us learn to run relaxed when tired.
When my legs began to feel heavy on the last 400m, it was no surprise. I just focused on running smoothly and under control. "Go, Grady!" The shouts came from JSRCers who were doing their recovery jogs. This is really neat, a part of my mind observed, feeling another boost of energy. The heavy leg feeling went away. It returned over the last 100m, but I just focused on staying comfortable.
"73," I gasped to the passing Kelly. She flashed a brilliant smile and gave me a thumbs up.
"Are you OK?" This time it was me asking a runner who had recently returned to workouts after heart surgery.
"I'm OK," he forced a smile. I called out to John to watch him anyway, who nodded back. On the first hot days of the season, before runners acclimate, it's important to watch out for each other.
After a short recovery, I had one more rep – 200 meters –- and it would be over. According to Jim's coaching theory, it should be the same pace as the first interval, which, for me, should be 36 seconds. Normally, that's what I would do, but this night I still felt strong. I decided to reward myself for running a great workout by running how I felt on the last rep. I felt fast.
So I blast off the line -– that is, as much as a 60 year-old can blast off –- and hit the 100 mark in 14 seconds. In my mind, I can hear Jim yelling to slow down all the way from Oregon, where he is attending the Olympic Trials. The image of him shaking his head after I'd do one of these final bursts of speed is one of the lasting images of our friendship and still brings a smile. At age 60, I feel I've earned the right to tease my coach a bit. My legs turn to lead after 100m, but I remember to relax. My time is 32 seconds for the final 200. Not bad for the first speed work in three months.
I sit for a bit and then take off my shoes and jog barefoot on the cool grass in the infield. Nothing feels sweeter after a hot weather workout than cool dampness of grass between the toes. When I returned to the group, I received a few nods of praise and the traditional JSRC reward for completing a workout: a half stick of chewing gum.
Later, some of us meet at a local tavern for chicken strips and beer. The running moms bring their kids, who play in the empty lot beside the outdoor picnic tables. Sitting quietly, I soak it all in as it brings a smile to my face. I can feel the energy of my friends around me, just as I had felt it during the workout. Sometimes, it's just nice to belong.
Grady Cash is an author, futurist, and speaker. He finished second at the 2008 USATF Masters indoor championships in the M60-64 800 meters and holds the Tennessee State Record in the 800 meters for his age group. He has run the Athens, Greece Marathon three times and one ultramarathon. He is a charter member of the Nashville Jim Spivey Running Club.