You don’t race in practice. You can’t win a workout. Every runner knows these things (or has a coach teach them pretty quickly), but occasionally everyone ends up pushing the pace with teammates at one time or another. At the JC where I spent the first two years of my college career, we had a particularly bad time of it. Most of our training runs took place on the trails of a cow pasture about half a mile from the school. We’d meet at the track, get our workout for the day, take off along a housing sub-division, through an opening in a fence, and onto the trails. Most of the run we kept at a normal, target heart-rate pace. But, on the way back, we knew that once we hit that gate, there was a mere 800 meters left of our work out. Even better, that last 800 was downhill.
Needless to say, there were more than a few practices when we came thundering onto the track where we would end, gasping for breath, with our heart-rate monitors beeping way above our target rate. Though he issued stern warnings the first few times it happened, he eventually decided that, as long as we kept the rest of the run within the parameters of the workout (meaning no holding back on the workout for the sprint at the end) and as long as no one was getting injured, he wasn’t going to worry about it.
In some ways, those final pushes in workouts are my favorite memories of that team. There’s an exhilaration in running fast when tired, especially in practice which doesn’t carry with it the pressure of a race’s final kick.
I’ve been thinking of those days lately at the end of my weekday runs. My route around the lake means that I end up another setting perfect for a fast finish: I round a corner, usually have a change of terrain (from gravel to pavement) and I’m suddenly only a few hundred meters from the end of my workout. I start picking up the pace, pumping my arms a little harder. Pedestrians move out of my path a little more quickly. I keep my eyes focused on my finish line, push hard through, immediately stop and hit my watch. I stand on the corner waiting for the light to change with my hands on my hips, breathing hard, with the feeling of another run, finished well.