There's no better space for me to practice living in the moment than the track. On one hand, there isn't a safer, easier, more protected place to run without machinery. On the other end of that same spectrum, the work I do on the track typically leads me into sensations which can be remarkably memorable and are not always of the pleasant variety. For me, time spent on the track is the ultimate reality check. How motivated am I? How accepting am I? How prepared am I? In many ways, the simplicity and predictability of the track surface is a mirror to my yoga mat. The dimensions and materials do not change, they seem like they will outlast my lifetime. Each offers a window into my soul as I burst into motion. Each offers a reflection of my thoughts as I recover and regain my breath. Each offers a measure of my dreams as the reality of what I can and can't do sinks in at full expression. Each is a place to prepare for future improvement, to measure my progress, and to accept and honor where I am today. I admit that I think runners who don't love the track are missing out on one of the parts of running I genuinely adore, it's like all of the people I know who consciously opt out of experiencing the emotions I find daily on my yoga mat.
Tonight's workout was 1k/200m then 400m/400m, for 6 sets. When I read it, I did some sort of funny math and wound up expecting 8k total for the 6 sets. How about that engineering degree! It wasn't until halfway through the workout that I figured out that 6x2=12 meaning I had another 6k left to go. I should have done the workout in the morning, when the sun would have warmed me and my brain would have had a better chance of being functional. Instead, I went to bootcamp at core power yoga, and then I chose breakfast over a double header of workouts. I knew it'd be tough to motivate in the dark but procrastination took root. On top of that, I didn't get in touch with Luc, my go-to UCSD training partner, until too late. He replied to my request for assistance as I was exiting my car outside his office, indicating he was done with his workout before I had even started mine. With that, I ventured out into the cold dark night, alone and uncertain.
I tore my achilles on this very track a number of years ago. It was only a micro-tear, but it's never been the same since. I was pushing too hard, trying to keep up with Hupfeld after he got too fast for me, in the cold, without a proper warmup. I felt it tear and I kept running. Ah, the foolishness of youth which has long since passed (the youth part, not the foolishness.) This time I wanted to be as warm as I could be, so I put in a full campus loop before finding my way to the oval for my strides. The UCSD masters group was finishing up while I did my strides in lane 4, one yahoo even "raced" me to the line during his last interval, good for him for pushing his limits. I started my first k mere seconds after the masters group called it a wrap. My timing could not have been any better for that. I was loose and ready to see what the measuring stick would say tonight. I hadn't been out on a decent track by myself in quite some time since I've done so much on the San Dieguito dirt track which is 2 blocks from my house and the times there just aren't nearly as exact.
One thousand meters is somewhere in between a little and a lot. It's just a bit longer than I'd really like it to be, but not long enough to really settle in. The first 100m feels nice, since the pace for a k isn't a lung burner and it's fun to drive the knees and lean through the turn. Then comes that first straight where reality starts to surface as you approach 2 laps to go. The far turn starts to suck, you're nowhere near done, not even near a landmark of 1 lap done, and it stopped feeling smooth and doable somewhere on that first straight. Somehow when I hit 400m I always get a boost, I start to think that halfway is approaching and I've got a solid lap down. That 3rd turn is all about getting to the 500m mark and from there it's a straight shot to the 600m start of the bell lap. Glide forward, long strides, deep breaths on that 6th hundred, look ahead, but not too far ahead. With the start of the bell lap, there's always a boost, but oh is it short lived. The penultimate turn is a long one, the full 100m which is the start of the end but every inch of it takes effort. Eventually the curve gives way to the penultimate straightaway, you are heading home since it's the final lap, but you're running away from where you are going to end up and it's a bit of a mind game. The focus this entire last lap is on form, elbows in, deep breaths, shoulders relaxed. The final turn is really more of a final kick in the butt than anything to look forward to. It's the turn of darkness, where nobody cares, nobody would even notice if you stepped off on that last turn and called it a day. All of the energy comes back at the end of that final straight, the straight which feels so smooth in a workout but oh so unbelievably painful in a race.
It ends, every interval always ends, and then it's time for a 200m shuffle back to the start for the 400. By comparison to the 1000, a 400 feels so very doable in terms of distance, but even more painful in terms of intensity. The effort has to be jacked up to meet the time goal, it's a different style of running, more toes, more lean, more arms pumping, deeper and more rapid breathing, more burning in the core, tears in the eyes from the cold wind, and larger surface sensations as compared to the k's depth. That 400 of rest afterwards seems like an indulgence, like double layer chocolate cake since it is twice as much rest than the 200 was, after doing less than half the distance. The 400 rest erases most of the doubt that creeps up during set 1 and set 2. It is the reset, the ginger in between sushi rolls, that allows the brain to wrap itself around set 3, 4 and 5. The thoughts of "Will I make it to 6?" have to be pushed aside, living in the moment requires the mind to focus on each set as it occurs. I tell myself to just get 3 done and I'll see how I feel. When 4 comes up I offer myself the option to call it a day and promptly decline. I'll do 5 even if I don't make the times, I'll just feel better knowing I tried to do 5 even if it's a mess. And on the 5th k, towards the very end, I finally realize that I can survive the 6th set. I wasn't sure going into the workout, but I became confident as I neared the end that it could be done. It's a lot like that last 10k in a marathon, you just don't know if you'll have what it takes to run it at pace until you get to mile 20 and then it just happens or it doesn't and you're almost not even in control of the outcome at that point. Tonight it happened, not in any spectacular fashion, but in exactly the way you want when you're logging track miles in the middle of a training plan.
As I jogged my final 400 to rest and recover the lights kicked off. I assume they were on a timer, but regardless of why, I was instantly presented with a stunning view of a crescent moon, ardha chandrasana, right in front and above of my field of view. What a beautiful way to end the evening. I drank in a huge gulp of air and let loose a gentle Aum to celebrate the chilly stillness all around me. I jogged to the familiar stop sign and then past the unfamiliar Peet's on my way back to my car, ending a 90 minute journey to the basement of my willpower and the root of my focus. I can't say that every interval felt effortless tonight, but I enjoyed the rough spots as much as the smooth because they all shaped my body and calmed my mind. It was a solitary indulgence, one I am fortunate I am able to experience. I am so lucky to have these opportunities to express myself, alone, on hallowed ground. As I wound my way around the oval, in constant motion yet going nowhere, I caught up with that inner peace I keep seeming to lose track of in the stress of work and the confusion of daily life.