There’s a conversation I have periodically when I mention a workout I’m not particularly keen on completing. I had it again at work on Friday.
“Ugh, I have to run 20 miles this weekend.”
“Well, you don’t have to…”
“Yes. I do. It’s written on a piece of paper for Saturday, so I have to do it.”
My borderline-obsessive need to stick to a plan is mostly a blessing, but sometimes it becomes a bit of a curse. On Friday, I checked the weather and realized it was supposed to snow all weekend instead of rain, as was predicted earlier. I kept checking the weather throughout the day. As my niece would say while shaking her head and inspecting her stuffed animals with her doctor toys, “Not good, not good.” The forecast predicted rain/snow all night on Friday and all day on Saturday. I didn’t know how bad the weather would be, but I knew I wanted a back-up plan.
I knew that the treadmill would be my last resort. I can’t imagine much worse than running in place for three hours.
I also knew that I was fortunate enough to live in an area with a very nice 442-meter indoor track. I decided that, in a pinch, the track would work fine.
When I woke up on Saturday, it was snowing. And it continued to snow throughout the day. I went to Rob’s house in a desire to delay the inevitable decision. He cautioned against running outside, but he’s a very cautious person, so I still fruitlessly hoped running outside would be an option. But I knew. It just wasn’t worth risking an injury or overworking my stabilizing muscles in the slush. Another complicating factor arose, though. The indoor track was closed for most of the day for a high school track meet. It wouldn’t open until 6:30pm. That meant I would be running until almost 9:30pm. I am not an evening exerciser. I hate having a hard run or bike ride hanging over my head all day long. I can manage to squeeze in workouts after work, but barely. And generally, even those “evening” workouts are done by 6:30pm. But it seemed like the best option, so I dutifully fueled for the run, drank water all day, and drove to the track after dinner.
When I got to the track, the high school kids and coaches were just leaving. I should have driven over a little early so I could watch them finish up! It was a flashback to high school and college. I was also pleased to note that the ice was full of kids learning to skate and high schoolers on dates. I should have expected that they’d have people skating, but since I’ve only been to the Olympic Oval in the morning, it took me by surprise. Those skaters may have been my saving grace because they were virtually the only aspect of the physical environment that distracted me from the fact that I was running around in circles for almost three hours.
As I mentioned above, this track is 442 meters long which means I would need to run 73 laps to complete 20 (well, 20.05!) miles. Instead of keeping track of laps (which was never going to happen), I decided to keep track of “miles.” Four laps around the track was about 1.1 miles, so I figured out the pace I should probably be hitting for these miles. An 8:47 “mile” equated to a 7:59 mile and a 9:10 “mile” equated to an 8:20 mile. I planned to take my split for each “mile” and track my distance that way. Seventy-three laps converted into 18.25 “miles.” Since I ran my last 20 miler at an 8:11/mile pace, I was hoping to run around an 8:15/mile pace (9:03 “mile” pace) this time around.
Before I get started on the run itself, here are my times for each four-lap segment around the track:
|“Mile” 1||9:38||“Mile” 11||9:03|
|“Mile” 2||8:54||“Mile” 12||9:05|
|“Mile” 3||9:07||“Mile” 13||8:54|
|“Mile” 4||9:07||“Mile” 14||9:05|
|“Mile” 5||9:06||“Mile” 15||9:10|
|“Mile” 6||8:46||“Mile” 16||9:25|
|“Mile” 7||9:13||“Mile” 17||9:22|
|“Mile” 8||9:09||“Mile” 18||8:57|
|“Mile” 9||9:10||Final lap||2:00|
It’s clear that I was a little slow. I started out without much of an idea about how fast I was going. Somehow, being inside messed with my perception of my own pace. (And when I crossed the first lap, I did some bad math and thought I was going faster than I was. Whoops.) I sped up for the second “mile” (I’m done with the scare quotes now. You know what I mean by “mile” at this point!) before settling into a steadier pace. The run was going reasonably well. I was ticking the miles off without too much mental anguish. And then tragedy hit. Well, it felt like a tragedy, anyway. I had my water bottle, a bottle of Powerade, and my gummies on the padded mats separating the track from the ice. Some kid rammed into the mat and knocked my Powerade bottle off. I collect crappy water bottles, so it burst open and spilled Powerade all over the track. Crap. I had to run over to the bathroom and grab some paper towels so I could kind of clean it up. Okay, not a tragedy. The tragedy came two laps later when I approached the finish line and saw that my water bottles and gummies were gone. Missing. I was certain they had been thrown away and my run was over. I went to the front desk and asked. I started checking trash cans. I asked some guys driving an official-looking little vehicle around. And, after about ten minutes, I ran by the finish line again, headed to the front desk. And all my stuff was still there—just on the other side of the track where it wouldn’t be knocked over by errant pre-teen. Of course.
I was a bit worked up by this time. I don’t deal well when I face unexpected changes, especially if I’m already out of my routine. I felt anxious and a bit claustrophobic. All this happened at the busiest time on the track, and I didn’t like be surrounded by all those people. This all occurred during mile 6, which was my fastest mile by far because of this anxiety. I could tell I was worked up because I almost stopped to lecture a junior high boy when I heard him call his friend a (Mom and Dad, close your ears!) pussy. “Excuse me, son! Do you know that when you words associated with women as insults and as synonyms for ‘weak’ that you are unintentionally propagating the idea that women are weak and that to be a woman is inherently a negative thing?”
I calmed down, and nothing exciting happened for the rest of my run. It’s been a few days, and the whole thing is kind of blending together in my brain. It was mentally painful, and it made me appreciate running outside. I slowed down a lot during miles 16 and 17. When I’m running outside and get within three or four miles of my finishing location, there’s a homing instinct that kicks in. I naturally pick up the pace a little (or at least, naturally avoid slowing down despite my exhaustion). I get a mini version of what often happens towards the end of the race when adrenaline helps power you through the last few miles. That didn’t happen at all inside. All I could think was, “How bad would it be to stop a little early?” and “I have how many laps left?” You can see from my times towards the end that I was really struggling. I did manage a “kick” during the last five laps, but I could not get my brain and my body to work together to pick it up before then.
I also learned something new about myself. I like hills. Not insane climbing, but the periodic hills on my long run route add some variety. I’m not taking the exact same stride a million times. The changes in the terrain give certain muscles a break periodically and challenge certain other muscles from time to time. I was hurting at the end of my flat run far more than I was hurting at the end of my last 20 miler. I think my calf was on the verge of cramping up, and I was feeling some pain in other parts of my body, I’m sure related to the repetitive, pounding motion.
I finished and immediately sat down on the track. I felt like a bit of an idiot, sitting there in the middle of the track (out of the other runners’ ways!) at 9:30pm, but it took a good couple of minutes before I could force myself to the bleachers where I recovered for a good five minutes before dragging myself back out to my car, lamenting at how far away I had been forced to park due to the track meet.
I struggled through this run. I averaged an 8:17/mile pace which was good, but still a little frustrating considering my 8:11/mile pace last time. For whatever reason, I wasn’t on point. I felt a little slow, and I was surprised at how early in the run I started to feel strained. But despite that, I put a lot into the run. I worked hard, and I never gave up mentally. Really. Those slow miles at the end? I was seriously trying. When it comes down to it, effort is the only factor completely under your control in runs, so while I would have liked to have run a few seconds per mile faster, I’m still proud of myself for working hard, even though the running conditions were so different (and not really in a good way!). If you are looking for a relaxing run, I would not recommend running inside. However, if you’re looking for a workout that will challenge you mentally and build that mental toughness so important for distance runners, an indoor long run might be just what you need.
What have your experiences with running (or cycling!) indoors been? What are your tricks for making it through?