Running on Tilt

Murder on the Track

Chasing Armando, no expectations

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When Armando, an elite masters runner, returned to his apartment after Tuesday’s track workout at the Armory, he had a confession to make: “I messed up,” he said to his girlfriend Sue, a fellow runner and a friend of mine, “and I killed Brenn.”

Here’s how it played out from my vantage point. Armando sidled up beside me during the first of three warm-up 200s before the 8 X 600 workout began. He asked what pace I was going to run. I didn’t know – so I took a guess at 2:10 per 600. “Are you crazy?” he asked. “You should be running in the 1:50s.”

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll see how it goes,” figuring that I’d settle into a moderately paced group and that would be that.

But right after the fastest group began its first 600, and as the moderately paced runners were organizing on the infield between the track and the pole-vault runway, Armando spotted me. “Okay Brenn,” he said, “you’re running with me. Let’s go.”

Armando is also a track coach, and I suspected that he thought I could use a good ass-kicking. He had seen my 1500 at the Armory a few weeks ago in which I had started at the back and had worked my way through the pack. Now he was going to remind me that track, like any sport, is one that rewards aggression.

We started off and I had no choice but to keep pace with him. “Nice and smooth,” he said, “just like a metronome.” The image helped. I established a fast, even tempo, and as I leaned forward with an aggressive stride I imagined myself the pendulum of the metronome, a narrow stick with a blocky head.

We finished the first three in 1:59, 1:55, and 1:57, pedestrian by his standards, but at this stage fast for me. The problem was that I was not pacing myself for 8 repeats—I was pacing myself to keep up with Armando. Then he asked me to lead the fourth one and after half a lap he asked if I wanted him to lead because I was running so slowly. I finished in 2:08. It was déjà vu from my first Armory workout in January in which I had blown a tire halfway through.

After that disastrous fourth 600 Armando joined the fast group and I joined a slower group for the second set of four. I did the second set in 2:07, 2:08, 2:05, and 2:03. It wasn’t an evenly paced workout— but it wasn’t a total blowup.

In talking to Armando after the workout, I learned that his suggestion that I run in the 1:50s was based on an error. He had based that goal on the assumption I had run a 4:48 mile recently, when actually I had run a 4:48 1500, which equates to about a 5:10 mile. If he had remembered that my race was a 1500, he would not have suggested I run sub-2 for each repeat.

I am thankful, though, that Armando took me out of my comfort zone. It was good speed practice. But certainly it is better in races to run even splits. This brings up a larger issue. I have learned from experience and I have been told by runners including Armando that in a marathon, you should not take it out too fast. But since I want to run faster than I have before, and since I will be in better shape than I had been before, I must assume that I can also take it out faster. This rationale, though, failed me when I tried to beat Lance Armstrong in the 2006 New York City Marathon—since I thought I had a sub-3 hour marathon in me, and I didn’t, I ran a grossly uneven race.

My way out of this thinking is to be prepared for the marathon, but to have no expectations for what it will bring. I take comfort that my mother believes this is also the best approach for a weeklong sesshin, or intensive meditation – to have no expectations. And the approach of no expectations I suppose is why I didn’t have a good answer the first time Armando asked at what pace I was going to run my 600s. I didn’t want to have it all planned out.

Next up on my running agenda is an 8K in Central Park on Saturday, but before then I still need to get a few runs in. You can’t cram for a marathon the night before the race, so it’s now or never for the high mileage. If I were to taper before Saturday’s race, I wouldn’t get my mileage in. I’m still hoping, of course, for a good race, if not a peak performance. I ran 6:21 per mile for a 4-miler in December, and if I could run at that same pace or faster for the 8K, which is about five miles, that would be a nice sign of improvement.