Here we go.

After lots of careful season-planning, base-building, VO2 Max-increasing, and speed-tuning, now we’re into the important races. This weekend, I race the 1500 at the Athletics Ontario Open Championship, where I’m hoping to run my fastest time of the year. The next weekend, I run the NCCWMA championships, where I hope to take home a medal or two.

Over the past week, I’ve raced another 1500 (and set another PB) and started what Coach Paul is calling “Special Endurance Workouts,” designed to provide that last bit of fitness before the big goal races. Each gets a section below.

Hamilton Twilight Series Canada Day 1500m

After twilight in Hamilton.

I’d heard a lot of good things about the Hamilton Twilight Series last year when I was training with the UTTC Masters but not racing track. I heard particularly good things about the Canada Day meet, which is apparently always very well-attended. So I’d been planning to attend myself.

A few months back, when I was planning out my season, I told my teammate Simon that my goal race was the NCCWMA. He said that was a good place to try to win, but not a great place to set a PB, because the competition might not be particularly good. (Looking at the seed times for my competitors at NCCs, I can see he had a point.) So he recommended I look for races where younger collegiate runners would be out in force, and aim for fast times there. He particularly recommended the Hamilton Canada Day race.

Canada Day was about three weeks before NCCs, so probably a bit too early to really peak. But I wanted to PB, and felt I could do so without really going nuts and laying it all on the line.

Once again, I got a ride to Hamilton with teammate Jay. We got there nice and early and were able to laze around on the track and watch the proceedings. It was a really competitive meet, and there were lots of really fast 400 and 800m heats to enjoy, including some with friends and teammates. Our event didn’t get started until nearly 10pm. By then, it was fully dark. It had been a hot day, and it remained hot after sunset — probably 27 or 28. Terrible weather for a marathon, just about perfect for a 1500m.

I wasn’t feeling nervous about this one. The stakes were pretty low, I was in a good mood, and I was feeling confident. (Also, I skipped drinking beet juice, which I normally do, just to test if it makes any difference. Beet juice always makes me feel a little sick. So it was nice not to feel slightly sick.)

Just a little faster than I went.

My plan was to try for a 4:15. That means crossing the finish line in 51, 1:59, and 3:07. That’s all I had in my head at the start line.

I started in the very last outside position and ran my usual tangent. I could see things were moving pretty fast but I felt very controlled. We crossed 300m in 49s, then 400m in 65s. Both were above my planned splits, but not dangerously so. On the second lap, I had to hold myself back a bit — I felt like passing but knew I shouldn’t after the fast first lap. I crossed in 1:57 or so, a little ahead of my planned pace. I again felt good on the third lap. At one point someone yelled to their kid, “Pass the old guy,” and he did so in a wild acceleration, but I didn’t take the bait — I just continued at my pace.

With 400m to go, I was right around 3:06, and I was still feeling good. I said to myself, “You’re definitely going to make it through in 4:15!” This turned out to be a serious mistake. I told myself I’d won before I’d achieved anything. Rather than kicking and using up all my energy reserves, I kept my effort consistent — which, in a race like the 1500m, means slowing down. Because I was passing people, I felt like I was speeding up, but I wasn’t. I still felt great coming down the home stretch and was pretty surprised when I crossed the line in 4:16.30.

I was disappointed… But it was a 1.6-second PB, so that was a bit stupid. Also, I’d made a fairly obvious tactical error, ended with too much in the tank, and still come away with a good time. So in many ways, it was a perfect pre-peaking race. I ran fast, I didn’t kill myself, I learned a lesson, and I proved to myself that I can do better.

After I was finished, the real fireworks started, literally and otherwise. I was in the third of (I think) seven heats. The ones after mine were ridiculously fast. The last three were won in under four minutes. The most memorable of these heats was the third-to-last. The winner crossed the line in 3:58, and his friends screamed at him, “DUDE! YOU JUST RAN SUB-4:00!” Apparently this was an 8-second PB for him. He started yelling and raising his hands in the air — and at precisely the same moment, Canada Day fireworks started going off nearby. “THOSE ARE FOR YOU, DUDE!” I have never seen anyone look more appreciated.

“Special Endurance Workouts”

A few days after getting back from Hamilton, an email from Coach Paul arrived in my inbox:

Hi Guys,

Below is a series of workouts that will require a bit of finessing to get in between now and the NCCWMA or AC nationals meet. Ideally you want 5 days between each of these workouts. You can do easier tempo or short fast work in between.

  • 20 days out – 8X400m @ 1000m pace with 3min rest (Jul 1 or Jul 6)
  • 15 days out – 5X40s @ 98% max effort, mark where you stop, take 8min rest or longer if needed to reach the same spot each time (Jul 6 or Jul 11)
  • 10 days out – 8X400m @ mile race pace with 60s rest, then walk 100m to start of next 400, last 400 is all out (July 11 or July 15)
  • 5 days out – 2X600m @ 800m race pace with 18-20min rest (Jul 13 or July 20)
  • The first of these fell on the Thursday after Canada Day. I was definitely dreading it. Eight repeats of 400 meters at 1000m pace? That’s two miles at significantly faster than mile pace! But I figured the coaches knew better than I do what’s possible. And there were those three minutes of rest.

    It was possible. 1000m pace is about 65.5 seconds per 400m for me, according to the various race time predictors (I’ve never raced a 1k). It was very hot that day, so Coach Mike suggested I start around 67 or 66. Jay, Mike, and Phil were also out, and they were planning to run one, two, and three seconds behind me, respectively. The workout was hard but manageable. I ran the first in 66, then went 65, 65, 64, 65, 63, 63, averaging 65.0. They got progressively harder, but I was always in control. I left that workout feeling pretty good about myself.

    On Saturday, we took it pretty easy. Or, we were supposed to. We started with four 400s at 3k pace on three minutes rest, then finished with four 200s at increasing pace, from 1500 to 800. Coach Mike was there and told Umberto and I to try to go in 33, 32, 31, 30. We started in 32, so then we needed to go 31 next. Then we went 29, so had to finish in 28. That’s what we did, and it all felt pretty comfortable, but it did involve pushing a bit. So we probably weren’t as fresh as we could have been for Monday, the day of the next killer workout.

    As you’ll have seen above, the workout was a 5 x 40-second 98% effort, with 8+ minutes of rest in between. Since I was racing AOs later in the week, and NCCs shortly after, I figured this would actually be my last chance at a “special endurance workout,” so I made the case to Coach Paul for doing the more 1500-relevant 8×400@mile workout. He almost went for it — but then changed his mind. “The 5×40 is all about speed endurance,” he decided, “and you have no speed endurance. You should train your weaknesses, not your strengths.” Okay.

    The main difficulty with this workout was that I had no idea what “98% effort over 40 second” meant. I figured it was about 400m pace over around 300m — but I’d never run a 400. So I just decided to run all out (hard to differentiate between 98% and 100%) and see what happened.

    The first rep, I ran behind Umberto, telling him at one point to speed up. We made it one step past the mile start in our 40 seconds — maybe 293m or so. Pretty fast. We rested for 8 minutes and went again. I led the next rep, and we went even further: more like 300m. Somewhat ominously, I “went lactic” in the last few steps — I felt my leg muscles lock up. Since we’d gone further than the first rep, Coach Paul thought we only needed another 8 minutes of rest. Umberto led the third, and we again went just past the mile start… but this one felt hard. Paul told us to take 10 minutes.

    Between the fourth and fifth rep. Not feeling good. Photo by Coach Paul.

    After that third rep, I was not feeling good. My ears were popping — something that normally happens after an extremely hard workout — and the corners of my vision were getting blurry. But off we went for a fourth. I led the rep, and in the last 100m my vision got positively jittery, with the lane markers jumping all over the place. We came up well short of our previous spots — we probably covered around 280-285m this time. I felt completely dead afterward. Coach Paul told us to lay on the track and put out legs up against the railings to drain some lactic out of them. The agony I was in is captured above in Paul’s photo. He told us to take 12 minutes.

    I felt absolutely wrecked between the fourth and fifth reps. I felt vaguely nauseous. I found it hard to walk, my legs partially disconnected from my body, outside my mind’s control. I probably should have just stopped, but I’m very stubborn. We walked over to the 300m start and I could barely manage a shuffle. I did a little stride on spaghetti legs. Still, somehow, after 12 minutes I got going. I was in second position behind Umberto, and Jay passed me at the end, and we only made it about 270-275m, but I’m still amazed I managed any kind of fast running in that state.

    After the final rep, dead. (Amazing) photo by Coach Paul.

    I felt happy with myself until I stopped. Then I felt horrible. I scrunched up in the fetal position in the infield near the spot I finished. Then I spread out on my back, unable to move (captured in the photo above). I stayed there for a while. The nausea came back, no longer vague. I got out of my spikes so that I could walk to the bathroom. Untying my laces took an incredibly long time. People were talking to me but I was unable to listen. I made it to the bathroom, but nothing happened. I walked back to the track, but on the way, it happened: my first post-exercise puking session. It was pretty gross and didn’t make me feel any better. (Amusingly, the garbage can I vomited in was already filled with vomit. Later I heard that the varsity team’s workout had been even harder than ours.)

    Getting home was an adventure. I was way too messed up to run home, so I took the subway. I ran into Phil — who had just done the workout with me, but in a more controlled manner — on the subway platform. Noticing my compromised state, he told me stories about some horrible workouts he’d lived through in his university days. Listening to the details of these killer workouts made me feel sick again. Listening of any kind was difficult, though, since my ears were fully popped, and I was mostly listening to the sounds inside my own body.

    Eventually, I made it home, had a bath, napped a bit, and felt normal again. Then I ate and drank everything I could get my hands on. Around this time, it occurred to me that although I had been absolutely ruined by this workout, my body didn’t actually hurt. This insight was confirmed the next morning, when I woke up feeling totally normal, all systems go.

    As I went on my easy run the next day, I repeated two of Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell.”
    “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”