Wednesday, January 19, 2011
You're out of your league, son
After holding my own on the hills (with the junior girls), I was eager to try out a session on the track. Ahh... the track - well known destroyer of self-confidence for long distance runners. No better place to bring yourself back down to earth after experiencing the satisfaction of a good session.
There is one red dusty track in Iten, which is shared by hundreds of aspiring Kenyan runners. We arrived at 9:30am, on the second run of the day. The track was rammed with athletes. Most of them were running in packs at a pace probably equivalent to my sprint speed. I immediately felt out of place, which was a perfectly reasonable assessment of the situation. But that wasn't going to stop me from giving it a crack.
At initial count from the side-line, there were forty nine ripped athletes already circling the inside lane of the track. Finding a gap in the fast-moving foot traffic was going to be a challenge.
There seemed to be an anarchic system in place for sharing the track. Rather than allocating a lane to each group, everyone was using the inside lane, which was the width of two normal lanes. The idea is that when you're not actually running, you stand on the outer track. When you are starting an interval, you get a running start from the outside lanes and then hit the inside lane at pace in a gap between runners. It is like the runners version of the 'Arc de Triumph' roundabout. It works very well.
The plan was to run a pyramid session - starting with a 1200m interval, descending to 200m, then back up the ladder again (interim distances were not specified).
Photo courtesy of Mzungo.org (Markus Roessel)
I managed to hold on to tail end of the group for the descending intervals. But by the time we'd run 1200m, 800m, 600m, 400m, and 200m, I was gasping for air.
I would be the first to admit that I'm seriously lacking speed, and this is something that I'm hoping to address in 2011. But it quickly became clear to me that, seven days into my altitude acclimatisation, I had not yet produced the extra red blood cells that I need to run a decent speed session at this altitude.
The problem is that it takes so long to catch your breath back between intervals. I have since read that runners embarking on altitude training often extend the rest period significantly for the first few weeks, so that they can hit the desired pace for the session.
I was well off my usual modest pace for this type of session, and I was hurting more than usual. I finished the session (because I'm very stubborn) but I was losing about 15 metres per lap on the group by the final 1200m interval.
It was inspirational to watch the athletes display their raw strength and speed on the track. Yet at the same time I felt incredibly discouraged. All of the hard work and time invested over the last couple of years, and I get hammered for my trouble. It's something of a motivation/de-motivation paradox.
The comforting thing though, is when you see first hand how hard these athletes work to reach this level of performance. It makes you realise how much potential we all have, if we push ourselves beyond what we thought was possible.
I think the important thing for motivation, is to keep your own goals in perspective. It's easy to compare yourself to those people around you. But in this environment, it's not particularly helpful to do so.