Despite it being surprisingly chilly (the mid-50s) for mid-June here in Portland, my BRF, Molly, and I have sweat flying off our foreheads as we rip off the second of eight strides. We’ve already covered six miles this Friday morning, at a leisurely pace that allowed our conversation to range from the adorably charming characters in Me Before You (I’d seen it the night before) to her family’s recent stand-up paddleboard adventure. We sprint roughly 100 yards from one stop sign to “the back of that green SUV” or “that port-a-potty.” Not exactly racing, but not not racing, either.
Less than 20 steps into our third stride, a fluid feeling of energy floods my core and pours into my legs; without conscious intent, I surge forward. We slow as we reach a parked pick-up truck, and Molly says with ever-so-slight awe, "You have gotten a lot faster, Sarah." We laugh as we catch our breath before starting another stride.
I hope Molly is right: Next month, I’m racing a 10K for the first time in seven years. My coach, Bri, subtly planted the idea after I completed the Boston Marathon, saying I had developed more speed in my legs than I knew and I should test it at a 5K or 10K. Not wanting to ricochet from one end of the distance spectrum (26.2) to the other (5K), I landed on a 10K. I chose the Twilight race in neighboring Vancouver, Wash., after another mother runner informed me every participant gets a burrito and two (2!) beers at the party after the 6:15 p.m. race. (All organic, natch, since this is PacNW.)
So after recovering from the marathon while maintaining enough of a base to accompany a friend on a 20-mile training run, I switch to honing and polishing speed. Last Wednesday, for instance, I warmed up for 15 minutes, then alternated one minute of building to good turnover with one minute easy. For the main set of the workout, I did 4 x (2:40 at 8:00-8:15 pace, 2:20 easy), then 2 x (2:40 sub-8:00 pace, 2:20 easy). Trotted 15 minutes home.
I mentally chunked up the workout, taking each 2:40 piece as it came my way. I repeated my this-new-training-cycle mantra, “fast feet!” and leaned forward from the hips to get some help from gravity. Magically, the two faster segments felt easier and freer than the 8:00-8:15 ones. I felt truly euphoric as I went through the de rigueur dynamic flexibility drills post-run.
Looking back over the last week of training for a fast 10K, I realize something had shifted, and I’d found a sixth gear. The gear I slipped into during those strides with Molly. I hope I can rev my engine the same way on July 9 at the evening 10K. I’ll be gunning to maintain an 8:00 pace over the course of 6.2 miles. Slower than my 10K PR (47:37) of seven years ago, but for a 50-year-old broad coming off a 4x-fractured ankle, I’m beaming with pride and optimism.