The Joy of Sprinting

Posted on March 2, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

Wednesdays used to be Prince spaghetti days. Now they’re sprint days.

For years I avoided doing sprints. Although I had read article after article about the benefits of sprints—how they boost metabolism, strengthen the cardiovascular system, strengthen muscle, increase endurance, increase human growth hormone…do I need to go on?—I talked myself out of doing them.  Why?  Fear.

I watched other runners sprint.  Saw how fast they ran, how easy they made it look, how lean they were, and I did what I knew I shouldn’t.  I compared myself to them.  I could never do that, I told myself, never be like them.   Never, ever run that fast without breaking a bone or falling flat on my face.

Then just over two years ago I was invited to the Beach to Bay Relay in Corpus Christi, Texas, a marathon length relay race divided into 6 legs.  I was to be part of a team.  Leg 6.

No pressure.  Just the one to pick up any slack the rest of the team might have dropped.  The one to cross the finish line—on behalf of a team.

For the first time since I’d started running, I would be running not for myself, but for others.  In my mind, I couldn’t let them down.  So I decided to incorporate into my training the one tool I had been too afraid to use.  Sprints.

When I first started them, I hated it.  It hurt physically and mentally.  Running sprints forced me to confront all my self-doubt.  Who was I really, and why was I doing this? What was I made of—and was it good enough?

The more I stretched my self-imposed limitations, the more I began to enjoy sprinting.  It reinforced what I already sort of knew—the human body is remarkable and can do pretty much anything.  Provided the mind allows it to.

Running sprints also helped me to get a handle on one of the reasons I took up running—the need to see how far I could push my body until it broke.  I hadn’t been putting all my effort into running, and until I did, I wouldn’t know my true limitations, physical and mental.

I still find it fascinating to learn how my body works.  I have learned, for instance, that on the treadmill I cannot go from a full out sprint to a stop for water because my blood pressure can drop too quickly, say from 164 to 86, which is not conducive to standing.

I find it even more fascinating to learn how my mind works.  I have let my gut take over when I run.  My rational mind used to make a plan that looked like this:  Start sprints on the treadmill at a safe speed (not faster than last week), run four incrementally faster sprints, cycle back down four, then stop.  Very safe. Very rational.  But not very effective at exceeding those boundaries.

Now I don’t worry so much about a plan.  I do sprints on Wednesdays. That’s the plan.  Start at a speed higher than last week and run as many incrementally higher sprints as I can until my legs turn to noodles.  Then I run one more.

Now I love running sprints.  And I suppose Wednesdays can still be Prince spaghetti days.  Maybe for breakfast.  After sprints.

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