Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

I thought I was a serious runner. Then I ran with professionals

I consider myself a dedicated runner. I got my start in high school track and, now 28, I compete in longer-distance races, including finishing the Marine Corps Marathon the past two years.

During marathon training, I average around 40 miles per week. These days, my weekly mileage is closer to 20, but I regularly train on the track for road races ranging from 10Ks to marathons.

So when I was invited to join a track workout with the NorCal Distance Project, a post-collegiate team made up of some of the fastest female middle-distance runners in country, I had high hopes I could keep up — at least for a while. But 66 seconds in, as I was gasping for air, I experienced first-hand the gap that separates the pros from competitive amateurs.

On a warm morning late last month, I arrived at Folsom Lake College, a little less than 30 miles northeast of Sacramento, Calif., and put on the neon-green track spikes I hadn't laced up in nearly five years. I was eager to get a sense of how elite athletes approached the daily grind of training and, of course, to see how I would measure up.

Drew Wartenburg, the coach who co-founded the group in 2014 with Olympian Kim Conley (they married last spring), tailors his workouts to each individual. Wartenburg had divided that day's session into three groups: Conley, winner of the mile at the New Balance Indoor Games in New York a few days earlier, would go on a "light" 35-minute run with Alycia Cridebring and Lauren Mitchell; Rolanda Bell and Lauren Wallace, both training for a mile race later that week, would run a track workout together; and Kate Grace and Lianne Farber would sharpen their speed in a mile-specific workout. I had my pick.

None of the options sounded appealing, but I decided to run with Grace and Farber, who had both starred collegiately on the East Coast — Grace graduated from Yale in 2011 and Farber finished her career at North Carolina last spring — before relocating last year to Sacramento, where Wartenburg's group is based. Their workout, which consisted of running four repetitions of 400-meter sprints followed by 200-meters sprints, seemed like it would be a good gauge of my abilities.

Wartenburg tasked Grace to run her 400 splits at 65 seconds each, with Farber at 67 seconds. The 200-meter splits needed to be at 31 seconds.

I went into the workout with the belief that I could complete about half the reps. I had run 400 meters in under 70 seconds at the end of a long run a few weeks earlier and a part of me really enjoys track workouts. Grace provided me with a reality check.

"It's kind of fast," she warned. "I don't want to underestimate you. I don't know what you train. (But) I don't know if you're going to last for a 400 for the first one."

I took a deep breath as I stepped up to the line, clicked the timer on my watch and immediately went into what felt like a full sprint. By the time I reached the halfway mark, I was gassed. We had gone through 200 meters in 31 seconds (a quick pace for which Grace later apologized) and I finished the first lap in 66 seconds — just four seconds off my personal best over 400 meters.

As the other runners jogged ahead to get ready for the next sprint, I was hunched over in pain, wondering how I could keep going.

"Us going out too fast probably messed you up on that one," Farber said generously.

They were just getting started. Despite the fact that my legs were beginning to feel heavy, I lined up for another rep. I finished the second 400 meters in 76 seconds, followed by a 34-second 200-meter sprint. After crossing the finish line, I pulled off to the side, waving my hand in defeat. Grace and Farber glanced back briefly to check on me before continuing on their way. They appeared to have barely broken a sweat.

"The piece of the season where we are right now with this group of women is that they're all in racing mode," Wartenburg said. "They're getting to the point where they're pretty finely tuned."

I marveled at how effortless they made running look. Grace, who hopes to qualify for the Rio Olympics in either the 800 or 1,500 meters, and Farber finished the remaining sprints at exactly the pace they were assigned.

The next morning, I had trouble getting out of bed. My entire body was sore and I had run less than half of the workout. At one point, Farber had described our workout as "fun." Lesson learned: Even if you think you can keep up, these elite athletes will quickly prove you wrong — and they'll enjoy every second of it.

— Washington Post

I thought I was a serious runner. Then I ran with professionals 02/17/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 8:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Red state: Yes, Bill O'Reilly is a Bucs fan

    Blogs

    TAMPA -- The question was simple enough for Bucs fans: Why is former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly wearing a red Bucs polo?

    O'Reilly was wearing the polo during a few video clips from his "No Spin News" podcast posted on his website Monday, which was exciting news for some Bucs fans and not-so-exciting …

    Former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly was sporting a red Bucs polo during his "No Spin News" video podcast Monday. An assistant said the shirt was given to him by former Bucs tight end Dave Moore.
  2. For starters: Slumping LoMo, Dickerson not in Rays lineup tonight vs LHP

    Blogs

    1B Logan Morrison and LF Corey Dickerson, two of the main slumpers in the Rays lineup, are not in tonight's lineup with the Orioles throwing LHP Wade Miley.

    Logan Morrison is 0-for-12 on this homestand.
  3. Ex-Buc Booger McFarland becomes ABC college football analyst

    Blogs

    Former Bucs defensive lineman Booger McFarland is continuing his broadcasting rise by joining ABC's studio coverage for the upcoming college football season, ESPN announced Tuesday.

    Former Bucs lineman Booger McFarland (No. 92) will become an ABC studio analyst this college football season.
  4. Rank the top 10 Bucs players? Here's what fans said

    Blogs

    We mentioned this morning that is was a fun challenge, in response to Sports Illustrated's ranking of the NFL's top 400 players, to ask fans to rank their top 10 Bucs players.

    Bucs receiver Mike Evans celebrates with quarterback Jameis Winston during last year's Bucs win against the Seahawks. Evans and Winston finished 1-2 in an informal Twitter poll of fans ranking their top Bucs players.
  5. Brain study examined 111 former NFL players. Only one didn't have CTE.

    Storm

    Researchers studying the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy found that 99 percent of the brains donated by families of former NFL players showed signs of the neurodegenerative disease, according to a new study published Tuesday.

    This combination of photos provided by Boston University shows sections from a normal brain, top, and from the brain of former University of Texas football player Greg Ploetz, bottom, in stage IV of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. According to a report released on Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, research on the brains of 202 former football players has confirmed what many feared in life -- evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a devastating disease in nearly all the samples, from athletes in the NFL, college and even high school. [Dr. Ann McKee | BU via AP]