I passed a friend on my way to the gym today. He asked me, mock-seriously, “You aren’t running outside?”

He got a flat “No.” in reply and we both laughed.

It was over 90 degrees today. Bleah.

But the best part is, I ran like a rock star!

I had planned 4 miles, and, truly, with a 6.5 mile run planned for tomorrow (it’s supposed to be cooler but not much), I probably shouldn’t have pushed myself. But I really wanted to see what I could do. My last run in the gym for distance, on Monday, I did pretty well, but not spectacular. I felt I slowed down too much at the end, I got off the treadmill thinking “I could have gone faster.”

Could I have? The question nagged at me. Tuesday night was my speedwork, and I felt a little faster, and since I’ve been doing the regular speedwork and focussing on keeping my breathing regular and in rhythm with my running, I feel just that much better. And with those thoughts in my head, I decided to try to push myself tonight.

Modeling my strategy on Monday’s performance, I aimed for ~9:40 pace for the first two miles, then figured a 9:30 pace for a mile would leave me enough energy for a 9:20 pace for the last mile. That would average just over a 9:32 pace, which would be pretty good for that distance for me.

But as I approached the half-way mark, I felt pretty good, and ran the speed up to about an 8:30 pace for a brief sprint, bringing it down to 9:20 or so. I thought I’d run out of breath and have to slow down further, but I just stared straight ahead, focused on my breathing, and concentrated on my overall form, and zoned out to the music and my mental counting. And before I knew it, I was approaching the last mile.

So, again, I tried a brief burst of speed to push past the 3 mile mark, running at what felt like 85% of my flat-out running speed for a full minute, before reducing the treadmill’s speed back to a 9:20 pace. I was breathing hard, but it felt good, and again I regulated my breathing, picturing the oxygen spreading to all the limbs in my body, feeling my diaphragm filling my lungs with air… listening to the music… and as I approached the 3.5 mile mark, I realized that I could finish at this pace.

The last tenth of a mile was again passed in a hard run, not quite a sprint but a good hard effort. The clock said 37:51 as the odometer read 4.0 miles. I slowed the treadmill to a walk to cool down, and mentally calculated my average pace at 9:27.something – that was the closest I could do in my head as tired as I was.

But, y’know… I think I could have kept going if I hadn’t done that sprint… the voice in the back of my head, normally so negative and full of discouragement, was, for once, urging me on to try harder, to push myself more. I did great, and I could do even greater.

My theory has been that I should push myself when I’m on the treadmill, considering the advantages it gives me; lots of cushioning, forces me to keep a regular pace, air-conditioned comfort, no traffic, no red lights, no hills, no sunlight in my eyes, no pollen attacks (I have allergies). So my pace on a treadmill is going to be better than my pace on the street. I still don’t have much idea how much better, though. It’s all guess work at this point. Of course, a year ago, I had no idea how to pace myself for any distance at all. Time and effort has given me some experience in those things, and I’m only going to get better at gauging all of the variables.

I do think the speedwork has really been helping, and so has increasing the distance. Tomorrow I will see what I can do on a 6.5 mile loop, in the heat, on asphalt and on mainly city streets. If I can do a 9:40 overall pace, that would be pretty good, I think, under those conditions.

I’m looking forward to it…