by Dante Zappala

It’s 82 degrees at 5:45 in the afternoon. The humidity feels like it’s hovering around that same number. My running shoes are tied nice and tight. It’s 11 miles from work to home and I’m ready to roll. This run is an utterly self-defeating proposition, but that’s actually the point.

I’d already run the same 11 miles into work earlier that morning. Even at 6 a.m., it felt like running in soup. I’d hammered it nonetheless, hitting sub six minute pace on Kelly Drive. If I complete this double, it will destroy me for a few days and blow up my training.

Good. I hate my training.

I am full of stupid ideas these days. The problem has been that some of them have panned out, so I begin to believe that they are not so stupid. In this case, I decided to flip my marathon fitness towards running a fast 5k. There’s a track meet coming up and I thought I’d try to crack 16 minutes for the first time in 20 years.

The 5k is the worst race ever invented. Like the 800 and the mile, it hurts the entire way but it’s just that much longer. It’s a race bent on sustaining the upper threshold of your capacity to produce energy without enough oxygen. There isn’t a moment in the race outside of the first 30 seconds that feels good. It is the antithesis of running strong. It’s like slowly drowning yourself.

Training for a 5k is no better. The only way to do it properly is to hit intervals at or beyond this threshold over and over again. The body is supposed to adapt, and it gets easier. In my case, my body has been rebelling. My splits are getting slower. Perhaps with some rest, this adaptation would take hold, and I’d be able to put it together in a race, but I don’t feel it coming. What I feel is that I’ve reached the end of a cycle, I’ve passed the peak, and I need to regroup and rebuild.

Thus I stand ready to run another 11 miles in the heat and humidity a mere five days out from my planned race. I already know I’m not breaking 16. That’s not a question of heart. It’s physics. This body can’t travel that fast for that distance. End of story.

And if I run home, I’m back in my wheelhouse – the long grind and eternal soreness of miles upon miles. I might still show up at the 5k and race, but I’m not really racing it anymore.

This is a moment of concession. Running home instead of taking the train is the equivalent of quitting.

Just before I go, I talk to my wife. She asks when I’ll be back. She’s hoping I can pick up some steaks and hook up a little dinner for her and the boys after Karate. She listens to me mumble something about running home and getting there late. She doesn’t have to say much to make it clear that it would be in all of our best interests if I catch the train, hustle to the store, and make these steaks. I just spent four months absorbed in marathon training and rehearsals. It’s time to be more present.

We can hook ourselves on anything, positive or negative. Nobody who smokes ever liked the first cigarette. I was twelve when my cousin passed me a warm Miller High Life. Somehow, I love beer now, even High Life.

When forced into action, the mind and the body conspire in powerful ways to convince us to do something repeatedly. They are respectively the architect and the builder of the safe houses we retreat to.

I begin to think about my recent workouts: 5 x 1200, 12 x 400. Mile repeats with short rest. They were all terrible in their own way. But they are in the books now. Who am I to burn books?

The train was quiet. I got the thin NY strips, one for each of us, and cooked them medium rare on the grill. I roasted some potatoes and sautéed squash. I got to hear about the field trip to Ringing Rocks. My little one cried when I demanded he eat his vegetables and then laughed just as quickly when I flipped him upside down.

It’s good to slow down. And that is reason enough to get on the track and run as fast as I can.