I try a new class at a gym called Circuit Works. It’s right on Abbot Kinney. I’ve passed it a million times but didn’t know what it was all about until some girls came in the bar and told me about it. It’s an hour of rotating every minute between cardio and resistance training – and the first class is free. Well in that case, I’ll try it.
The cardio is the treadmill and bike; the resistance is 10 different workout stations. Treadmill is a piece of cake because I’m used to running, resistance training I know I’m going to feel tomorrow because I haven’t lifted weights in a while, but it’s the bike that always kills me. Why is spinning so hard? While I’m on the bike, I feel somewhat OK, it’s on the next weight station I move to that I feel like I might throw up. I haven’t felt this in a while. I like it. Walking out to my bike, I can feel all my muscles tightening up. Thank God I’m done – don’t think I would have lasted much longer. This feeling is very reminiscent of a feeling I had in high school while running track.
I should start from the beginning. If I were to describe myself in one word as an athlete, it would be coachable. Unless I was running track. I hated track. My poor coach. Coach Cooper – Coop for short. He had to put up with my worst side every day. The only reason I signed up for track is because I suck at softball and unfortunately, we didn’t get lacrosse at my school until after I graduated. Not playing a sport was never an option. And that was no one’s decision but my own. Besides, running would keep me in shape during the field hockey and basketball off seasons.
I didn’t completely hate running. It was sort of a love/hate relationship. Practices were the worst, but races could be exhilarating. Track is the only sport I’ve played where it’s just me. Me in my body and my head. I could decide to do something and do it. There was something empowering about it. And winning a race? C’mon, I lived for that. Even better than winning was getting a personal best time. Coop knew there was this competitive side to me that really did care and want to get better. It’s the only way he could have put up with me. I was a brat.
Every day we’d all walk out to the track and lay on the high jump mat until all the coaches came outside. As soon as I saw Coop I’d start complaining. I didn’t even want to run the two-lap warm-up. It’s incredible how much I dreaded a slow two laps. Sometimes Coop would explain our practice for the day and try to say it really fast and then say, “And that’s it, then you’re done,” like it was going to be quick and painless. There was nothing quick and painless about my events.
I ran the 1600 (four laps) and the 800 (two laps). The 800 may be a quicker race, but it’s definitely the hardest. Freshman year I learned how to run, and sophomore year I peaked and did my best. I still remember my times: 5:31 mile and 2:31 800. Or maybe it was a 2:33. Either way, it was fast. Our 4×1600 relay even broke the school record in 2000. It was the only time I saw my name on the high school wall. (It was then broken in 2007 when the Eagles got this awesomely fast girl who broke most of the running records.) The better I got, the more I complained. It got to the point where Coop wouldn’t even look at me when we started practice because if he’d look at me, I’d speak. And I never had anything positive to say. He’d see me out of the corner of his eye wanting to say something and wouldn’t give me the chance. “Stets, don’t start. Not today.” Ugh, fine. The only reason I got away with it was because he knew I’d still go as hard as I could. There was no point in being there if I didn’t try to run hard and be better. I always wanted to beat out the girl next to me.
Junior year was the worst. I didn’t have any personal bests. I didn’t even come close to my best times. Track became a chore instead of an accomplishment. Senior year I made the decision not to run long distance. Coop didn’t fight me on it – either because he knew I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to deal with me, or because I just wasn’t that fast anymore. I wanted something to excite me again, so I did hurdles with Coach C.
Of the two hurdle races – intermediate and high – intermediate was my favorite. It was basically running a 400 with hurdles along the way. It was the first time I ever stayed late after practice to work on something. The high hurdles were fun, too, but it’s a sprint. I’m no sprinter. I think my best time in the 110 hurdles was 1:11. Since I was trying new things, I thought it would be really fun to run the 400. It’s only one lap, and it’s an exciting race. Everyone watches the 400. No one cares about the mile. Coop was the only one ever cheering for me on that race.
One meet, the coaches let me run the 400. They didn’t tell me until that day. Usually we know at least the day before, so I wasn’t mentally prepared. The only reason I got to run it was because they knew we were going to win. If I got dead last it didn’t matter (I think that was the case). It was a bigger meet – not just a dual meet between two teams – so there were more people competing, and definitely more people watching. I was so anxious. I had never trained for this race, but I’m sure I could figure it out. I was in one of the far outside lanes – the lanes for the people who suck. I didn’t care. I was so excited. When that gun went off, I had so much adrenaline pumping through my veins. I took off. Too fast. I was sprinting. I had no idea how to pace myself. As I came around the first 100, I was in the lead, or at least in the front. Approaching the 200 mark, I could see Coach C. He looked like he was holding his breath. He may have put his hands out, palms down, pressing towards the ground, indicating that I should slow down and maybe pace myself a little bit. But it was too late. The damage was done. Rounding the track for the last two hundred, it started to happen. My muscles began to tighten up. It started in my face, then worked its way down to my neck, my shoulders, my arms, my quads. I tried to push through it. The last 100 is usually the best part of my race – I was always able to kick it at the end and finish strong. Not today. My body would literally not move the way I needed it to. I felt runner after runner pass me on the last 100. I had never experienced anything like it. Sure, I’ve had people beat me in the last 100 in a race, but I was always going as fast as I possibly could. This was just embarrassing, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was the worst feeling. I stumble across the finish line – dead last. I just look at Coach C, like, thanks for the heads up, dude. You could have warned me. But as with most things, I had to live and learn.
I get that feeling again after Circuit Works. Everything tightens up and I struggle to mount my bike for the short ride home. It really doesn’t compare to my senior year experience, but at 27 years old, this is probably as hard as I’m going to go.
*The Black Keys