Both the men’s and women’s track and field teams have been rewriting top-10 lists at the University of Portland this season. Katherine Maus has set the indoor school record in the 60 meter dash, long jump, and triple jump over the past few weeks, Korey Thieleke recently ran the second fastest 400 meter dash in school history at 47.81 seconds, and several relay records were set, along with other top-10 marks.
As a member of the team, I know how much effort the members of the team put into training, something that might not be readily obvious to members of the University of Portland community, due to the fact the track on campus got replaced by the turf and grass fields several decades ago.
A typical week of practice consists of 2-3 workouts at Roosevelt High School, around a mile from UP, and 2-3 practices around campus. Mid distance runners will run over to Roosevelt, while sprinters and jumpers ride over in a van, and practices at UP occur on the turf or in the surrounding neighborhood.
Over Spring Break, we had a chance to get in some solid training, without school to worry about, and with uncharacteristically nice weather. On Wednesday, March 11, the team headed over to Roosevelt High School to complete one of the hard track workouts of the week.
Practice starts off with two laps around the track, followed by warm up A, B or Competition (Comp), each with a different focus. A is the most versatile, getting us ready for anything, B is used before recovery days, and Comp is the warm up we us before hard, intense workouts and at meets.
Today’s workout is a hard workout, consisting of a 500 meter run, two 300 meter sprints, and ending with a 200 meter sprint, so we use Comp. We jog two laps, and run a series of 60 meter strides, increasing in intensity with drills in between followed by a series of accelerations.
After the warm up, we begin the main part of the workout. First up is a 500 meter run, or one lap (400m) plus a straightaway (100m). It’s the longest distance any of us will run in practice, and as such, we are ready to get it over with. Each of us has a different time to hit, based on where we are fitness and ability-wise, and what Coach wants us to get out of the workout. We mill around the start as the girls start their rep. They come back around the 400 meter mark with looks of intense focus on their faces as Coach yells their times and we yell encouragement. As they continue down the straight away to finish their 500, we step up to the starting line, with whispers of “let’s get this over with,” and “come on guys, hit the pace,” muttered under our breath. We eye Coach and toe the line.
All thoughts vanish as we take off as a group. The pace is fast, but not all out, as we are aiming to come through the 400 meter mark about eight seconds slower than our best 400 meter times. We come through the 100 mark a second or so before the whistle, indicating we are running at the right pace. We want to be a little ahead of the whistle, as we will most likely slow down over the course of the rep. At 300 meters, I start to get fatigued, but running as a group helps me keep running at the pace. We come through the 400 mark right at the pace and I focus on being smooth for the last 100 meters.
As we finish, we all look at each other, breathing heavily. “That was long,” someone says. We walk back to our start line, hands on our heads, savoring the five minutes of recovery we have before the next rep, a 300.
Coach yells “get out fast” as we accelerate. This 300 is at a much faster pace than the 500. The best way to describe it is “getting out fast and staying smooth.” Again, we are slightly ahead of the whistle at the 100 meter mark.
The rest of the rep goes smoothly as we cross the line. I am tired, and breathing hard, but nothing is tight, and I hit the time I was aiming for. We now have 15 minutes before the next 300. As a team, we make sure to stay active, as standing still will lead to our legs getting tight. We do some skips and light running and jogging to stay loose.
Because of the long rest, as a group we are able to push hard at the start of the second 300. I’m feeling great through the first 200 meters- and then the work already on my legs catches up with me. I concentrate on my form, and doing so helps the rest of the 300 fly by. My legs are fatigued, and we only have three minutes until the last rep of the day, a 200. I start walking over to the start, hands on my hips.
As soon as I take my first few steps, I know this will be a rep that doesn’t go well. My legs don’t respond with the power I know they contain, a product of the previous reps. I am in lane three, the inside most lane of those of us who are running. Normally this would mean I would immediately gain ground on everyone else because of the nature of running on a curve. With my legs feeling like molasses, however, my teammates hold the stagger all the way around the curve. With 100 meters left after exiting the curve, I focus on driving my knees forward and pushing off the track. Two of my teammates are slightly ahead of me as we get closer and closer to the finish line. As my legs tighten up, I resist my body’s instinct to lean back, instead maintaining my forward lean. Finally we cross the finish line.
Our times aren’t very fast, but at this point in the workout the focus is on intense effort and finishing strong. I know I did my best, and I trust my teammates to do the same.
We may have finished the workout, but that doesn’t mean we magically feel better after stopping running. My hamstrings and glutes are tight, so much so that it is difficult to walk. I’m gulping for air and all I want to do is sit down. The more I walk, however, the quicker I will recover and the lactic acid in my legs will dissipate. Looking around at my teammates, the grimaces on their faces indicates they feel as bad as I do. I pry off my spikes and start to walk.
Walk ten meters. Squat down to give my legs a break for five seconds. Repeat. I stumble my way walking around the track. By the end of the lap, I am feeling better, and able to walk farther without taking a break. After another lap, my heart rate and breathing has come down enough to start heading back to the van. We head back to campus, grateful the workout is over.
While not the most visible team on campus, the men’s and women’s sprints and jumps team has had a fantastic season so far, and is set up well to continue breaking school records through the rest of the season. The Pilots compete this Saturday at the only meet they will host this year, at Mt. Hood Community College. For more information, visit the meet information page at portlandpilots.com.
All photos courtesy of Gigi Fekete