Muscle memory is an overused term in running circles, especially when you haven’t raced hard for a while and suddenly try to blitz a few kays without giving your legs proper warning! – BY MODERN ATHLETE EDITOR SEAN FALCONER
“Right, legs, best you start getting ready for a bit of speedwork, because this coming Tuesday we’re hitting the club time trial again for the first time in about five weeks. I know you haven’t really done anything like this for a while, because we’ve all been so busy with end of year deadlines, so I thought it best to give you the proverbial heads-up now, a week before blast-off, so you two can start preparing yourselves mentally for what’s coming. Don’t worry, though, I won’t put too much pressure on you to perform miracles, but a decent time for five kays is non-negotiable. Please. Thank you.”
That’s the memo I composed in my head and fully intended to send to my legs last week, but somehow it got lost in translation and sideswiped into cyberspace, and my poor legs duly arrived at a recent time trial none the wiser about what was about to happen to them. And let me tell you, it got messy. I mean, the stinking e-mail my brain received later that week, after the old legs had stewed on things for a while, pretty much made it clear that there will be a revolt in this palace, and a military coup d’etat after that, if management springs anything like that on them again without warning!
Wait, let me tell you the story…
So, I drove down the road that evening after work, dressed in my favourite running kits, ready to take on the TT route that consists of a 3km loop followed by a 2km loop. After greeting my clubmates and getting the usual guffaws of disbelief that I was there – work sometimes gets in the way of Tuesday nights, so there are usually a few comments about the possibility of snow in the Sahara due to my rocking up for a run – I did a quick warm-up to clear the sparkplugs and warn the legs to wake up, because here it comes. I think the legs must have been Facebooking, or watching series, because no return message was received, just stony silence. I should have read the signs.
Three, two, one, go! And we were off. It was a smallish group of runners, mostly doing five kays, except for this one oke who lined up for eight kays and went flying past us as I trundled over the line. I think one woman even said “Gmpfff,” as if he was rude to go that fast. Anyway, I looked around me and thought, no way I can run at that oke’s pace, but the rest of this group are not exactly motoring, so I reckon I’ll push on a bit too. Idiot!
The old legs had barely woken up yet properly when I hit the first kay marker in four minutes 10 seconds. One look at my watch told my brain everything it needed to know. I was in deep sh… Well, you know what I mean. So I dialled things back before the legs got wind of what was going on. Or so I thought. Apparently the legs have spies everywhere, because somehow they knew anyway, and the warning messages started coming thick and fast. One e-mail even contained a classic YouTube clip from the original Star Trek series, where chief engineer Scotty says to Captain Kirk, “I canna do it, Captain, I havena got the poower!”
Even after I dialled the speed back, I knew trouble was brewing below. As in, way down below, around the quads and calves area. And the rumbling and mumbling of discontent just got louder with every step. Meanwhile, the brain was receiving more warning messages from the heart and lungs about a lack of oxygen, the diaphragm was trying to deal with a sudden stitching problem as the seams started coming apart, and the skin sensors were sending in reports of swirling wind conditions approaching hurricane strength, so all hands were needed to batten down the hatches and board up the windows. This was not going to be smooth sailing weather!
The second kay marker passed in 9:08, so I had slowed down considerably from 4:10 to 4:58, and things were going a wee bit smoother. I say a wee bit, with the emphasis on wee, because the next mailed attachment had an extremely battered looking Scotty hanging onto a weirdly angled engine room intercom stand, red warning lights flashing all around him and a warning klaxon blasting away in the background, while he was shouting at Captain Kirk about a possible overload of the engines causing a chain reaction nuclear meltdown of cataclysmically disastrous proportions! “Captain, I dinna think she’ll hold together if ye dinna slow her doon noo!”
Slow her down, Scotty
So the brain finally conceded that perhaps the legs were right and five kays of flat-out speedwork was not such a good idea after all – especially not if done without a proper overhaul of the engines! So when I hit the start-finish line at the end of the first 3km loop, knowing I was going to implode if I took on the second loop of 2km, I formally announced (i.e. gasped desperately with a croaking sound that vaguely resembled my voice) to Roy the timekeeper that I was stopping, so please record my time for 3km. “15:26,” he called out. That meant I had slowed right down to a last kay of 6:16.
The legs just stood there for a few minutes, in a wobbly jelly-like state, trying to make sense of it all, while the brain started composing a formal letter of apology which is yet to be finished and mailed. Once they could, the lungs and diaphragm breathed a collective sigh of relief at the near-miss, while the heart started pumping out emergency aid parcels for all the areas hit by the time trial tsunami.
Soon, things were back to normal, but the brain knew there could still be some fall-out when the legs realised the full extent of the damage inflicted on them. Then I knew the snotty e-mails were really going to get interesting… Probably with more Scottish expletives in Star Trek clips attached!