After Marathons, a Runner’s Next Challenge: Speed

melissa davison
Melissa Davison

Melissa Davison was already a runner, but she needed a new a challenge in her races. She wanted speed, so she signed up for a running class. If you've ever been curious about what running class entails, check out her personal experience:

It was around last summer – after countless races and two full marathons under my belt – that I started thinking about striving for more. More than just crossing the finish line, more than mediocrity. I wanted to finish fast.

So I signed up for a running class.

It sounds strange to non-runners when you tell them you’re taking a running class. “How does a class teach you how to run?,” they wonder. They probably have some strange idea of a coach barking at you to hop on your left foot, then your right. The point of the class, really, is to train runners to run even faster.

Like during any first day of school, I was nervous walking in my first evening. I climbed up a few flights of stairs to a large public school gymnasium where the New York Road Runners class met to stretch. There, the coaches offered a few words of motivation and gave instructions for the day’s workouts.

The first running class started out simple enough with an easy jog to the park. But once we were there, true nature of the class was revealed – we were to sprint a mile as fast as possible, keeping around an 8-minute to 8:30 pace. That was over a minute faster than the race pace I had indicated on my application.

On that brutally hot summer evening, there was no turning back. So I huffed and puffed through that mile and squeaked in just under the 8:30 cut-off. Then we were instructed to run a recovery mile and do it again. 

The second time it was harder to maintain that pace, but I managed to just make it once again.

By the third sprint, though, I just couldn’t do it and I barely finished under nine minutes. But at least the class was done and I had managed to get out of my comfort zone and run faster than I realized I could.

Week after week, I showed up to class nervous about what I might be asked to do. The workouts were usually at a pace far faster than my comfort level, but at least the distances were relatively short.

There were weeks in the running class where I left feeling disheartened.  In one class, I just could not keep up with my group, no matter what I did – I kept finishing dead last, and sometimes was even passed by the group that left a minute behind me. My cheeks burned in shame as the coach called out my time, which was a good 50 seconds slower than the previous finisher.

Still, my friends and coaches encouraged me to stay in the group. And not all weeks were bad. I’ve found with running, sometimes you have a great day and some days every yard is a struggle. I’ve learned not to worry too much about other people, but instead try to do well for me. Sure, it’s humbling when a six-year old sprints by me, but at the end of the day what matters is how I feel about my performance. Seeing how fast I could run in classes helped me realize that I have the ability and courage to set higher expectations for myself and work to achieve them.

As the weeks went by, I grew more mentally and physically prepared to push myself harder than I had before. If I was struggling physically, I would tell myself, “You can do this. Run with your heart, not your legs.”  Coaching myself mentally, I was less afraid to test my limits. I could run hard enough to reach my edge – and I found myself able to keep up.

Finally, I had the confidence and encouragement I needed to go one step farther and faster than I did the week before.

My race times didn’t improve drastically at the end of my 10-week class series, but I did set a personal record in the Fifth Avenue Mile race: I ran it in under eight minutes. I hadn’t run that fast since junior high school.

Melissa is a NYC resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog

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