Image: Denise running
Jim Seida  /  MSNBC.com
Before each workout, I start with a warm-up mile. No, I did not run into the bench but I did want to sit down on it.
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msnbc.com
updated 3/17/2005 11:56:02 AM ET 2005-03-17T16:56:02

We have the lights. That's always a good sign as I pull into the parking lot at Sammamish High School. I spend half my life stumbling around in the dark, but tonight at least, I will run under the lights — cue the theme to “Chariots of Fire” (I still can't believe that movie won Best Picture).

As a rule, I never know what to expect at the Wednesday night track workout (two weeks ago we did mile repeaters, last week it was a 3-mile time test). But not this week. Jeff, the leader of our pack and my personal trainer, opted to actually take a day off. No such luck for us. He left instructions. For tonight's torture, we get 8 x 800s. That's eight sets of 800 meters (800 meters is two laps). My goal time: 5 minutes per 800. That officially puts me in the slowpoke group of one. The gazelles (Chris and two of the three Brians) were shooting for 3:15. Ah, yeah. This is usually when “the voice” begins its multi-part chorus of “you are a fraud.” But tonight there is a different noise in my head, and it's got a beat.

Regardless of the goal time (because we are all winners on the track), it's a hard workout. The murmurs in the group reflect that.

“Can't we just do our warm-up mile and tell Jeff we did the workout?”

“It's feeling more like a 4 x 800 night.”

But inevitably, some goody-goody finally says: “OK, let's get this over with.”

Five, four, three, two, one ... go.

Image: Denise
Jim Seida  /  MSNBC.com
Sweet (or is it sweat) exhaustion. Despite the difficulty and occasional pain, the track workout is always worth it.

On the first lap, I try to find my rhythm and pace. I really want to make sure I hit a pace I can sustain for the entire workout. If you start too fast, you'll run out of juice for the later sets. Playing a little song in my head helps too, but nothing is coming to mind just yet. Usually, I start way too fast, but it's hard to tell until I reach the 200-meter mark. If I'm on pace, I should be at 1:15 at the 200 mark. Hmmm, more like 57 seconds. OK, OK, let's slow down. As I continue my canter, I start to count my cadence. One, two, three (exhale), one, two, three (exhale), one, two, three (exhale) ... suddenly, a song pops into my head.

“I met her on the strip ... one, two, three (exhale) ... it was another lost weekend ... one, two, three (exhale) ... ”

The Tubes? “Talk to You Later?” Where the hell did that one come from?

“She won't even miss me when she's gone ... one, two, three (exhale) ... That's OK with me I'll cry later on ... ” 400 meters. 2:02. Damn, still too fast.

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“It's been six months ... one, two, three (exhale) ... she hasn't shut up once ... one, two, three (exhale) ... I've tried to explain ... one, two, three (exhale) ... she's driving me insane ...” And time.

4:40. Looks like we have to pick another song.

We walk a half lap in order to rest — and catch our breath — between sets. The gazelles are a full lap ahead of me, taking in fluids. The next group, the go-go gang (Laura, Catrena, Tom and Hao) are a half lap ahead, poised and ready to run their next set. The go-gos and the gazelles have each other to pace off. Lucky! Tonight, I just have myself, and my songs.

Lap two, and I try to slow it down. The count starts again (hmmm, that cadence seems a bit too familiar). “And I saddle up my horse ... one, two, three (exhale) ... and I ride into the city ... one, two, three (exhale) ... ”

I'll spare you the rest. Needless to say “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” didn't exactly slow me down either. 4:46.

For the next three sets, I hit 4:49, 4:51 and 4:47 to the tune of Outkast's “Hey Ya,” U2's “Vertigo,” and Gwen Stefani's “Rich Girl.” Gradually, it's starting to cross my mind — I'm feeling strong tonight. My feet have wings! Under the glare of the stadium lights, I have become Marion Jones (insert your steroids joke here). Five minutes? Not tonight, I can't be stopped.

Wrong. For the sixth lap, I decided not to check my pace and to just run the full 800 without checking my interval times. As I approach the first turn in the track, I can already tell I am slower. One, two, three, four (exhale), one, two, three, four (exhale) ... “Fathers be good to your dauuuuughters ... one, two, three, four (exhale) ... Daughters will love like you do ... one, two, three, four (exhale).” Curse you John Mayer! 5:06. My streak is over.

For the final two sets, I opt to check my intervals and the only song I hear from here on out is Salt-N-Pepa's “Push It.” “Pa-push it, pa-push it reaaaaaal good." And I do on set No. 7 — 4:48.

By now, the gazelles are done and ready to feed. The go-gos are finished too, but a couple of them — Catrena and Laura — take pity on me and run with me on my final set.

“You're doing great, Denise, you're almost done,” Catrena says as we start the final set. “Don't talk. I'll do the talking.” No, problem there, honey. They really were a tremendous help, setting the pace with me and pushing me to a final time of 4:47.

The workout was over and I had more than exceeded my expectations. It must be the head tunes, and a little help from my friends. And those Wednesday night lights.

Note to the naysayers
Spiro Agnew may not be remembered for much (well, not much good anyway), but the former vice president gave the world a title that still has resonance today: Nattering Nabobs of Negativity. Agnew attached this moniker to the press, but in this case, I am going to apply it to a handful of readers. To those of you who feel compelled to remind me week after week that I am overambitious in my Ironman goals, that I am not training hard enough and am not qualified to join the Ironman club — stop. I know that as of now I am not ready. But I am confident, and my coach is confident, that if I follow my training plan, I will be ready in August. My dear Nabobs, I appreciate your concern but the chorus that is my “voice” is loud enough. To quote Dr. Evil: I have a whole bag of “shhhh” for you.

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