The PB Leslie deserves, but not the one she needs

Well, what can I say? Sometimes you feel great and execute a race perfectly, and sometimes you don’t. In this case, it was completely my own fault. As I went through 3k, finally getting dropped from the lead pack for good, “riding the stugglebus” or whatever it is the kids say these days, I thought to myself, “hey Leslie, there is probably a good reason why you’re in fifth place and feeling like crap right now, don’t you feel like an idiot?”

This seemed appropriate.

The race in question was the Speed River Inferno on May 31st. I had run a good race there last year, putting in a big move and breaking the race open with 1400m to go. I got caught on the last lap, but it felt great to go for the win like that, controlling the race and making moves as opposed to simply responding to others. (If you want the full recap, I wrote about it somewhere in here.) In any case, this year’s 5000m was shaping up to be even more competitive than last year’s race. I was excited to compete against a strong field and have a go at breaking sixteen minutes, a goal I have been chasing for the past few years.

Last year’s race. This was before two people passed me.

I had recovered pretty well from the 10,000m two weeks earlier and training had been going fairly well. Allergy season usually hits me pretty hard every year during May and June, but for the most part I was able to keep my allergies under control and run some decent workouts. So, what went wrong? I became obsessed with numbers, once again. For most of my running career, it has been a struggle for me to back off, especially when it comes to mileage. I hate tapering and when I have to back off for a race, I do it begrudgingly. Thankfully, I wasn’t backing off completely for this race. I was assigned a medium week of 150k, but I always get a range of +/- 10k on my weekly mileage. So of course I had to run 160k, because more is always better, right? To make things worse, I front-loaded the week so that I could take Friday easy before the Saturday race, which probably made me even more tired. Add in a few hours spent out in the sun coaching on the morning of my race and I was feeling a little rough on race day. Nevertheless, I warmed up and gave it a go. My legs felt decent on the warm up, so put my fatigue out of my mind.

The gun went off and I followed the plan, settling into the middle of the pack so that I didn’t blast the first lap. Our rabbit was supposed to hit 4:45 at 1500m, but I figured I would hang back in case the first few laps were uneven in pacing. I rolled through in 75 and did my best to move around other runners and stay with the leaders in the first kilometer. The paced slowed a bit over the next two laps and the rabbit pulled off at 1200m. Rachel Hannah took over the lead and surged a little to get back on 3:10/km pace. The lead women gapped me slightly, and for the first of several times I ignored the fatigue in my legs and fought my up there. Over the next few laps it was the same – I let myself get gapped, or I was a little slow to move around someone, but I knew I had to stay with the leaders, so I tried to cling to that lead pack as if my life depended on it. But by the 3k mark they had opened up some space on me again and I was starting to feel pretty rough. The negative jerkface part of my brain started telling me what an idiot I was for not resting enough for this race, but I still had five laps to run and splitting 9:33 meant I still had a shot at breaking sixteen, so I told it to shut up.

The last few laps got rough. I was rigging pretty badly, Heather Petrick passed me…oh, and I lost about ten seconds in the span of two kilometers. No sub-sixteen for me this time! Nevertheless, it was still a decent little five-plus second personal best of 16:05.84. Sure, I didn’t break sixteen and it sucks to lose to five other women. But I don’t like to complain about a PB. It wasn’t the PB I wanted, but it was probably the PB I deserved. I got a good reminder about the importance of rest and how, once again, I should be listening to my body instead of obsessing over numbers. It is a tough lesson to learn, but I am used to learning some things the hard way.

Oh Leslie, when will you ever learn?

I will have another go at the 5000m this Sunday at the Portland Track Festival. I am very excited to race at a high caliber meet like this. And in case you were wondering: yes, I have rested up for this race.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

And just when you think you are done paying dues

I suppose it’s well past time for an update! And brace yourselves, because this update isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and personal bests. Nope, it’s Westeros-style winters, injuries, and ok, there was a personal best in there. Things aren’t always completely horrible.

As 2013 drew to a close, I felt great. I’d had a great year, setting personal bests at nearly every distance I had raced. I thought I had this running thing figured out and I couldn’t wait to start the next training block. The plan was to race the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March. And then winter hit me pretty damn hard. My training block quickly turned into a series of adjustments and improvisations as bad weather did its best to thwart our plans. At just about every other Sunday workout we faced snow-covered roads or temperatures in the -30s. We postponed long runs and shifted some workouts onto the indoor track or the treadmill. Nevertheless, there were some short windows of decent weather and with my flexible schedule, I managed to squeeze in some good workouts and long runs. My stubbornness was an asset here; no matter how awful the weather was and how much I complained, I didn’t miss any mileage. And when the weather cooperated and I was actually able to do a workout or long run, everything went very well. Though my marathon build was far from ideal, I was confident that if I kept my goal time in the conservative range, I could still have a good race in Virginia Beach.

About ten days out from the marathon, I woke up in the morning and noticed that my left foot was a bit sore. I wasn’t worried; my feet get sore during heavy training and this wasn’t any worse. It felt fine on my morning run, so I carried on with my day. That afternoon it started bothering me again and got worse until it seized up completely. It felt like a really painful foot cramp that I couldn’t walk on, much less run. I wore an aircast, rested up, and waited a few days. While my foot did calm down, there was no way I was going to run 42k on it. It was a very easy decision to pull out of the race. In the meantime, however, my physio was concerned that I had a stress fracture or stress reaction, so I stayed in the aircast and faced several weeks off of running. It was the longest break I had taken from running since university. It sucked. I spent a lot of time on the bike trainer but I was still pretty miserable. Eventually I learned some perspective when I heard about and talked to some runners who were in the midst of much longer breaks from running due to injury. Four to six weeks was nothing. I was lucky.

Four weeks and one day after my foot started hurting, I received the results of my bone scan. No stress fracture. I went for a short run the next day. My legs felt awful and my gait was awkward, but there was no pain in my foot. I spent the next week feeling horribly sore, since my legs weren’t used to running at all. On the bright side, I was building up mileage quickly without any other adverse effects. At the beginning of week two I tried my first workout and it was rough: less than 6k of intervals at slower than half-marathon pace. At that point I was prepared to have a track season in which I didn’t set any personal bests. I was disappointed, but nevertheless ready to put in the work despite the prospect of not seeing the times I wanted this season.

There were a lot of frustrating moments during my little comeback. When I was upset, I often thought back to a workout I did in February. It was a 32k run with the last 5k hard. It was cold, I was tired, my legs felt trashed with all of the mileage I was doing, and the course was hilly and unforgiving. After 15k, I felt awful and I started feeling sorry for myself. The negative thoughts started and I started thinking that all of the above circumstances were great reasons to bail on this workout. At some point I had an epiphany and realized that running hard on tired legs is what marathon training is all about. I told myself that yes, I was tired, but that didn’t matter, because I was still going to hammer like hell once I hit the 27k mark. It wouldn’t be pretty but I had no good reason why I couldn’t do it. A few kilometers later, Steve handed me a bottle and asked me how I was doing. I shouted back, “I was feeling sorry for myself, so I gave myself a stern talking-to. I’m good now.” He loved it. I finished the workout, and it wasn’t pretty, but I got the work done and achieved the desired result. There are always reasons to feel sorry for yourself, but it’s more productive to stop doing that and focus on what you can do with what you have. As I started running and doing workouts again, I simply focused on being the best I could on the day. I was sore and running slow times, so I tried to focus on working hard and letting the fitness come on its own.

To my surprise, this didn’t take as long as I feared it would. My first workout wasn’t very encouraging, but I told myself that workout would be the worst I felt and the slowest I would run. A few days later I paced some teammates at a 5k road race, running 17:40 and feeling a bit better. My next workout was an improvement; I managed 6k of intervals again, but this time it was at my 10k PB pace. After that workout, progress came quickly. I was very surprised at how rapidly my fitness came back. After a few rough workouts, I was doing full sessions on the track around PB pace. My training has been very consistent since joining London Runner four years ago, so I had a great base. The fitness was already there, I just needed to get my legs used to running again.

By the time the first meet of the Runners’ Choice London Distance Series rolled around on May 4th, I was ready to do a rust-buster race. My teammate Matt Suda paced the front of the women’s field at 3:15 per kilometer, which I thought I could handle. To be honest, I was just guessing and I didn’t really know what to expect. The pace felt a little harder than I would normally like it to feel in the first half of a 5000m race and I let the pack gap me a bit before the 3k mark. I managed to rally in the last 2k, holding my pace pretty well and moving up in the field to finish in 16:17.36. It was week four of my comeback, so running within six seconds of my personal best was very encouraging.

With my first track race out of the way, it was time to focus on the real goal: the Ontario 10,000m Championships two weeks later. Workouts went well and I felt confident that I could run a personal best in the 10,000m on May 18th. Once again, Matt would be the hired pacer for my section. He was perfect, knocking off 80-second laps like it was his job. Which it was. Matt is awesome, thanks Matt! I stuck with Matt until he pulled off at the 8k mark, running 3:20 kilometers like clockwork. In the last five laps I managed to squeeze the pace down a bit to negative split and finish in 33:14.91. It felt awesome to run a 26-second personal best after everything that had happened in the past few months.

Matt Suda, awesome rabbit.

Isn’t running fun?

After that race, I think I can safely declare that my comeback is over and I can carry on with business as usual. I’ve had some rough patches this year, but I think the lesson in this is to stay positive and simply do the best you can given the circumstances.

Well, I suppose I’ve rambled enough for today. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for updates as I do some “speed work” in the 5000m.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boxing Day 10-Miler: The successful third attempt

It’s been a while, mostly because I haven’t had much worth writing about. Well, that’s not true. I like complaining about the weather all winter, but that strikes me as something people might not want to read about. In any case, I raced the Boxing Day 10-Miler last week and there’s nothing like the demand for a race report to force a blog update.

My December, as usual, was rough. I took some time off after Canadian XC. Four days off during an eight day stretch of downtime, not too shabby! I hate taking time off of running. I am used to being exhausted from training hard, so when I take time off, I have trouble sleeping. And by that I mean it takes me more than two minutes to be sound asleep after turning off the light. It was terrible. Seriously, do non-runners actually live like this? After just over a week of this hell it was time to run again, and who else is there to greet me but tons of snow and cold winter weather? There was a while where I was pretty sore from running on the snow. I had to make an effort to seek out good footing, whether this was doing loops of Springbank Park, running on the road along bus routes, or occasionally hitting the treadmill. By the weekend before the race I was starting to feel better, and a good progression run that Sunday gave me a bit of confidence.

The Boxing Day Run hasn’t been kind to me in the past. Two years ago, we had great weather, but I underestimated the difficulty of the course, went out way too hard, and positive split by over three minutes, finishing second to Lucy Njeri. Last year I was a bit smarter and managed to run faster in worse weather (cold and very windy). Unfortunately Lucy and Kate Harrison both brought their A-game and completely destroyed me. This year, the weather was a bit milder (around -2 and lighter wind) and I was feeling decent, so I was more optimistic than usual. Best of all, the course had changed and the monster hill at around 7 miles was taken out! Steve and I figured that 59-low would be a good time goal considering the course and my current fitness. The plan was to run the first five miles in the 5:50s and keep it comfortable early on.

It is all well and good to make a plan like that, but sometimes competitive-Leslie takes over and ignores the plan. This usually results in pain in the second half of the race. I lined up beside Lisa Avery on the start line and competitive-Leslie took over and started making terrible decisions, like going out in 5:40 for the first mile. That did not feel comfortable at all, and Lisa was still right beside me. We settled down on the second mile as we hit the wind on the waterfront, but after seeing the split, competitive-Leslie went into idiot mode and thought “I’m gonna break her right here!” Idiot. So I pressed the pace and ran a 5:45. Let me reiterate that this did not feel good at all. I suppose that is the difference between being sharp and race ready versus only doing one workout in the last month. Having realized all of this in the first three miles, the only logical thing to do was to hammer a 5:42 fourth mile in an attempt to drop Lisa. Obviously when I’m running, my body diverts blood flow from non-essential things like my brain to essential things like my legs. Honestly, I was getting pretty worried that I was going to blow up at this pace and suffer a painful defeat since Lisa was still right beside me. That woman is tough.

Fortunately I was able to open up a gap on Lisa in the fifth mile and put some distance on her in the hilly turnaround loop area. I slowed down a bit, but I could see that the gap between Lisa and I was growing, so I figured she’d cracked. Through six miles I was starting to realize that I was on pace for a decent time, so I tried to maintain as best as possible on the way back. I managed to pick off a few guys ahead of me and run some decent splits. Those last two miles weren’t fun, though. It isn’t a true Boxing Day race experience if you don’t spend the second half of the race questioning the life choices you have made over the holidays that have led you to this point. Such as: Why did I smother my entire dinner in gravy last night? Why did I follow that up with cookies and chocolate? Or better yet, why didn’t I do all of those things and simply sleep in and skip the race instead of forcing my body through ten miles of pain today? Well, not much I could do about that, so I had to get through a rather uncomfortable last mile during which I probably ran over six minutes. I made a good charge for the finish line in an effort to break 58 minutes and thought I had it, but the official time came up 58:00. Oh well, it was still a personal best.

It was great to take the win at the Boxing Day race; that event has a very long and rich history and it’s great to have my name up there on the list of race winners among some legends and studs. After three tries, I finally got the gold belt buckle! Lisa Avery put up a tough fight out there (obviously, she’s tough as nails from raising three kids while training like a badass in snow-covered Orillia!) I think we both pushed each other to run quick times on the day. A big thanks to the race crew in Hamilton, it was a fun race and I will definitely be back next year!

Well, that about wraps up my races for 2013. I’ll have to run some more in 2014 so I have something to write about on here. Happy New Year and happy running, everyone!

Posted in Race Report | 2 Comments

Mission accomplished: didn’t run like a useless piece of garbage.

As many of you know, running cross country is a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, cross country is great. I love the idea of cross country, it’s the purest form of our sport and requires guts and toughness. But my love affair with cross country is, well, complicated. When it comes to me running cross country, it doesn’t always work out. And yet I just can’t quit you, cross country. Every year I come back for more. This year’s Canadian Cross Country Championships epitomized our tumultuous relationship. I wasn’t going to race, then I did. My goals and race plan changed about four times over the course of one weekend. It was awful out there and yet, it wasn’t so bad. Confused yet? Let me explain.

After a truly awful experience at nationals in Vancouver last year, I was ready to be done with cross country for good. I was absolutely sick of slogging through the mud when there were perfectly good roads to run on. The roads are nice and friendly. You run hard and you are rewarded with sexy personal bests. Cross country is mean and unforgiving; I try to run hard and I end up slipping and falling on my face or rolling an ankle. So in that vein, I vowed that I would not run cross country in 2013. Then September rolls around and someone throws out the idea that we should have a London Runner senior women’s team run Canadian XC. Against my better judgment, I said, “yeah sure, if we have three other women who want to go, I’ll do it.” Then I watched in horror as a week later, three women handed in cheques for our group flight to Vancouver. I guess that meant I would be running. Steve and I decided that since I tend to struggle in the mud (and it’s always muddy in Vancouver) and it wasn’t my focus for the fall, I would be running nationals with the team in mind. I was to work with a teammate, probably Lauren, during the race. This made me feel a bit better about what I had signed up for.

Let’s fast forward again. It’s late November and I’m in Vancouver. I’ve won the Ontario Cross Country Championships with a decent race. I check out the course at Jericho Beach and it’s pretty dry. I start to think that things are starting to go Leslie’s way, and I let my competitiveness get the better of me. So I pitch the idea of taking a run at a top-10 placing to Steve and after some discussion, he agrees. I jog the course again on the day before the race. It’s in great shape. The forecast calls for rain on Saturday, but I think the course can take a bit of rain before it gets sloppy. I’m good to go, let’s do this!

If you’ve seen any pictures or video from Canadian XC, you know that my optimism was merely a bunch of delusional wishful thinking. It rained all day and the course was a swamp. I sighed and put my 12mm pins in my spikes. As I warmed up, it rained harder and my enthusiasm was dampened (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I was feeling anxious about the race to the point where I felt sick to my stomach and I really didn’t want to be there. 2012 Leslie would have let that anxiety get the better of her and would have had a terrible race. But the superior 2013 Leslie looked for a more productive solution. I found Steve and told him that it was getting worse out there by the minute, so it was time for a change of plans. Evidently he was thinking the same thing and we agreed to go back to the original plan of running with Lauren, at least early on. I was to relax and feel things out in the first 3k and pick it up in the last two laps of the race if I was doing alright with the footing. This talk was exactly what I needed; I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my chest. I headed off to the start line feeling good for the first time all day.

The gun went off, everyone sprinted across the field, and I stuck to the plan. I let the main pack go and chilled out on the initial 1k loop. It looked like a ton of people were ahead of me, but I didn’t panic. I couldn’t see Lauren near me, so I did my own thing and focused on running at a relaxed effort. I focused on moving as smoothly and efficiently as possible in the mud and finding the best footing. Though I wasn’t expecting this, I started to pass girls on the first loop as runners slowed down in front of me after sprinting the first straightaway off of the line. As we moved into the first of three 2k loops, I continued to get a feel for the course and managed to pass more girls along the way. At the time, I thought I was way back from the lead pack. As it turned out, I was probably already in the top twenty. But the most important thing was that I wasn’t moving horribly in the mud and I still felt comfortable.

On the second 2k loop I didn’t make as much progress moving up in the field. I could see Amanda Truelove and another girl ahead of me, but I couldn’t seem to close the gap. I was starting to hurt and I didn’t want to be redlining just yet, so I tried to keep the effort even and hold my position as best as I could. Heading into the final loop I was feeling tired but ready to go to the well over that last 2k. I made a bit of a push and rolled by Amanda and the other girl. As I ran towards a switchback before we got into the wooded area, I was able to see the lead pack, and I realized that there weren’t that many people in front of me anymore. I passed two more women in the woods and then worked my way up to two more. After coming out of the woods, I heard Steve yell at me that if I passed the two in front of me, I would be in the top ten. If I hadn’t been running hard and gasping for breath, I would have told him to shut up and quit messing with me because I didn’t believe I could be that far up considering how easy I had gone out. I passed the next two girls and tried to put as much of a gap on them as I could. I saw two more women ahead of me and I was able to close the gap a bit over the final 500m, but they were just too far away. I crossed the line in 10th, my best placing ever at a Canadian Cross Country Championship.

See how muddy it was?

See how muddy it was?

Of course, the never-satisfied competitor part of me questions whether I could have placed higher if I had gone out faster. Nevertheless, I am happy with my effort. After two blow ups and disastrous races in the last two years at Canadian XC, it wasn’t worth the risk to go out aggressively on a sloppy day. Besides, it felt great passing six girls in the final 2k of the race. Most importantly, I didn’t run like a useless piece of garbage. A top-10 placing was just icing on the cake.

After this race I have concluded that cross country isn’t all that bad. I had a decent run and wasn’t hampered too much by the mud. Running this race and turning in a decent performance has gotten me past this mental block I seem to have with cross country and muddy courses in particular. Another big part of this was fielding a senior women’s team for the first time in London Runner history. It was great to travel and run cross country as part of a team again. Lauren, Karen, and Courtney, thanks for coming out to Vancouver to run in the rain for London Runner. I wouldn’t have made the trip if it wasn’t for these three, and I ended up having a lot of fun. We placed 4th as a team by an agonizing two points, but it gives us something to build on for next year. Even though cross country is far from my favourite discipline, I will keep running Canadian XC as long as we have a team.

Now I’m on a bit of a break, but I am excited to get back on the roads, after apologizing for cheating on them with cross country, of course. Let’s keep it on the ‘crete for another eleven months!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I don’t hate cross country!

I figured I would do a quick update. Training has gone well since the half marathon. I took a very easy week, then ramped up the training again, and threw in a few races for fun and profit. In late October, Steve got a call from Dave Scott-Thomas saying that Sheila Reid was injured and that he was looking to fill her spot on the team going to Chiba Ekiden, which I was quick to accept.

I’m really excited about this trip. First, because Japan is awesome. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve been playing King of Tokyo with my housemates. Sidebar: King of Tokyo is an awesome game, because you get to play a monster and punch other monsters by rolling dice.

My personal favourite, Gigazaur.

My personal favourite, Gigazaur!

It helps to get into character by talking in a monster voice. Where was I? Oh, right, Japan. If I don’t see at least three monsters attacking Tokyo while I’m there, I will be pretty upset. Seriously though, Japan has awesome depth in road racing. Eighteen guys just went under 63 minutes at the Ageo Half Marathon. Crazy stuff. Secondly, going on the trip and doing this race will be a great experience. I will be travelling with a bunch of fast runners, so I plan on learning a lot from my teammates about travelling, competing, and becoming a better runner. I’m there to race first and foremost, but I also want to get the experience and knowledge that comes from racing on the big stage.

I will be doing some blogging on trackie.ca during my trip, so head on over there, maybe check out the forum while you’re at it and make a few posts, as long as you’re not a troll.

On Sunday I raced the Athletics Ontario Cross Country Championships, which were held just outside of London. Despite my claims that I was done with cross country after last year, I somehow got sucked into racing not only the Ontario championships, but also the Canadian championships in Vancouver. Why? Because three crazy women from my club got together and decided to race, and with me we would make a team or four, so really I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

But I jest. Sunday’s race was actually a lot of fun. When I heard that the race was going to be held at Belvoir Farms, I expected a boring cross country course around a bunch of corn fields. It was still a course around a bunch of corn fields, but they added some logs to jump over and a fun ditch thing that really kills your momentum. I wanted to win this race. It certainly helped that the Athletics Toronto ladies weren’t running, but I still had to deal with Rachel Hannah. Rachel is pretty badass at cross country; she’s just a grinder that tends to beat people who are faster on the roads or the track. I hung with Rachel for about 2k. Of course she put a gap on my on the muddy section, but I reeled her back in when the footing got better. We ran the ditch (it was a quick, steep downhill followed by a quick, steep uphill) and I seemed to get back on pace faster after climbing the hill, so I stepped on the gas and opened up a gap on Rachel. From there I tried to grind out my way to a good lead, as I didn’t want Rachel anywhere near me on that muddy section on the second loop, or anywhere near the finish, for that matter. My hurdle technique was a little rough, but I managed to jump over all of the logs without falling and or looking too ridiculous.

I held my lead through to the finish, coming through in under 24 minutes. Yeah, I think the course was a bit long. I wasn’t wearing a watch while I raced, so I had no concept of how long I was out there anyway. I didn’t mind, though. Logs to jump over and dubious course measurements, that’s old school cross country, I love it!

The best part about Sunday’s race was getting to run on a team again. Last year, London Runner scraped together a senior women’s team by moving a junior up and age group and convincing a master to run as a senior. This year we had four women, all around the same age, who were excited to toe the line of a cross country race as a team. And we won the team title, which was awesome.

3/4 of team London Runner. We couldn’t find Lauren after the race.

The full squad, plus Lauren’s dog. And Steve.

Watching the senior men’s race was great, as we had 11 guys from the club running. In a bold move, Steve split the men into two evenly matched teams. London Runner ‘A’ and ‘B’ ended up taking the top two team spots.

After this race I am happy to say that I don’t hate cross country, pretty much because I didn’t race like a useless piece of crap (which I tend to do when I race cross). Hopefully my opinion doesn’t change after Canadian XC. I will be heading to Vancouver after racing Chiba. This will give me a chance to chill out for a few days and do a workout on the race course before meeting up with the team. Maybe I’ll be less useless this time around. Onward to Chiba and Vancouver!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Throwing the game plan out the window

Shortly after I finished the Columbus Half Marathon last Sunday, the following conversation occurred between my housemates back in London.

Ben: (Steve coming up the stairs) “Did you see the result yet?”
Steve: “Not yet.”
Ben: “You need to see.”
Steve: “I was a little worried when I saw the halfway split.”
Ben: “You don’t need to be worried about it, but you need to see it.”
Steve: “1:14? Holy shit!”
Ben: “No, look again.”
Steve: “Oh, that’s Matt maybe. 1:13?! HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT.”

That was pretty much my reaction, too. Going into the race, I had reasonable expectations (ie. I didn’t expect to run a personal best by over two minutes). My training over the summer and fall had gone well. I had to compromise my half marathon build a bit by racing a 10,000m in August as I needed another time to apply for Quest for Gold funding, but overall I was happy with my training block. I had my best quarter (as they say in the business world) in terms of average mileage per week leading into Columbus and I was pretty consistent in hitting my workouts. Therefore, I expected to run faster than my personal best of 1:15:28. I figured sub-1:14:30 would be a good goal, and if the weather cooperated and I had a great day, 1:14-low or just under was possible. The plan was to run around 3:32 per km (or 5:41 per mile, since that’s where the markers are in an American race) and then try to pick it up in the last four or five miles of the race.

Well, sometime you follow the plan, and other times you throw the plan out the window. This race was an example of the latter. The pre-race atmosphere was partly to blame for a fast first mile. We lined up and a guy sang the US anthem, complete with pyrotechnics when he got to the “bombs bursting in air” part. Oh man, it brought a tear to this Canadian’s eye. Then they start blasting AC/DC over the loudspeakers, which now sounds a bit cliche, but when you’re there, wow it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. I ran the first mile in 5:25. Suda pulled up beside me and we joked that we could both picture Steve telling us to settle down. So we settled down and ran a 5:45 for the next mile. By then I had pulled up beside the lead woman in the half and she settled in with our pack of Matt and I plus some other marathon guys. I kept the effort steady, so I expected to see splits around 5:40. Instead, I saw splits in the mid-5:30s. I knew that I was going out fast, but the effort felt right, so I told myself not to freak out and just hung out with the pack.

Complicating matters was a Kenyan woman who insisted on running about half a foot beside me and constantly bumping elbows with me even though we had an entire road to ourselves. She was really up in my grill, running super-close to me and then listing to one side or another in what felt like an attempt to run me off the road. At one point Matt moved to the front of our pack and she almost ran him into a parked car. It was ridiculous, just totally violating my personal space. Now, before you think I’m some pampered road racer complaining about a bit of harmless contact, let me tell you, I’ve run my share of mid-distance track races. I’ve been boxed in, bumped elbows, I know what’s what. This lady’s actions fell somewhere in that gray area between “not really against the rules” and “hey, that’s not cool,” or in the generic category known as “being a dick.” I tried various strategies like dropping behind her and moving to the other side of the road, but within about five seconds of me doing that she would be beside me, bumping elbows again. I even tried moving to the other side of another guy in our pack to use him as a buffer between me and her but nope, she just moved around him and latched on to my hip again. So I thought, “well, if she’s going to pull this crap I’m gonna run behind her and draft off of her,” which seemed to work.

In the last four miles I was getting pretty pissed off at this chick, so I wanted to beat her pretty badly. I kept trying to crank the pace up, but she wouldn’t let me go by. The result was a few pathetic surges on my part, followed by her surging back and forcing me to the side of the road again. My tangent running was probably terrible. Matt put a gap on our pack at 10 miles or so and crazy lady wouldn’t let me by to chase him. At around 11.5 miles I saw there was an uphill stretch and realized I had to go there and make it a decisive move if I wanted to win. I put in a hard surge on the hill and managed to get clear. Checking over my shoulder about ten seconds later, I saw that I had a five-meter gap and I knew I had the thing won (barring any Galebach-like collapses).

The last mile was awesome. It actually was my fastest mile of the race, a 5:23. My legs hurt and I was tired, but I somehow felt like I could have kept running forever. I now understand how elite runners have the energy to do a victory lap, a smile on their face, seemingly in no distress despite having finished a hard race a minute earlier. I felt like I could have done anything in that last mile; it was just about the greatest feeling I could get from running. I ran through the finish with a big grin on my face.

I felt great until about five minutes after I stopped. Then my legs got sore and tight, even my arms hurt. I went to the elite room to grab my gear, where a volunteer handed me the banner in the picture above, telling me “this is yours to keep.” Cool. The race director came up to me shortly after and informed me that I had broken the half marathon course record. I stared at him in disbelief. “You didn’t know?” I explained that I knew what the course record was (1:13:20-something), but that I never thought I would be able to run that fast, so the thought of breaking the course record had never crossed my mind.

There was still the matter of run-you-off-the-road crazy lady. I decided to take the high road and kill her with kindness (after having put 20 seconds on her in the last mile). I walked up to her, shook her hand, and said, “great race, thanks for pushing me out there. I just ran a 2-minute PR and I couldn’t have done it if I had been out there on my own.” In retrospect, this was probably a mistake, since she then started following me around and wanted to be my best friend. I managed to get away when the race director presented me with a plaque, a big-ass glass trophy, and had be pose for a photo with a big novelty cheque for my race winnings. Wow, they do things right down in Columbus.

After a long cool down (I ran the long way out to the 24-mile marker to see Matt, yelled at him a bit, then realized I had to run 2 miles back to the finish…I was running pretty slowly by the end). Then I gathered my gear and made the long trek back to the hotel. Talk about a good problem to have, I had to lug my trophy and the rest of my crap back to the hotel. It took me forever. Matt made it back shortly after I did. He had an awesome first marathon, clocking a 2:27:43. Not bad for a guy who’s never broken 15:30 in the 5k! We both got to the computer in time to watch the Canadians finish the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on the live stream. What an awesome day!

It’s days like Sunday that make me realize how much I love this sport. Breakthroughs happen when you put in a ton of work grinding out mileage and workouts and everything comes together on race day. Redemption is possible if you are patient. Matt and I both dropped out of Toronto a year ago, but we both made some changes, came back stronger, and ran great races this year in Columbus. There were great examples of this north of the border too, with Lanni and Krista coming back from disappointing races in Moscow to run under the Canadian marathon record in Toronto. And all of the sacrifices we make as runners are definitely worth it.

I can’t end this blog without saying thanks to everyone for the kind words after the race. On a day when I thought my race would be overshadowed by performances at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon (and rightly so, two women ran under the Canadian marathon record!) I still got lots of congratulations over email, facebook, and twitter. My sister posted a picture that got over 100 likes. Do I even know that many people? Thanks to Matt, who did all of the driving last weekend and was a great running buddy out on the course. Thanks to all of my teammates in London for being great training partners and friends. Thanks to my family; mom, dad, Alison and everyone else, who maybe don’t fully understand what I do or why I do it, but support me just the same. Thanks to Runners’ Choice and New Balance for their tremendous support for London Runner. And finally, a huge thanks to Steve Weiler who has been and will continue to be exactly the coach I need, capable of encouraging me or giving me a kick in the ass if that’s what I need on the day. There is no way I could have run that well without everything he has done for me for the past three years. Steve, I realize that I’m probably not the easiest person to work with, but your patience, support, and hard work over the past three years has meant the world to me.

Sorry folks, I got a little sappy at the end there, but I’ve had a lot of emotions to process over the past week. Naturally, the best solution is to announce them to the entire internet. Thanks for reading and until next time, run more miles!

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Final preparations for my ‘away mission’

The leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping, and race day is nigh! It’s marathon season, which is obviously my favourite season. As a fan of the sport I am excited to follow the results of fall marathons, and as a competitive runner I can’t wait to get out and run my own goal race. Matt Suda (teacher, teammate, and aerobic monster…but a different Matt Suda than this guy) and I are heading down to Columbus, Ohio next week, where he will be running the marathon and I will be running the half. Yup, I’m only running half a race. Don’t worry, I will do a real grown-up distance soon, just not this year.

Training has generally gone well this fall, but it took me until last weekend to really feel confident about my fitness heading into this race. On Sunday Matt and I ran our race simulation workout, which turned out to be exactly the confidence boost I needed as I head into my taper. The workout was a Brooks-Hansons style marathon simulation, with Matt running 26k at marathon pace, while I ran 13k at half marathon pace. We started our warm up at the crack of dawn (Matt wanted to go early, thanks Matt!) and then Team Columbus, plus Steve on his bike, gathered at the west end of the bike path at Springbank Park to start the workout. This run was yet another example of what a great city London is to train in. We ran the workout as an out and back on a 6.5k stretch of bike path that had every 0.5 km marked (the bike path goes much longer than 6.5k, but that was all we needed on Sunday).

Overall, the workout went well. Except for the part where Matt dropped me. See, we are somewhat training together through this block because we all figured that my half marathon pace would be pretty close to Matt’s marathon pace. But reality rarely works out as neatly as you think it’s going to. Fortunately for Matt and unfortunately for me, Matt has managed to get himself into great shape and now he’s too fast for me. At 3k or so into the workout he starts pulling away from me. I think, “oh no, I must be falling off pace.” Then I check my split at a kilometer marker, see that I have actually picked up the pace, and realize that Matt still put four seconds on me. So yeah, you read that right. Suda makes us start earlier in the morning, then he goes and drops me. What a jerk. Seriously though, I’m really excited that Matt is in great shape and I can’t wait to see him clock a solid marathon. If it means I’ll be running alone, I’m sure I can handle it.

Anyway, I managed to hit my goal pace for 13k, so I was pretty happy with my workout. I went into this workout feeling a bit tired from a high-mileage week, so to hit my pace and come through 13k feeling strong means my fitness is right where I want it to be. Now it’s time to drop the volume a bit and rest up for a big race effort. Onward with marathon season!

Oh, and I had to draw attention to this, ie. the greatest comment ever:

comment

That was awesome. Comments like that make this blogging thing seem worthwhile. Thanks, Delmonte’s flow! I’m committed to the blog reboot this time around. Well, time to do more running so I have something to write about next time.

Posted in Training | Leave a comment