I haven’t updated this in a while, so I thought it would be fitting that my return to blogging consisted of an epic race report (also posted here)! Read on…
Date: November 10th, 2007
Location: Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, B.C.
The CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) Cross Country Championships have been a source of either exhilaration or terrible disappointment for me in the past. Emotions run high every year as the women of the best university teams in the country toe the line, ready to battle it out over the next five kilometers. I knew I was in great shape this year, and I was certain that I would improve upon my disastrous display of running last year at the national championships. In addition, the CIS championships are used as a means of selecting the national team that will compete in the world university cross country championships, which will be held in Mauquenchy, France in April 2008. The top five women and top six men in the race would qualify to represent Canada at the race. My goal for the CIS championships was to place in the top ten, but my secret “pie-in-the-sky” goal was to make the national team by placing in the top five.
This year, the CIS cross country championships were held out in Victoria, British Columbia, at Beacon Hill Park (right off the road from mile zero on the Trans-Canada Highway). I, along with my fellow members of the Queen’s University cross country team, made the trip out to beautiful British Columbia in order to run in this great event. Because we had to travel so far to get to this meet, we had the luxury of arriving in Victoria early. On the day before the race, we were able to do some shopping downtown, and more importantly, jog the race course before Saturday’s effort. The course was, in my opinion, a perfect place to have a cross country race. I may be a bit biased, since I prefer the good old days when cross country required competitors to negotiate some rough terrain (OK…maybe I’m not that old). Nevertheless, most cross country races are held on golf courses these days – terrain suitable for a nice leisurely afternoon jog, but not for an epic contest of endurance and guts. Yes, folks, I’ll say it: cross country has become little more than a 5,000 meter track race held on grass. Thankfully, this year’s CIS cross country championships was held on a comparatively tough course. The women’s course consisted of two 2.5 km loops. There were a few good hills and lots of uneven footing. Yes, this was a course that would favour the strong cross country runners, rather than the scrawny track athletes who desperately hope their 800m speed would carry over in a 5k cross country race. But enough about the course and my rants about the state of cross country races today.
I woke up on race day feeling strong and confident. My legs felt great – I’m glad I finally listened to my coach this year and actually tapered before the championships! Breakfast went as usual: a sesame seed bagel and tea. Three cups of tea, in fact. This was probably not the greatest idea I’ve ever had, but fortunately I was able to “empty the tank,” so to speak, before the race start time. My pre-race routine and warm-up went as usual. By the time I had laced up my spikes and done a few experimental strides, I was confident that I was going to have a good race.
At 1 PM, the gun went off, and one hundred and seven women took off. The start was fast, as is usually the case at the CIS champs. It is the nature of cross country that everyone starts much faster than they would like, out of fear of getting stuck behind slower runners once the course becomes narrow. I charged hard off the start line and was able to find a position at the front of the pack. I focused on staying there, regardless of what pace I was running, for the first 500m of the race before settling in to a good pace. It didn’t quite work the way I expected. I think the adrenaline surge I got at the beginning of the race caused me to get a bit excited, and I ended up leading the race until the one-kilometer mark. I was informed later that we ran the first kilometer of the race in 3:22. It certainly hadn’t felt that fast at the time!
At this point, a runner from Guelph took the lead, so I focused on staying on the shoulder of the second-placed girl. We ran together throughout the first lap, putting a gap on the group behind us. We finished the first lap of the course crossing the halfway mark in about 8:47. By this time, first place had put some distance between her and us. I continued to run in third place, fighting to stay with second. As I began the second lap of the course, fatigue started to set in. I tried to ignore the growing pain in my legs as I worked hard to stay with the second-place runner. I could tell that we were both tired and starting to slow down, but I knew that there was a chase pack of two or three girls who weren’t far behind us.
With about a kilometer to go, I snuck a look over my shoulder as I ran around a corner. The nagging fears I had had throughout the second lap were confirmed – the chase pack was gaining on us. By the time we hit the final hill about 300m later, two or three girls had caught us. The last hill was short, but steep and painful to run in my current state. I charged up as best as I could and fought to stay with the group.
With 500m to go in the race, the situation looked something like this: first place was way ahead, and I was in a group of four or five runners, so tired that I could no longer think straight. We all wanted a medal, and we were all in similar states of pain. With what courage I had, I decided that it was now or never. I surged ahead, leaving my fate up to my lactic acid-filled leg muscles, desperately hoping that I had a little bit more fight left in me than my fellow competitors. I was in third place with about 100m to go, and then – a sudden agony, worse than any pain I had ever felt in my life. Searing pain shot through my limbs, my lungs burned, and I wanted nothing more than to collapse. I saw myself slowing down, being passed by one, two women, but there was nothing more I could do. My body had given me everything it had to give. I crossed the finish line in fifth place, simply unable to go another step.
My time over 5 km was 18:07. As soon as I had made it out of the finishing chute, I was informed that I had been selected for drug testing. Lucky me. As such, I had a chaperone following me around for a while. After about half an hour, a group of us were taken back to our hotel to basically wait together in a room until we were able to produce a sample (which is a nice way of saying “pee in a cup!”) I actually don’t remember much of the time I spent at the race course before returning to the hotel. I had gone so hard during the race that I was completely out of it for the next few hours. I was pretty pale, sick, and generally incoherent for a while. Now that I think about it, it was pretty funny, though I wasn’t laughing at the time! In any case, I was able to produce a urine sample after a while, and was free to leave the doping control area. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to cool down after the race, so my entire body was stiff for the next few days.
When I reflect upon my race and my cross country season, I realize that I couldn’t be happier with my results. I had worked hard throughout the summer and the fall in order to prepare for this race. I had run over 80 miles per week for every week until my taper, running in both the morning and the afternoon on weekdays. I was extremely happy that my training had paid off this year, and that I had been able to peak at the right moment. The days following the race were pretty emotional for me. On the one hand, I was in disbelief at my success. On the other hand, I was ecstatic because I had put so much time, energy, and passion into this cross country season. Most importantly, I am very excited to be going to France in April to compete in the world championship! But first, I will be taking some much-needed rest!