It’s great to be back, mostly healthy, and racing. I spent a lot of cross country season injured, and while everything hasn’t quite been figured out, I’m currently at the point where I can train hard and race, so long as I take good care of myself.
My cross country season was a big disappointment. Things seemed to be going well until my second race of the season at the Queen’s Open. I had a decent race, went home, and my foot suddenly swelled up to about twice its size. To make matters worse, no one could really figure out what it was. The x-ray showed nothing and an ultrasound showed that everything was normal, ruling out the possibility of something on my tendons. My foot went back to its normal size after a few days, but it would become periodically inflamed and swollen, usually after running on uneven surfaces. After my foot’s initial blow-up, I was able to train on it, but I wasn’t able to work as hard as I wanted to. There was a period of about two weeks where I did very little exercise at all — even biking put pressure on my foot, so there was nothing to do but wait until it settled down. After a disasterous race at the Ontario University championships, my foot had improved to the point where I could cross train and do some running on it. This did wonders for my sanity, as I was going a little crazy from doing 100 miles one week and next to nothing the next. During the two weeks prior to the CIS championships, I was a cross training fiend. I would usually do two hours of biking either outdoor or on the trainer in the morning in addition to a pool workout or something else in the afternoon. I think my record was 3.5 hours of exercise in a single day, when I did an hour of pool running in the morning (before hearing from my coach), then found out from my coach that I was supposed to do a bike and a short run. I wanted to be on the bike, plus I wasn’t about to turn down a run when I was allowed one, so I ended up doing all three. By the time nationals rolled around, I still wasn’t very fit, but I was slightly more confident. I managed a 26th place finish. It was a little disappointing, having placed 5th last year, but it was the best I could do with what I had. It was still my second-best finish at nationals in my four years of cross country competition. And if I had been told two years ago that I was going to place 26th in my fourth year, I don’t think I would have believed it (much less the fact that I was 26th despite being injured and unable to run for a good part of the season). After all, if I’m allowed to make an uber-geeky reference here, “we take what is given.”
So that was my cross country season, boiled down to one long paragraph.
I took a week of rest after that, which I’m sure my foot appreciated. And when I say “rest,” I mean that I didn’t run. I cycled about two hours a day. I completed my first metric century on the desert lake loop, which turned out to be the most enjoyable ride I’d done all year. It also turned out to be the last nice day in Kingston before winter set in and I was confined to the trainer.
I eventually got tired of resting and started to build up my running mileage. I found that as long as I stuck to nice, even surfaces, my foot didn’t freak out on me. Once it started snowing I had to do a lot of my runs on the treadmill. For a week or two in January I was either on the treadmill or on the indoor track. I nearly went crazy a few times, but I was able to get back up to 100 miles per week without getting hurt. I suppose it helped that I was in a state of mind where I was so happy to be training hard again that it didn’t matter that it was on the treadmill twice a day. I just had to watch out for blisters, since my feet got pretty sweaty and gross during 90 minutes of nearly-stationary running in a hot room.
I opened up my indoor season with a 10:02 3000m at the Ottawa dome. I found that I had forgotten how a 3k was supposed to feel. Every year, I have this idea in my head that a 3k is supposed to feel comfortable for a while. This race started out that way, but after only 800m I realized that I had already fallen off ten minute pace. I decided that since it was the first race of the season, I had nothing to lose, so I started pushing the pace just to see how long I could hold it for. I ended up holding on for the rest of the race. If I recall correctly, I had the same experience last year in my first 3k race. I started off comfortable from the first 800m, then realized that I had to go a little harder to run a decent 3k race. Maybe it’s just my lack of speed, but 3ks are never, at any point, comfortable for me. My 3k races tend to be “go hard, hold on, feel like death after a mile, HTFU, keep holding on, finish.” It always takes me one race to figure that out. The Ottawa 3k race was a good low-key opportunity to shake off the rust and get used to racing again.
The following race was the McGill Team Challenge, where I ran a 9:53 3k (finishing second overall) and a 4:48 1500m. I was very happy with the 3k. Megan Brown from U of T won the race in 9:11(!), taking off from the gun. I led the second pack for about a mile until two Guelph girls took over the lead. At that point I was relieved to tuck and and not to have to think too much. At about 600m to go I was in fourth, in close contact with second and third, tired but feeling like I still had some fight left. Yet I still lacked confidence and I hesitated to surge ahead, worried that I would blow up with a lap to go. So I waited until 200m before the finish and pulled the trigger, surging past the Guelph girls in second and third. It was a nice confidence-builder, as I ran a fast time but still felt as if I had more in the tank. My 1500m race the following day was a bit of a bust. I was exhausted on race morning and never felt good at any point during the race. Fortunately, I was still pretty excited about my 3k, so I wasn’t too upset over the 1500m.
I didn’t race the following weekend, taking the opportunity to put in some big miles instead. It’s been a good season thus far. It’s great to be training hard again. Injuries are awful, but I think they can often give one some perspective. Even prior to my injury, I wasn’t enjoying cross country season as much as I could have been. I was putting far too much pressure on myself to surpass what I had done the previous year. And when I couldn’t do it (probably because I was so tired from being perpetually overtrained), I hated myself. After being deprived of the joy of running, I’ve really come to appreciate it again. I’m finally excited to race instead of dreading it or looking at it as some crucial stepping stone in a grand plan for running glory. When I step on the line, I’m thankful to be running, I’m pumped to be on a great trip with my teammates, and I’m excited to get out there and challenge myself for less than ten minutes, knowing that I can experience the thrill of pushing myself to new limits, but also knowing that if things don’t go as well as I had hoped, I can (if you’ll forgive the pun), take it in stride. Whatever the outcome, I’m just happy to be racing. That’s what had been missing before. It took an injury to get it back, but after all, running is an odd sport. I suppose sometimes our passion for running is reinvigorated in strange and unexpected ways.