Donny, you’re out of your element.

I raced a 1500m on Friday, June 25th (yes, I realize that was a while ago, but I’ve fallen behind on my blogging lately). I, like Donny in The Big Lebowski, was definitely out of my element. I had no idea that the notion of running 3 and ¾ laps of the track would be more worrisome than the idea of running twenty-five. Nor did I expect that this race would induce the feeling of sheer terror that I experienced before the race. But I also didn’t expect to run very well and set a three-second personal best, so I suppose I can plead ignorance on the entire matter of the 1500m race.

Running a 1500m in June wasn’t always part of the game plan. I had originally decided to race one or two in July, since 5000m or 10000m races seemed to be scarce until nationals. In theory, I would also have a few faster workouts under my belt by mid-July. However, I would end up running a 1500m much earlier than I had planned, largely because I wanted an excuse to return to London. One might wonder why, as a Queen’s athlete who proudly wears the (now slanted) Q and bleeds tricolour, I would be anxious to visit London, home of the Western Mustangs, our athletic rivals and sworn enemies. Well, gentle reader, despite my feelings toward Western (which, I might add, are based upon this completely arbitrary rivalry between our universities), London was calling me back. I had run a 5000m in London a week earlier and had a great time at the race itself and at the London Runner Distance Club’s post-race social. After that weekend, I received a facebook message from Steve Weiler, telling me that I ought to return for another race and social, say, the 1500m on Friday. The idea of running a 1500m wasn’t very appealing, but the possibility of a trip to London had me excited. I longed to do my warm up jog on the path along the Thames River, to race in London’s beautiful stadium, and to break free from my self-imposed isolation in Markham by partying with my fellow runners (yes, some of them go to Western, but it’s the summer, and why can’t we all be friends?). All of that seemed worth putting myself through a 1500m.

As the race drew closer, however, anxiety began to set in. I had seeded myself at 4:39, which put me in the fast heat with 1500m specialists, OFSAA medallists, and the like. Even more worrisome was the fact that I hadn’t actually run this time. Seed times under 4:40 had to be verifiable marks run since May 2009, but I hadn’t run a 1500m since February 2009. So I used the Mercier equivalent of my 10:03 3000m from June 2nd as a seed time. I knew I was in better shape than 10:03 for 3k, but I was worried that this fitness wouldn’t translate into a sub-4:40 1500m, especially since I hadn’t run anything faster than 80-second 400m intervals in workouts. The idea that I might be in over my head made me extremely nervous. I don’t think I’ve been this terrified before a race since high school. I handled my mental preparation well, but I honestly didn’t expect to be struck with the feeling of sheer terror and the sudden need to vomit about thirty minutes before the race.

I countered this fear with a simple race strategy. I knew the race would go out at a good pace, so my plan was to run at the back of the main pack, keeping out of trouble but making sure to stay in contact and close any gaps. I vowed to keep in contact until the 1200m mark (even if it killed me), at which point I would start a long kick to the finish if I had anything left.

In the first lap, I realized how different this 1500m was from the races I had been running. During my 5000m races, there might have been ten women running with several minutes separating our finishing times. Here, there were twelve of us with less than ten seconds separating our seed times. I got pushed around in the first 100m, but my plan was to go to the back of the pack, so I wasn’t worried. I went through the first lap in about 72 seconds, feeling like I was moving fast, but I was still comfortable. During the second lap I focused on staying with the main pack and moving around any girls who were falling off the back. My 800m split was about 2:25, which meant that I had stayed strong during the second lap. As anyone who has run a 1500m or a mile must know, it was at this point that I hit that awful feeling one gets during the third lap, that unique pain and fatigue in the legs and arms, that sense of despair in knowing that you’re feeling awful, yet you’re only halfway. I stuck with the pack, fighting to remain in contact at any cost. At about the 1k mark we were about 3:02, which was probably the fastest I had ever run for 1000m, I realized at the time. I got a bit excited at this point and tried to pass a few girls with about 450m to go. When I reached the curve, however, it occurred to me that I was being an idiot (and risking, as Curt Bolton would put it, “blowing my load too early”), so I tucked in again. The final lap was a bit of a blur (more than the rest of the race, anyway). I tried to surge at 300m to go and hold the faster pace until the finish line. I might have passed a girl or two, but we were such a tight pack and that last lap was so hazy that I honestly don’t remember. I caught a glimpse of the clock as I crossed the finish line and saw 4:33, so I knew I had run a personal best. My official time was 4:33.39 (over three seconds faster than my PB of 4:36.68 from 2008), placing me eighth overall.

I suppose I am happier about this personal best than I was about breaking seventeen in the 5000m. Steve told me that I might surprise myself with my foray into middle distance. He was spot on. I never expected to PB by over three seconds, simply because I didn’t think I was fit enough to run well at the shorter stuff. As I mentioned above, my focus has been the 5000m and the 10000m. I was running pretty high mileage, and my fastest intervals were at 5k pace. I thought I would be out of my element in the 1500m However, a recent interview I read may suggest that this is not the case. Anna Pierce (formerly Willard) told Runners’ World that she would be racing the 800m and the 1500m instead of the steeplechase, because as she worked on her endurance, she got faster at middle distance events. As she stated, “my speed is getting better the more I train my strength side, which is weird.” The Letsrun weekly recap discussed this interview, claiming that this phenomenon wasn’t weird at all, because “Strength/Endurance = Mid-D Speed.” It seems my training also fits this rule. Beyond that, it was simply a matter of being mentally ready for a 1500m. I have had some bad 1500s over the past few years when I have been very fit. My problem is that the speed of the first lap is a shock to me, so I shut it down mentally very early in the race, thinking I can’t handle it. My coach at the time, Amy Schneeberg, told me that the solution was probably to get into a low-pressure scenario like a twilight meet, tuck in behind a fast group, and try not to pay attention to the splits. This wasn’t exactly the case on Friday (the fact that I was in a fast heat stressed me out, and I heard all of the splits), but it was enough to get through the mental barrier of the 1500m that had been plaguing my race efforts for years. Hopefully, this race will give me confidence, which will allow me to run well at the 1500m in the future (I still prefer the longer stuff, but it’s the second-longest event at CIS indoors, so I’m stuck running the 1500m for another year).

In the end, I’m glad I took the opportunity to run a distance I wouldn’t normally run. I suppose it’s a good thing to be out of your element once in a while.

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One Response to Donny, you’re out of your element.

  1. Jane says:

    Hey Leslie,
    It was nice to meet you on Sunday and congrats again on an awesome performance! I was surprised to see you in the 10-miler knowing you were rippin’ it up on the track this summer. Impressive.
    Nic has a fantastic female training group going right now that I’m incredibely proud to be a part of. You should definitely come out when you can!
    Happy training and see you for sure on the 28th (eeeek)!

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