The Nationals N00b

Believe it or not, this was my first national track championships. For all of the CIS racing I have done, I hadn’t once bothered to race summer track before this year. My excuses and erroneous reasons for my absence from Canadian Track and Field Championships over the past few years, I will get into later. For now, gentle reader, all you need to know is that this past weekend, I was the nationals-newbie.

I was entered in the women’s 5000m, seeded 5th with my time of 16:55.57 from the 5000m night in London. I felt that I was fitter than my seed time, since I ran the time alone for the most part and because I had made some fitness gains over the past month. I figured that I was in shape to run in the 16:30s or 16:40s, which on a good day could sneak me onto the podium. The top seed was Megan Wright at 15:19 and the second seed was Natasha Wodak at 16:12. They seemed out of reach, but the battle for the bronze was wide open.

Our first kilometer was slow. Like 3:35-slow. In the first lap I was delighted to find out that the pace felt easy, until I actually saw the split at 200m and realized that the pace felt easy not because I was having a magical race, but because we were running slower than my 10k pace. I also suddenly had to deal with running in a pack. Most of the races I have done this year have involved me running with one other person for a few kilometers, then running on my own the rest of the way. The only exception was the 1500m, in which I ran at the back of the pack. At nationals, the slow pace allowed all twelve women in the field to run together as a pack, which caused me a bit of anxiety. I was running right behind Megan for a while, and I must have clipped her heels at least four times. I had to pay attention to where I was positioned and where I put my feet. I was definitely out in lane two for parts of the race for no reason other than to run unimpeded (though I quickly realized that I was being stupid and that I ought to tuck in). My inexperience also led me to be reluctant to lead the race. The slow pace frustrated me at first, but I lacked the experience and confidence that comes from running at several national-level meets. So I tucked in and stayed on the pace with the lead group.

The pace increased gradually throughout the race, which played to my strengths. I probably would have had trouble with an inconsistent pace with surges and lulls. As it happened, we worked out way down to 3:20-kilometers as the race progressed before we hammered it home from one kilometer out from the finish. I hit a rough patch at some point after the 3000m mark. The pace had gotten faster and I was starting to tire. Negative thoughts like “this is it, they will just keep getting faster and leave you behind” were running amok in my head. I suppose I had reached the 5000m equivalent of the third lap of a mile race where everything hurts and the legs protest the effort, yet there is still so far to go. I survived this portion of the race by forcing myself to stay in contact with the lead pack. I knew that if the pack dropped me, it would be over, since these women were constantly picking up the pace. I didn’t think about the lap counter or much of anything other than my task of staying on the heels of the group of five other women I was running with. It was only at 600m to go that I realized I was suddenly feeling good again and that I had a good shot at a medal. The pace had quickened over the final kilometer, and some of the women in the pack were starting to drop off. With 200m to go, it was Catherine Cormier, Natasha, and Megan in front of me. I knew it was time to start my final kick at that point, but the three women made a wall in front of me, while I was stuck in lane one behind them. I made the decision to stay in that spot on the curve to conserve energy. With about 150m to go, Natasha and Megan took off in a furious sprint, so I immediately followed them, using the opening to pass Catherine. Natasha and Megan were way ahead on the final straightaway, but I was nevertheless pushing hard to put some distance in between myself and Catherine. I crossed the line in third.

When I saw my finishing time, I was very surprised. I had guessed early in the race that a personal best was out of the question because of the slow early pace. Yet my time was 16:47.33, a personal best by eight seconds. This was largely thanks to a 9:48 final 3000m (my 3k personal best is 9:45), and a final kilometer of about 3:08. I’m excited to see what I could run in an evenly paced race, though the opportunity to do so might not present itself until next summer. Of course, I will be back next year at nationals (but hopefully I will be even faster).

It would be great if the women’s fields in the distance events could be stronger in future years. This year’s field in the 5000m only had six women who had seed times under seventeen minutes. I don’t intend to rip on the twelve women who actually showed up to race. I am, however, disappointed that many collegiate women or other top runners in the country did not race nationals. As Rob Kitz wrote in a blog post way back in May, “everything that’s wrong with Canadian distance running would be solved, if we had more Canadians training (hard) for the distance events. As it is, can we really be shocked that AC neglects the longer distance races, when we ourselves neglect these events?” We can argue about money and carding and funding for ages, but I believe the more important issue is that of simply getting large numbers of Canadians (particularly post-collegiate men and women) training hard on a consistent basis for events from 5000m to the marathon. In doing so, we increase the pool of talent to draw upon, thus adding depth to Canadian running and allowing the great talents to rise to the top and compete on the world stage. This can only happen when more men and women in their 20s start training hard with the goal of qualifying for nationals and being competitive in national-level competitions. So ladies, I’m calling you out.

I’ll stop here before I allow this to descend into an incoherent rant. It’s time for some video and splits!

Lap 1: 1:27.971

Lap 2: 1:25.902

Lap 3: 1:22.365

Lap 4: 1:21.915

Lap 5: 1:20.730

Lap 6: 1:20.980

Lap 7: 1:20.263

Lap 8: 1:19.829

Lap 9: 1:20.080

Lap 10: 1:18.928

Lap 11: 1:18.945

Lap 12: 1:15.925

0.5: 33.4

Last 400m: 68 for leaders, ~70 for me.

1 km: 3:35

2 km: 3:24 (6:59)

3 km: 3:21 (10:20)

4 km: 3:19 (13:39)

5 km: 3:08 (16:47)

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One Response to The Nationals N00b

  1. Jane says:

    Those are some nice splits, Leslie! You are definitely due for a 16:30 – have you thought of going to either of the Ottawa meets on the 18th and 25th?
    I can’t believe how much I stick out in that first race video. I am like a foot taller than everyone else, lol.

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