Do not taunt the octopus.

On the bridge that we cross every day on the way over to Gibbons Park in London, someone has spray painted a warning that resembles the one on this bizarre sign. While the threat of octopi in the Thames River is a constant concern of mine, I also thought the statement “don’t taunt the octopus” is an apt metaphor for my training this month.

Since I am no longer running a university cross country season, I can take my time getting back into racing and specific workouts. Right now, I’m doing a lot of steady, moderate-paced runs and tempo/lactate threshold workouts while keeping the mileage high. At the same time, I need to be careful not to overdo it and to be smart with my training. Avoid taunting the octopus, so to speak. Or “never tickle a sleeping dragon,” if you prefer Harry Potter references. In short, I want to put in the work and train hard, but avoid the dangers of overtraining, illness, injury, or doing anything stupid.

In light of these statements, one might ask, “hey Leslie, if you don’t want to taunt the octopus, why did you run a half marathon on Sunday?” Well, gentle readers, my explanation is that running (and I say “running,” not “racing”) a half marathon was all part of the plan. I ran the half marathon as a workout, as it proved to be a great opportunity to do a steady run at a moderate pace. My steady runs this season have been difficult, since I am not yet accustomed to running these types of workouts, and because I am often running alone when I am at home in Markham. The Springbank Half Marathon in London was ideal for this type of workout, since it isn’t often that I would get accurate kilometer markers, water stations, and people to run with on my steady runs. In addition, I hoped to pick up some prize money to support my life as a post-collegiate, part-time employed, sub-sub-sub-elite distance runner. The key, of course, was to avoid turning this workout into a race effort, thus jeopardizing my training and recovery (which would be akin to taunting the octopus and ending up split in half like that poor stickman). Steve told me to keep my pace in between 4:00 and 4:15 per kilometer, and to back off if I accidentally ran too close to 4-flat. I was determined to heed his advice.

Sunday morning prior to the race was a rather unpleasant affair. I rose before four am, since Steve was working at the race and needed to be there early. The giant pasta and garlic bread meal that I had eaten the previous evening was still sitting in my stomach, causing me to be sick shortly after I awoke. In light of this, I consumed only some Tim Horton’s tea and a package of GU chomps, as I didn’t feel comfortable putting any more food into my stomach. I had some time to relax after we arrived at the race site, so I napped in the car while the race crew set up. Despite possibly the worst pre-race washroom emergency I’ve ever had, I warmed up and made it to the start line with no problems.

The half went fairly well as a workout. I went through the first kilometer in four minutes flat and backed off immediately once I saw the split. For the next six kilometers, I kept the pace between 4:07 and 4:12, trying to stay comfortable and tuck in with some of the men who were running the same pace. My legs felt good, but I couldn’t say the same for my stomach. Fortunately, it was not bad enough to affect my running; it just made things uncomfortable. I got a bit excited after passing the turnaround (just after the 12k mark), and picked up the pace without realizing it in an attempt to catch some of the men ahead of me. From this point until the end of the race I alternated between running close to or just under four minute kilometers, then realizing I was running too fast and backing off to 4:05 to 4:10 for the following kilometer. I made my way past a few men that had fallen off, so I was feeling pretty smooth and confident on the way back. My last three kilometers were a bit faster than four minute pace, but I was nearing the finish and feeling strong, so I didn’t back off. I finished in 1:26:20, averaging 4:06 per kilometer. This was good enough for second place overall among the women. It was a rather successful workout/race, since I got in a good steady run and I was able to pick up a bit of prize money. It was a nice race course and the race organizers put on a great event. My warm up and cool down (and an afternoon shakeout) put me at a solid mileage total for the day. As I said on Sunday, it’s a good day when you get in over seventeen miles before noon. I ended off the week at 105.2 miles, or 169 km.

Next up on the schedule is the New Balance Vic Matthews Open in Guelph. While I much prefer the roads, it will be nice to run a cross country race for the first time in a while (I missed the entire cross country season last fall while I was recovering from a sacroiliac joint injury). With Genevieve Lalonde and Courtney Laurie in the race (a race only 4 km long!), I might have my hands full. Although I am no longer racing for Queen’s University, I can still “be thirsting for the blood of my Gryphon rivals.”

Splits for the half marathon: 4:00, 4:12, 4:11, 4:07, 4:09 (20:40 5k), 4:09, 4:12, 4:04, 4:05, 4:06 (41:16 10k), 4:09, 4:14, 3:59, 4:05, 3:59 (1:01:42 15k), 4:09, 4:08, 4:05, 3:59, 3:55 (1:21:58 20k), 4:24 (1.1k)

I’ll finish off with some old-school Offspring. Until next time, don’t taunt the octopus.

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