I understand that I promised, perhaps unwisely, to recount the sordid details of my disastrous race at the Canadian 10k Road Race Championships. Well, here is my race report. I suppose one could say that blogging about bad races adds variety and character to a blog, or something. It would be rather boring for me to write a blog after every race that said, “I raced well, I achieved all of my goals…nothing further to report.” Alright, it would actually be nice to have that happen every time out on the roads. But it makes for boring writing. In truth, I find it more fun to blog about my failures and stupidity sometimes (probably because I like to think my self-deprecating humour is actually funny).
Actually, I’m at a bit of a loss to explain what happened. It would be nice if I could come up with an easy explanation like “I tried to run on a stress fracture,” or “I was in a port-a-potty when the gun went off.” Sometimes there isn’t an entertaining justification for a bad race, because it was simply that: a bad race. It happens to everyone, and everyone knows that it happens once in a while, but it still hurts to go through this inevitability of competitive distance running. Perhaps it will seem as if this blog entry consists of only complaining and self-loathing. But really, what better means of catharsis is there than pouring out one’s soul on the internet? I know of none.
I knew I was in good shape for this race. I was running a decent amount of mileage, I was consistent in my training, and I was hitting some solid splits in workouts. My health has been good (not being in university has done wonders for my resistance to colds, the flu, and other annoying training-interrupting-bugs), and (fingers crossed) injuries have been a non-issue. The most obvious explanation one would suggest next is overtraining (is there such a thing? Oh, there is? OK, fine.) and not enough rest before the race. Despite my tendency to overdo the mileage thing and my aversion to rest, I was able to hold back prior to the race. I took the volume down to 130 km (a medium week) for the week of October 4th to October 10th, and then reduced it even further (down to 100 km, a low week) in the week leading up to the race for the purpose of having fresh legs for my second-most important race this fall. So the rest part was covered, and indeed, my legs were feeling great by Friday and on race day morning. I simply floated through my shakeout run on Friday. I went to bed that night feeling confident and excited to see what I could do the next morning. Saturday morning was cool, as I expected, so I made sure I had lots of clothing packed. I was even lucky enough to have parked fairly close to the start line, so I could change and lace up my flats without freezing to death. As it turned out, Dylan Wykes and some guys from his training group were parked behind me, so I joined up with them for a warm up. Again, my legs felt good during the warm up, so naturally I assumed that I was about to have a good day. I was relaxed but excited when we lined up to start. Unfortunately, approximately seven minutes later, my poor little naïve and optimistic self would have her little heart broken and her dreams dashed on the hard surface of Reesor Road.
From the minute the starter’s pistol fired, my legs didn’t feel good. Initially I thought it must have been from standing around in the cold for a few minutes prior to the start, so I assumed my legs would warm up and feel better after a few minutes. I went through the first kilometer in 3:26, which was a bit quick, but nothing I shouldn’t have been able to handle (in theory, anyway). Besides, there were maybe ten women ahead of me at this point, so I figured I was being conservative at this point. I thought I would settle into low 3:30s while keeping the women ahead of me in sight. Sadly, this was easier said than done. Instead of loosening up, my legs only felt tighter as the race went on. I went through the second kilometer in 3:45, feeling like I was working hard. I tried to press harder to at least get back in the high 3:30s, but my efforts made little difference. My third kilometer was a 3:43. It rapidly became apparent that I was having an awful day. Thoughts of dropping out crossed my mind. Why would I work so hard and hurt so badly to run 37:30 at best? I told myself to tough it out and get to the 5k mark. My 4k and 5k splits were 3:45 and 3:43, putting me at 18:23 for 5k. Sometime after this, the wheels fell off. Yes, things actually got worse.
The only major hill on the course was between five and six kilometers. This, not coincidentally, was the point at which the hurt started (and by started, I mean it went from bad to really, really awful). I struggled up the hill, losing a few places, and dropping to 3:54 for the sixth kilometer. My legs were tired and very tight, so it was hard to get back on pace on the slightly easier terrain. All of my kilometer splits were over 3:50 in the second half of the race. I was in survival mode, simply trying to finish. The DNF was no longer a possibility to me, despite the fact that I wanted nothing more than to stop running, sit down at the side of the road, and weep. Perhaps a DNF would spare me from the embarrassment of a slow time that would be permanently linked to my name through the magic of the internet. But no, a DNF would have been worse. I wasn’t injured, sick, or otherwise physically unable to finish, so a DNF would mean failure and weakness. No, I was going to finish the bloody race so I could get away from the crowd and be alone with my shame. I pushed through the last few kilometers, finishing 16th among the women in the race with a time of 37:52.8. My splits for the last four kilometers were 3:58, 3:52, 3:55, and 3:47 (meaning my second 5k split was 19:31). I got out of there pretty quickly so I could wallow in my sorrow at home, but I ended up taking a nap instead of replaying my failure over and over in my head. In the afternoon, I was very dizzy and I vomited a few times. I’m not sure why it happened a few hours after the race. I would be inclined to think I was sick that day, but I’ve had this happen after good races, too.
Racing is a very fickle mistress. Sometimes you can run very well and you feel like you barely had to work. Other times you feel all sorts of pain, but you can push through and do great things. Sometimes you can have a rough day where you are tired, but you can stay tough and run a half-decent race. And sometimes, you just have a terrible day where any attempts to push through result in even more epic failures. That was the kind of day I had. It happens every one in a while, and I understand that this is simply an inevitability of racing. But understanding this doesn’t stop the pain and distress that comes with running a bad race, especially when the race happens to be a championship race where I was hoping and expecting to run well. Prior to the race, I thought I would be in contention for a top-five finish. It would take a good performance, but I knew I definitely had the fitness for it. To place sixteenth was rough. It was even worse when had to face the following at work:
Co-worker: Hey, congratulations on your 10k!
Me: What? Why?
Co-worker: You won your age group!
Me: Oh. Ummm…thanks, I guess.
I’m an age-grouper! Oh no! Now, before anyone takes offence at my elitist remarks, I want to say that I mean no offence. In fact, back when I did triathlons, winning or placing in my age group was a pretty big deal. But now that I am at the level where I can compete for overall prizing in most of my races, being told that I won my age group certainly took me down a peg or two (or ten).
As least I can express my pain and self-loathing by going out and thrashing myself on the roads and the grass as I go back to 160 km per week. Some may say that anger is a path to the dark side, but I find it is quite useful in keeping me motivated and hungry to run faster.
For those who care, the title comes from the song “White Crosses” by Against Me!
And the acoustic version: