The other day, a former Queen’s teammate of mine gave me “kudos for never taking a winch.” I had no idea what this meant, but I assumed it had something to do with being tough and not crying or being a wimp and other things that I do in my daily running. As it turns out, my guess was fairly accurate. The expression, as I understand it, comes from this awesome video (which I obviously need to watch more if I forgot one of the opening lines!)
Sometimes, it is necessary to remind oneself to HTFU. Sure, it’s easy to run well when conditions are perfect and everything is going your way, and you feel mentally and physically fresh and ready to rock. But much like life, things don’t always go the way we want them to. And that’s when you can decide to “take a winch” or man up and HTFU. So gather round, friends, and let me tell you the story of when things didn’t go my way and I had to HTFU, so that you will all think I’m tough and awesome and then more than three people will read my blog! Seriously, tell your friends. It all started at the Athletics Ontario cross country championships in Guelph last Sunday…
It was a massive field of 38 runners in the senior women’s race. The competitors included Lanni Marchant, who had thwarted my every attempt to win a road race in London this year, and Kate Van Buskirk, and old rival from my OFSAA days (actually, it isn’t fair to call her a rival. For that to be true, I would have to be a bit closer than eight seconds behind her in an 800m and twenty-five seconds behind her in a 1500m…and don’t even get me started on cross country races.) Yes, the competition was fierce. I would have been in for a world of hurt, even if I had been feeling good on Sunday. I ran into Lanni in a lineup for the port-a-potties (which, by the way, were out of toilet paper), and we ruminated on how we both preferred the roads to cross country races. I got a decent warm up in, which included a pickup in the last five minutes, but my legs were still feeling tired and flat. We lined up to start and when the gun went off, I immediately got the feeling that this was going to be a tough race. I pushed my legs through the initial fast pace off the line to get a spot at the front of the field before the course narrowed. Fortunately, with such a small field, I could take my time getting to the front rather than forcing my tired legs into a mad sprint in the first minute of the race.
I tucked in behind Kate and Lanni, and eventually we formed a small lead pack. Though I wasn’t exactly comfortable matching their pace, I resolved to stay behind them for as long as I could. I figured that I might as well get the drafting benefit for as long as possible. In a best case (and unlikely) scenario, I could stay with the two of them until someone fell back and then make a move. In a worst case (and much more likely) scenario, I could follow the two faster runners in order to put as big a gap as possible between me and whoever was in fourth place before I fell off of the lead pack. I suppose that this was a rather defeatist strategy, but taking into account how my legs felt, I thought this was the best I could do.
Our first loop was about a kilometer, and would be followed by a two-kilometer loop and then a three-kilometer loop to finish. While finishing off the first loop and coming around to start the second, we went slightly off-course (I really seem to be having a problem with this), since it wasn’t very clear where we were meant to turn in order to start our second loop. Our lead pack managed to correct our mistake fairly quickly, but it meant that our gap on the rest of the field vanished as we started our second loop. At the time, I remember thinking that the work I had done to stay up front and make a gap on the rest of the field was for nothing. So, once again, I forced my legs to pick it up a bit in order to stay with Lanni and Kate. I hadn’t loosened up or started to feel any better after a kilometer of running, so I knew I was definitely in for a rough day. Trying to ignore the protests of my tight and tired legs muscles, I cranked up the pace and told myself to at least stay with the two women ahead of me for the rest of the second loop. We managed to separate ourselves from the field again, so my worries from when we went off course were unfounded (we probably only lost about five seconds or so as a result of the mishap). My contact with Kate and Lanni didn’t last the entire second lap, but my effort was enough to put a significant gap between me (in the third place position) and everyone behind me. I must admit that it was rather discouraging to finish off two of three loops of a cross country race, only to realize that I had only run three kilometers of a six kilometer race, and was thus only halfway done. I was absolutely terrified of falling apart and having someone pass me. Third place wasn’t an ideal finish, but at least it would mean a medal and some recognition, however small. Fourth place would mean anonymity and disappointment for me, as I came to this race hoping to medal. So, on I went, forcing my tired legs to move in an effort to match the pace of the two women running effortlessly in front of me. Though there was a small gap at this point, Lanni and Kate were close enough that I could key off of them and use the size of the gap as a measuring stick for how I was doing.
At around four kilometers, I lost more ground, thanks to a wood chip or some annoying object that managed to attach itself to one of the outside pins on my left spike. This was extra-problematic, since I had already made the noob-ish mistake of wearing new spikes on race day without having tried them in a workout or even for a set of strides. I was already a bit uncomfortable in my spikes, and this bit of debris I picked up made things even worse. It must have looked like I was the worst overpronator ever, since the wood chip was basically pitching my entire foot inward the moment I hit the ground. Eventually the mysterious thing came off and my gait was back to normal. I still wasn’t feeling entirely natural running in my spikes, but at least I could run largely unimpeded.
Over the final kilometer, I tried to hold it together as best as I could. My little wood chip adventure had cost me some precious yards, and I got to the point where I realized that I definitely didn’t have that extra gear (and even if I did, it would perhaps let me draw even with the leaders and then I would burn out and get clobbered in the final kick to the finish). My legs were feeling pretty awful, so it was a matter of gritting my teeth and getting that final stretch done. I tried to distract myself by watching the Kate vs. Lanni final showdown ahead of me (Kate won), marveling at the fact that Lanni was still visible to me at that point in the race (every other time I have raced her, Lanni has been completely out of sight for a large part of the race). I finished in 21:17.20, though I have no idea if the course distance is accurate, since the TnF north community thinks age-class results for high school boys are more important than the senior women’s race. And really, why would it be? We don’t run OFSAA or anything. In any case, it’s silly to get worked up over cross country times, because it’s cross country.
I was pretty happy with my result, all things considered. I don’t like to make excuses, but I was certainly feeling off on Sunday. I was happy that I was able to tough it out and run fairly well. I probably wouldn’t have beat out Kate or Lanni if I’d had a really good day (Lanni is in 34-flat 10k shape, and Kate has been a distance monster since grade eleven). I’ll need to be on my game at nationals, since there will be more bodies in the mix. My HTFU factor is up to my standards, so the key on November 27th will be to feel ready and fresh so that I can put it to optimum use.
Oh, what’s that? You missed the race and you want to watch it? Well, not to worry, my bored and restless tapering-for-nationals friend! The video is up on RunnerSpace! Someone thinks our race is moderately important!