Well, that wasn’t quite what I had in mind for my Canadian senior cross country championships debut. Going into Saturday’s race, I was aiming to be in the top ten and contending for a spot on the national team that may or may not be competing in the World Cross Country Championships in Spain. But races, especially cross country races if your name is Leslie Sexton, don’t always work out the way we want them to. My season of training had gone well, and I had been smart about tapering, so I was feeling fit, fresh, and confident on race day. The problem was that race day didn’t want to cooperate with my careful planning. I awoke to a bitterly cold and windy day in London. Fine, I thought, I could wear tights for the race instead of shorts and tuck in with a pack. But the day had more to throw at me. On the way to Guelph, the heavens dumped a blizzard on us, which could only mean a white-knuckle drive along Highway 6, bad footing on the cross country course, and the car in front of us fishtailing and driving into a ditch. While we were not hit and the driver of the car was not injured, it seemed an ominous start to the day. Fortunately, as we rolled into town the weather calmed down, and so did my nerves.
And yet the snow remained to impede my progress and annoy me in general. You see, my dear readers, I like the roads, and the track to a lesser extent. Trails and grass are nice for training (that might be a lie, as I have been known to get angry at people who run absurdly small and convoluted loops in a effort to avoid taking one step on the pavement during an easy run), but I prefer to race on a fast, flat, and even surface. Seriously, I did a legitimate trail race once, and it was a complete disaster. In short, asphalt is good. Gravel or dirt-packed trails are tolerable. Grass is bad. Snow-covered grass is worse than the hypothetical offspring of Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs and Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter.
Nevertheless, I was determined to not let the inclement weather ruin my day. Yes, I was going to get myself in there and give everything I had. Now, anyone who has run the Guelph Arboretum course knows that it requires a special sort of race strategy. The first 800m or so of the race (and each loop) is downhill. At the end of each loop is a pretty significant uphill stretch. Basically, the Guelph course is a worst-case scenario for this particular distance runner. I should have realized this ahead of time, but I was blissfully ignorant and naïve (despite having run a race there in September). I knew that the race would go out quickly, and I knew that I would need to stay in contact with the lead group, despite whatever fast initial pace was set. Yes, while many runners were probably advised not to go “batshit crazy” in the first kilometer of the race, I was prepared to get out like a maniac. Now, you might be guessing what comes next. And you’re probably wrong. You see, gentle reader, you are probably assuming that I started too fast and as a result, spontaneously combusted or got hit with a jelly-legs curse upon hitting that nasty hill for the second or third time. In fact, the opposite was the case. I probably should have gone out faster. As it happened, the lead pack went out “batshit crazy,” and despite my best efforts, I still got dropped. I pushed hard during that first stretch, but my legs simply couldn’t move any faster. I quickly found myself outside of the top twenty with the lead pack vanishing ahead of me.
I’m not sure there was much more that a distance donkey like me could have done. The lead pack was gone, so I worked my way through a few runners in the flat sections and eventually latched on to a group of women that included Melissa Ross, Shari Boyle, Lydia Willemse, and a few others. Our group managed to pass or swallow up a few women who had gone out too fast during the second lap.
On the final two-kilometer loop, Melissa and Shari made a push on the downhill section and managed to string out the group. I didn’t hop on immediately, but soon I realized that I would need to be up with them in order to gain a spot or two or at worst, put some distance in between me and the girls behind me before the final hill. I spent most of the final lap slowly clawing my way up to Shari, because I really wanted to beat her (nothing personal…no, wait, maybe it is personal…or is it? You decide.) I thought I had a chance, but this was shattered as soon as I hit the hill. I started slipping and sliding and hurting and Shari put six seconds on me. Fail. I finished in 17th place with a time of 25:48 for 7k.
I can only describe my race as “OK.” It wasn’t a great race, and it wasn’t terrible. I would have liked to have finished in the top ten, but I’m happy that I put in a good effort in conditions that don’t really favour me. I have always had trouble running on snowy or muddy surfaces, so the terrain definitely slowed me down. The fast start to the race meant that I was doomed to be gapped and out of contention early on. The expression “out of sight, out of mind” is definitely applicable here. In tough conditions like we had on Saturday, it is difficult to make up a big gap like the one between me and the lead pack. On Guelph’s winding course, it is very easy for groups to become isolated, so I focused on running with and beating the runners in my pack rather than moving forward and trying to make up group on the next group. And finally, at some point we need to understand our strengths and weaknesses and accept the things that are beyond our control. I am simply better on the roads than on a cross country course, especially when the latter is hilly and snow-covered. That, and the start was way too fast for me. At track nationals, I ran a great race, but I was also very lucky. The slow start and gradual increase in pace was almost identical to a workout I had run only four days earlier, so I was well-prepared for the way in which the race happened to play out. On Saturday, the quick start was rough for a steady grinder like me. In the end, I’m satisfied with my finish at a race where many factors seemed to work against me.
Now, some of you may be thinking that I just made a bunch of excuses and completely negated my tough reputation with the previous paragraph. In an effort to salvage my rapidly deteriorating street cred, I will offer the following explanation. I am making a pre-emptive strike of sorts against the critics who say that my blog is too negative and that I should include more sunshine and hugs and rainbows and puppies.
I’m trying to put things into perspective and look on the bright side of life and other such shiny happy things. Yet I’m always a bit down at the end of the season, no matter how well I’ve run at a championship. Why? Because it means I need to wait about nine months until the next cross country season! But in the meantime, I’m eager to resume training (next week) and I’m hungry for some track races this summer.
Only one question remains: why did I reference a My Chemical Romance song in the title? Am I actually a weak little girl that needs to take a winch and have a cry after a decent race? No, of course not. So let’s listen to a better song. This one is a cover of a Bob Dylan song, done in the style of a trashy late-1970s punk song for the Watchmen soundtrack. And it’s awesome.
I couldn’t find the original on youtube (other than random dudes playing it in front of their webcams), but it is excellent and you ought to listen to it.