Is Cross Country-Leslie Back?

I think so, folks, I think so.

For the past few years, I’ve thought of myself as a good flat-course “rhythm” runner who struggles with difficult terrain and hilly courses. I’m not sure where this idea came from. I did pretty well in cross country races in university, and I distinctly remember jogging the 2007 CIS course in Victoria and thinking “this is a tough course, so I’m going to do well here.” What happened after that? Well, I ran a bunch of mileage, went into cross country races very tired, ran poorly, and decided that I wasn’t very good at cross country. And when one decides that one is bad at running on a particular surface, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Did Harry’s Spring Run-Off change my perception? Yes. Is cross country-Leslie back? Yes. Is this irrelevant because track season is coming up? Of course not! Cross country runners are tough, and tough runners win races. Am I going to start talking about the race again instead of going off on a tangent? Definitely.

I’m not sure what more I could have asked for on Saturday. Near-perfect racing weather? Check. Good competition? Check. Awesome racing experience? Check. OK, maybe I could have done without that ridiculous hill at the end of the race. On the other hand, it was great to mix it up and try my hand at a difficult course, especially with a spring and summer of chasing times on the track ahead of me. The up-and-down terrain of the Harry’s Spring Run-Off race course made for a great challenge.

As I said, we had a perfect day for racing on Saturday. It was sunny and cool weather, but warm enough that I was able to run in shorts and a singlet comfortably. At my last road race in February, I wore a longsleeve and half-tights. I might be speaking too soon (with snow falling in London at the moment), but this might be a season where one can skip over that weird transition period (where everyone wears armwarmers) altogether.

Not having run Harry’s Spring Run-Off before, I wasn’t sure what I was in for. So instead of doing what any normal person would do (go into it without expectations and enjoy the ride), I did what any crazy person would do (obsess over course maps and every race report from the past ten years). Of course, this did little to prepare me for what was in store. I knew the first mile was a fast stretch, so I wasn’t surprised when I went out in 3:17 for the first kilometer and I was only in sixth place among the women. Dayna Pidhoresky, Emily Tallen, and Lucy Njeri had gapped me at this point, and I was running with Courtney Laurie and Meredith Macgregor. It felt fast, but I felt as if I was still in control. We went screaming down the hill on Spring Road, going through the mile at 5:26. Alright, maybe I wasn’t so controlled at that point. But soon the road flattened out and I was able to move along fairly well and put some distance on Courtney and Meredith. Our first uphill was along Centre Road at around the 3k mark. I tried to work the hill without redlining and surprised myself by passing Lucy and making up some ground on Emily. Dayna was way off in front, so my plan over the next five kilometers was to stay within striking distance of Emily.

This plan took me to hurt city (just east of despair town and a little north of painville) throughout the rest of the race. The course still had a bit of rolling terrain to throw at me, with the downhills pounding my quads and the uphills turning me into a little crying baby. I really need to get better at running downhills. Emily widened the gap on me on every downhill we ran, so I had to push a bit more than I wanted to on the flats just to make up ground.  She had about a ten-second gap on me during the second half of the race, so I tried to stay close because I was entertaining the insane hope of passing her on the final uphill. I went through 6k at 20:56, but I knew I was slowing down at that point and I had a big uphill at the end, so I would have a lot of trouble breaking 28 minutes. The final kilometer was great and awful at the same time. I worked hard on the flat section, then ambitiously charged up the final hill. This didn’t work out very well, because the final hill on Spring Road is pretty damn long. About a third of the way up, I forgot about catching Emily completely and simply went into survival mode. It was a brutal last stretch of the race, but the crowd support was incredible. People lined each side of the hill and cheered us on. I was really hurting, but running through that tunnel of people really helped. I hit the top of the hill, made a ninety-degree right turn, and staggered across the finish line.

I was very happy with how I raced, finishing third behind Dayna Pidhoresky and Emily Tallen in 28:26. Looking back, I think I should have made more of a push before the final hill to get closer to Emily and give myself a chance to take second. However, with this being my first time racing that course, I can’t have too many regrets. I was happy that I ran a good time for a hilly course and that I was competitive in the women’s field. Besides, finishing eight seconds behind Emily Tallen is fine with me; she’s run 1:15 for the half-marathon and she’s been consistenly running in the 16:30s for road 5ks over the past few years. I figure that I’m in good company, finishing that close to her.

This race was a good step forward for me. I’ve ran a few time trials in March, but it was nice to test my fitness in a race setting and gain confidence for the coming race season. I got to meet some great people (the Physi-Kult crew is awesome, it was cool to hang out with you guys before and after the race) and be a part of an excellent event. Once again, thanks to Alan Brookes and his team for putting on yet another great race.

With a good race behind me, I’m getting very excited for some spring/summer racing. I’m doing a few more road races in London before getting on the track. My training has been going very well lately, so I’m looking to run some fast times and re-write some personal bests (and club records, for that matter). Bring it, track. I’m ready for you.

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2 Responses to Is Cross Country-Leslie Back?

  1. Pingback: Start List/Liste de Départ: What DID you do? « Montreal Endurance

  2. Pingback: Canadian stars COOLSAET, GILLIS, PIDHORESKY to lead record field at Sporting Life Toronto 10K, as road running excitement comes to Toronto, Sunday May 1st. | Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

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