It has been an interesting few weeks since my last blog, so an update is in order. Things went from good, to awful, to great in the span of a few weeks. I will probably need a few updates to cover everything that has happened, but I want to write this out so maybe some people can see where I’m at, or learn something, or do whatever they do when they come here to read my blog. Read on and stay tuned as I go through the ups and downs my running has taken.
Part One: Well the worst of times now, they don’t faze me
So first off, the big question: what happened at Around the Bay? I have had lots of time to think about this. Too much, probably. Where do I start? How does one recap a bad race without getting into one’s typical sad, self-loathing ramblings? How does one move on after putting months of one’s life into something only to have it blow up in their face in the first thirty minutes and eventually end in total disaster? Fine, “total disaster” might be a bit melodramatic, but that’s how it felt at the time. So allow me to explain what went wrong at Around the Bay, take you through my pain and sorrow, ask myself the hard questions, and then (spoiler alert), ignore the hard questions by moving on with my life and continuing to run my brains out.
Let us rewind to March 25th. I’m fit and tapered, but it’s race morning and I’m nervous as hell. I’m panicking and I can’t seem to get things under control, but I tell myself that once the gun goes off, I’ll be ok. Unsurprisingly, I’m not very good at lying to myself. The first 5k of the race is alright; I’m out a bit quick but not enough to kill my race. Something felt off, though. From 5k to 10k I was labouring a bit to run my goal pace. I got worried about working too hard this early in the race, so I backed off three to five seconds per kilometer. It didn’t feel much better, and I was slowing as I was approaching the 10k mark. As early as 10k I knew I was having a really bad day and had thoughts of dropping out. Now, as a rule I don’t like dropping out of a race. Until March 25th, I thought there was only one good reason to drop out – injury. I wasn’t hurt on race day; I was just running like crap. I absolutely did not want to DNF. That would be much worse than whatever terrible and slow time I would run if I toughed it out and finished. I can be very stubborn. As a runner, this can be both a good and bad quality to have. I’m still not sure if it was a good or bad thing for me at Around the Bay. Anyways, a few hours later when my parents asked me, “so if you felt that bad at 10k and you still had 20k to go, why did you keep running?” I wasn’t really sure what to say. In short, I hate the idea of DNFing, so even though I was way off pace and hurting pretty badly only one third into the race, I had it set in my head that I was going to finish the thing.
I won’t say very much about the disaster that was kilometers ten through twenty. Suffice it to say that I was running a slow pace, getting passed constantly and suffering more than I should have. My legs were tight and I felt awful. After 20k I started to realize that I probably wouldn’t be finishing this thing. I ran a few rolling hills and just after 22k, my entire body felt so tight I was moving very awkwardly, I started wobbling a bit, and I ended up stopping. I had been wrestling with the idea of the DNF over the past ten kilometers but when I finally made the decision, it was an easy one. Some friendly spectators let me borrow a coat to keep me warm and a cop let me borrow his phone to call Steve, who picked me up and drove me back to the start. So thanks to all of those people for helping me out.
So what next? First, there was the shame of The DNF. As I’ve made clear, I hate the DNF. I still have some pretty strong opinions about it, but I’ve come to realize that the rules are different in long races. In a shorter race, I could have the most awful race of my life but I would still finish, because it means suffering for, what, another ten minutes instead of stopping at the side of the road or track like a wimp. In the 30k, I felt awful at 10k and thought “Jesus tap-dancing Christ, I still have well over an hour to go.” It’s a horrible feeling. I would like to be able to say that I’m really tough so I pushed through and finished anyway (even if this was the wrong decision). But I found out that my toughness has its limits, which might be a good thing. I’m not sure what finishing would have accomplished, but I still question my decision to stop.
There was some discussion, a few tears, and Steve and I came to the conclusion that I sabotaged myself by getting too nervous before the race. I was in great shape, and my fitness really couldn’t come into question if I felt that bad so early in the race. Pre-race anxiety is something I’ve struggled with before. It’s something I need to address, but more important at the time was how I would get through the next few weeks. I was experiencing horrible crushing post-race disappointment, because I had put three months of my life into preparing for this race and I didn’t even finish.
You might expect me to start writing about how I did some serious soul-searching and found some profound answers or that I got some kind of epiphany that made everything ok. That didn’t happen. I spent some time thinking, but I quickly decided that the best thing to do was move the hell on. That’s it. I love running, I was fit, and I wanted to keep pounding out workouts and carry on with the racing schedule. If I had stopped to second-guess what I was doing, I would only have felt worse. I don’t have much time for soul-searching anymore. I love running, I love training hard, and I love racing. It’s a strong passion for this great sport we call distance running; it isn’t logical. Why else would runners work so hard and sacrifice so much to do something that is pretty damn uncomfortable to begin with? It’s more than love; it’s obsession, where you need to get out there and train and you yearn for that burning feeling in your legs and you’re willing to sacrifice everything to do it. It doesn’t make sense, and trying to apply reason to it will only trick me into logicking myself out of my task. If I spend too much time thinking about it, I will only succeed in talking myself out of what needs to be done. So the only thing to do was to continue.
So in the end I ignored all of the questions and carried on with training. I think it was an appropriate response.
Part 2: Everything changes, but nothing really changes
And now we come to part two. I can call it redemption or catharsis or whatever I want label I want to apply to it so I can tie this all together into a nice little narrative. It is what it is. I moved on, ran hard, and did well. Really well. Much better than I expected, actually. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
My next race was the London Downtown 5k on April 6th. To take the pressure off, and so as to not interrupt my training for the Montreal half marathon, I did the old “training through the thing.” It turned out to be a good setup. I had no expectations; I wanted to get in a race and run hard and see what would happen. I figured I could do about a 16:45-16:50 on a good day, so I would try to hit the 3k mark in about 10 flat and then see what I could do.
We had great weather on race day. In the first kilometer I positioned myself just behind Andre Lefort. Now, I had actually told myself not to do this because he had been ahead of me in workout and he was looking to run 16:15, but the pace felt ok, so I went with it. We passed 1k in 3:17. I thought, that’s good, I’ll keep going at this effort and probably run 3:20 for the next one. The second kilometer was another 3:17 and I was surprised to see that I actually felt pretty good. At around the halfway mark, I got a bit aggressive and started to pass some people. I went by Andre first (I think he later commented “Leslie looked possessed”), then Shane, hitting the 3k mark in 9:51 or so. Steve was there with his watch and he seemed pretty excited about it. I suddenly realized, “holy crap, I think I might break 16:30 if I keep this up!” I pushed hard on the fourth kilometer with the intent to hold pace, but I ended up splitting 3:14. My internal dialogue over the last kilometer went something like: You idiot! You ran too fast and now this last km will hurt like hell! No, it’s ok, I have a few seconds in the bank now. Suda’s ahead of you, go get him! Ugh, my legs hurt. And he’s Suda, he’s faster than I am. I don’t care, just go. 500m to go, just run your ass off for less than two minutes and then you can stop. No, I don’t need a pep talk this time, I’m feeling awesome! I’m about to run under 16:30, this is one of the happiest moments of my life! Hey, what’s the course record? I think it’s 16:30 or something, I might break that thing! 200m to go, what time am I at now? BLOODY HELL STOP LOOKING AT YOUR WATCH SEXTON! Put your head down and go! There’s the clock, I’m about to run in the 16:20s. I’m gonna do a fist pump. That’s stupid. Screw you, I’m doing it anyway. 16:25 f**k yeah!
As it turned out, it was a course record (previously it was 16:32). It was also a personal best for me. 16:25 (actually 16:24.35 with the decimals) is ten seconds faster than my 5000m (yes, track) time from last year, and over a minute faster than my best 5k road time.
After the race, it felt as if everything had changed, even though nothing had actually changed. I started thinking, “wow, 16:24 means I’m really fit!” Yeah, I was fit ten days before; I just raced like crap. “Hey, if I can run that time on the roads in April, I should shoot for sub-16 on the track!” Actually, back in 2010 I set the goal of break sixteen minutes for the summer of 2012. I amended that goal to sub-16:15 at the end of last summer because I didn’t go under 16:30 in 2011. And now I’m back to thinking about sub-sixteen. My confidence is back, though I’m not sure it ever really left. So nothing really changed, but it suddenly felt like I had turned everything around.
So what’s the point of this whole tl;dr post? I’m not sure. I’m just blogging about the thing so I can explain what’s been going on with me lately. Some good things happened and some bad things happened so now I can tell the townspeople “you know, I’ve learned something today…” I guess I’ve learned that when you have a bad race, you should go ahead have a cry or kick something and then get over it and move on. Not because success might be just around the corner (because it might not be). If you love the sport and enjoy the daily grind of hard training, a bad race really doesn’t matter.
Stay tuned for future updates, overly-long stories, and epiphanies that basically amount to “HTFU!” Until next time, happy running.