What? Leslie has a blog? She’s actually updating it? Oh, let’s just get on with this so I can get my post-hiatus blog done and updating this thing can be a regular occurrence.
Yes, it’s been a while. To be honest, I had a rough 2012 and I didn’t feel there was much worth blogging about. I had some successes in there, but mostly there was a whole lot of disappointment that I didn’t want to broadcast all over the internet. I dropped out of a few races due to anxiety and after a great block of training leading up to my first marathon, I had to pull out of the race due to illness. I caught parainfluenza virus two weeks out from the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and stayed sick for the next four weeks. It was hard to get over that disappointment. Being sick for so long ruled out the possibility of running another marathon a few weeks later; I had missed too much training and the window had closed. I was upset for weeks. At the time, it was another failure on top of the crap-sundae that was 2012.
It got better, slowly. I wish I could say I had some big epiphany about my running or some helpful advice for other runners troubled by pre-race anxiety and post-race disappointments, but I don’t. I simply started training hard again. Eventually I got fitter, so I stopped being angry at myself and started to get excited about racing again. As for my anxiety on race day, I think I just told myself that I loved running too much to get this worked up over it. When you’re so nervous that it affects your performance, it isn’t fun anymore. No fancy mental techniques, just good old “telling yourself to suck it up and get running/racing.” Consistent mileage and good workouts get you fit, fitness brings confidence, and confidence allows you to show that fitness on race day. I guess that’s OK advice. Tell your friends.
For a while I went into put-your-head-down-and-train-and-don’t-talk-about-it-on-the-internet mode, but darn if I don’t just missing blogging. I enjoy writing, I like talking about running, and I have plenty of opinions. My housemates are probably sick of listening to me talk about running. The internet will be interested in what I have to say, right?
So let’s get started. A lot has happened since I last blogged, so I’m going to skip over the bad stuff and talk about the good stuff. You’ll hear enough complaining from me in the coming months, anyway. So here are my top five running moments (so far) of 2013:
5. Vancouver Sun Run 10k
This race was awesome! Any excuse to visit Vancouver is a good one, but this race was amazing. A big thanks to Maurice and the rest of the Sun Run crew for bringing me in and also to Anders Klaus who let me extend my stay a bit by offering up his futon. The race itself was a breakthrough for me; I ran 34:18, crushing my old road best of 34:55 (it was also faster than my track PB). So, I had a personal best, Vancouver is awesome, and I don’t have enough good things to say about Sun Run, so why is this down at number five? Because I was back in freaking sixth place! I’ve gotta get faster and at least crack the top five next year.
4. Virginia Beach Half Marathon
In March a small group from London Runner (Matt Suda, Adam Stacey, Ben Burr, and I) made the thirteen hour drive to Virginia Beach to run the Shamrock Half Marathon. It wasn’t very nice beach weather (I tried taking an ice bath in the ocean and lasted about ten seconds because the water was bloody cold), but it was nice weather for road racing. I had a solid race, winning in 1:15:28, which was a personal best by over a minute. And I managed to beat a sub-1:14 Ethiopian woman living in the US, for whatever that’s worth. I ran the first eight miles in second place. Through the middle miles I started to see some slow splits on my watch as I ran into a headwind, but I noticed that I was starting to make up ground on first place. I was frustrated with the headwind so I told myself “well, if you’re not going to run a fast time, you might as well try and win this thing.” I pushed a bit and moved into first place, then tried to build a gap. The splits took care of themselves and I had a pretty good last five miles. I knew that breaking 1:15 was out, but I pushed hard for the rest of the race and in the end I was happy to have won and run a personal best. I got myself a nice paycheque and a sweet coaster as my award that I like to show off when I have friends over. Our group enjoyed some well-deserved St. Patrick’s Day beers that evening.
3. & 2. The London 10,000m and the London 10,000m Part 2: Electric Boogaloo
These two sort of go together. I’ve run a bunch of 10,000m races over the past few years, but until this summer I hadn’t yet had a race I was entirely happy with. Well, this year I nailed it on two occasions. The first was back in May. I was coming off of a decent performance at Sun Run, so Steve and I decided to target 34-flat at the RCLDS-hosted Ontario 10,000m Championships. We found out that Kate Harrison was racing and aiming for a similar time, so we set up a nice little pace group to work together. The plan was to have Matt Suda pace our group for the first 5k, then he would pick it up and race the last 5k on his own. Kate brought in one of her training partners to take us to 8k, and after that the race was on. The first 5k went according to plan. Matt took us through in about 16:52 or so. I’ve never felt that good in the first half of a 10,000m race before, probably because I hadn’t had three other people to work with through 5k. It made a huge difference being able to tuck in and not think too much in the first half. After Matt picked up the pace and left our group, Kate’s friend took over the lead. The pace slowed over the next 2k and I started to get restless. I kept telling myself to wait until 8k to take the lead, but at about 7k I couldn’t wait any longer. I moved around Kate and her pacer and hammered the last 3k of the race. I finished in 33:40, a slight negative split and a huge personal best. The time also happened to be a club record, breaking Lauren King’s mark of 33:57. I’ve set a few London Runner club records already, but I was particularly excited about this one. The 10,000m record was probably the strongest senior women’s record leftover from Lauren’s time with the club. The cool thing was that Lauren ran that time at the Payton Jordan meet, but we were able to break it right here in London, Ontario. I say “we” because I see it as a team effort. Steve put on the meet (with the help of several volunteers from London Runner) and Matt was our rabbit. Steve and my teammates made it possible for me to run a great 10,000m time without leaving the city. I think that’s awesome.
So, part II (Electric Boogaloo). I gave it that name, BTW. Check out the meet results, it’s official.
My race in May was good enough that I would be able to apply for Quest for Gold (Ontario Carding). However, two performances are required to be able to apply. Number-crunching revealed that I would need either a 16:08 in the 5,000m or a 34:18 in the 10,000m to be able to apply. After the Canadian Track & Field Championships, my best 5,000m for the year was 16:11 and my second-best 10,000m was a 34:50. I was expecting to race a 10,000m on August 18th in Kingston, but the meet was cancelled. Steve and I looked at our options and decided that if I was able to get Quest for Gold funding, it would be well worth the expense of putting on a meet to run a time that would allow me to apply. Nothing was guaranteed, but I had to try. So Steve added a sixth race to the Runners’ Choice London Distance Series, and I trained for the 10,000m in late July and August.
I have to admit that it was tough preparing for this race. I was grinding out 10k-specific workouts on my own. Before my last big session (5 X 2,000m), Steve and I talked about performing on demand, since this was my last chance to hit a time. In the past this was been a cause for anxiety for me, but this time I welcomed the challenge and was eager for the opportunity to prove myself. The pressure of performing on demand can be a good thing when you take that pressure and use it to bring competitiveness and intensity to a particular task. That evening, I put pressure on myself to hit my splits and ended up averaging faster times than when I ran the same workout back in the spring (without the help of Matt, this time). I was ready.
On race day we had a few guys from the club run the 10,000m as a tempo run to help me out with the pacing. Nate, Ben, and Aaron might have had other things they would rather be doing on a Sunday night, but they were happy to help me out. That’s just how we roll at London Runner. I felt like Jordan Hasay chasing her Worlds qualifying standard. Ben and Nate took me through halfway in about 16:55, while Aaron ran me in to the finish. This race didn’t feel as smooth as my race in May. Our first 3k was a bit slow, then we picked it up a bit to get back on pace, which put some crap in my legs. The last 5k was a struggle. I was letting little gaps open up between Aaron and me, but every so often I would wake up and claw my way back up to him. I was suffering. My teammate Philippa was on the field and she kept telling me to relax my face. So I would relax for about three seconds but my face twisted back into an ugly grimace right after I passed her. I was doing a lot of math in the last three kilometers (“ok, you just need to run 10:20 for 3k to break 34”), which actually helped because I knew I was hurting but not falling apart, so I knew that these were times I could run. I finished in 33:50. It was a huge relief. It was an affirmation that I could handle pressure, perform on demand, and that I didn’t need a perfect race to break 34. If this gets me Quest for Gold funding, great. If not, it was still a worthwhile effort.
1. 5,000m at the Speed River Inferno
OK, talking about this race gets me fired up. A month ago I was talking to Ben Burr about it on a run and before I knew it, I was yelling and we had picked up the pace substantially. So here goes.
I ran the Guelph race with the intention of racing and not worrying about time. I pitched the idea to Steve, saying it would be a good prep for nationals, so he agreed that I should race it with the caveat that I was not to lead in the first three kilometers of the race. So for the first half of the race, I chilled out, tucked in with the pack, let my mind wander a bit, and listened to DST’s non-stop race commentary (which I did enjoy). We passed 3k in around 9:50 and I was still feeling pretty relaxed, so I tuned in, focused, and waited for the move. I was tucked in nicely behind Andrea and Madeline, with some others in the pack around me. As we approached the 3,600m mark, Andrea was leading and then sort of moved to the side, perhaps to let Madeline take the lead. I was on the inside and suddenly found myself at the front, so without thinking, I made a push. Before my mind had even processed what was going on, I had three laps to go and I had completely blown the race apart. As I came up to the 4k mark I could see on the jumbo-tron that I had put a gap on the next girl and that the rest of the field was totally spread out. I was working hard and my legs hurt, but the gap I had put on second and third gave me confidence. At 600m to go I was really hurting and I wasn’t sure I could maintain my pace. But I saw the screen again, saw my lead, and thought “wow, I’m gonna win this thing.” That great feeling lasted about twenty seconds and then turned into “oh crap no I’m not.” I started rigging real bad as I approached the bell lap and Andrea started a big kick, closing the gap and passing me down the backstretch. I tried to respond as best as I could, but my legs were fried. Andrea put three seconds on me and Tia nipped me at the line. I ended up running a personal best of 16:11, which was a nice surprise. Then I got to dry heave for a while at the side of the track, fun stuff.
Immediately after the race I was pretty pissed off. I went up to see Steve and said “yeah, yeah I know, I went too early and I faded, you don’t need to tell me.” I didn’t expect him to say “no, you did exactly what you needed to do, that was great!” (Which was what he said.) I had closed the last 2k in about 6:20 and closed the last lap in 74, which wasn’t blazing, but wasn’t a fade either. I wasn’t happy about losing, but it felt great to take control of a race like that. I wasn’t responding to other people’s surges, I was making my own moves. Steve and I speculated later that I got a big gap by pushing at 1,400m to go because it’s earlier than most people would want to start picking it up. It’s scary and it’s hard to push the pace that early, so that’s what I’ll need to do if I want to beat people at 5,000m. Until then it’s about getting fitter so I can do it again and be better. When I think about the race it’s still with a mix of emotions: the excitement of leading, the frustration of being so close, and hunger to go for it like that again.
So if you didn’t see that wall of text and think “no way I’m reading that, Sexton,” and you’re still here reading, those are my top five highlights of the year (so far). Maybe I’ll get to add a few to the list after this fall. Until next time, run more miles!