Let’s talk about Leslie’s trip to the zoo, shall we? Except it wasn’t all fun and games and looking at animals. It is a tale of redemption, perseverance, and the usual gritting your teeth and getting it done.
Flashback to 2010: I ran this race, and my performance was awful. I’m not going to elaborate further; that’s really all the backstory you need. So this year, the final year the Canadian 10k Championships would be hosted at the Toronto Zoo, I had some unfinished business to take care of. I was feeling pretty fit heading into this race. I hadn’t done much specific 10k work in September, but I was hoping I had some of that left over from all of the 10k track workouts I ran in August. I also backed off on the mileage leading up to the 10k so that the old legs would hopefully have a little pep in the step. Only 86 miles for the week, I felt like I was being pretty lazy!
The game plan was to run conservatively in the first half of the race so that when I reached the more challenging second half of the race, I would be feeling good and would be able to run some people down. Looking at previous results, I saw that it usually took a 34:30-35:00 to place in the top five, so I figured I would run high-3:20s per kilometer in the first half to split about 17:10 to 17:20 at 5k, then see what I could do in the second half. I realized too that with the nature of the course (fairly straight and flat first 5k, then a twisty second 5k with some hills), an even effort didn’t necessarily mean an even pace, so a positive split was acceptable in this race. In the interest of running controlled early on, I let the top women go in the first kilometer. Lanni, Krista, Natasha, and Megan Wright gapped me. I was feeling pretty good, so I expected the first kilometer to be at a nice, controlled pace. At the marker, I looked at my watch: 3:14. Ummm…sorry Steve, I know that wasn’t the pace we talked about. Lioudmila rolled past me sometime after the first kilometer. Then I started running splits between 3:30 and 3:35, which wasn’t what Steve and I talked about either. I still had hopes of moving up in the field, until Rachel Hannah passed me at 4k or so, which put me in 7th. I got a bit frustrated and down because I was running a slower pace than I had anticipated, and because being in 7th made a top-five finish seem totally out of reach.
One of the big challenges of running is blocking out negative thoughts like these. The brain can be a complete jerk when you’re hurting and a few things go wrong. Running half marathons and doing marathon training has taught me that you can go through bad patches, but it doesn’t mean it won’t get better later. For the next three kilometers I forced myself to think positive thoughts, like “hey Leslie, you’re still running way better than you did in 2010!” I focused on keeping Rachel in sight, which was a big help. I eventually noticed that even though my splits were slower than what I had wanted to run, they were pretty consistent since the second kilometer. I was still running low-3:30s, which meant I wasn’t fading horribly (or at all), which meant I couldn’t be having a bad race. So I focused on maintaining a good effort and kept pushing. At 7k I noticed that I was narrowing the gap on Rachel, so I forced the legs to go a bit quicker. After passing Rachel, a relatively straight section of the course let me see that some of the girls ahead of me looked like they were struggling. I could see Megan ahead of me and Natasha further ahead. I figured I could catch Megan and at least give myself a fighting chance to grab a top five spot. There are a bunch of twists and turns in the final 2k, so a few times Megan got out of my sight. All I could do was tell myself that if I pushed hard, I would catch her. I caught Megan a little after 9k. She responded with a bit of a surge, which definitely hurt me too, but I stayed in contact. I couldn’t see the finish line and my mind was pretty foggy at this point, so I didn’t know how far I had left to go. Eventually I thought “aw, screw it,” made one last push, and didn’t look back. I ended up putting a small gap on Megan and only ten seconds back from Natasha. I finished 5th in 35:23.
I was pretty happy with my race, as I achieved my goal of finishing in the top five. I would have liked to have sailed through those middle kilometers working hard yet feeling strong, but I was happy that I was able to work through a rough patch and finish well. “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows,” as Rocky would say (would you believe I’d never watched a Rocky movie until this year?) Rough stretches like that are going to happen, especially on tough courses like Zoo Run. The key is to minimize the damage they do, and I think I’m getting better at doing that as I keep racing. Looking back, a positive split of 17:35/17:48 is pretty good for that course; I would wager that it was one of the most even splits among the top ten women that day.
So, good effort, achievement unlocked, and all that. Onward to Columbus half!