As many of you know, running cross country is a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, cross country is great. I love the idea of cross country, it’s the purest form of our sport and requires guts and toughness. But my love affair with cross country is, well, complicated. When it comes to me running cross country, it doesn’t always work out. And yet I just can’t quit you, cross country. Every year I come back for more. This year’s Canadian Cross Country Championships epitomized our tumultuous relationship. I wasn’t going to race, then I did. My goals and race plan changed about four times over the course of one weekend. It was awful out there and yet, it wasn’t so bad. Confused yet? Let me explain.
After a truly awful experience at nationals in Vancouver last year, I was ready to be done with cross country for good. I was absolutely sick of slogging through the mud when there were perfectly good roads to run on. The roads are nice and friendly. You run hard and you are rewarded with sexy personal bests. Cross country is mean and unforgiving; I try to run hard and I end up slipping and falling on my face or rolling an ankle. So in that vein, I vowed that I would not run cross country in 2013. Then September rolls around and someone throws out the idea that we should have a London Runner senior women’s team run Canadian XC. Against my better judgment, I said, “yeah sure, if we have three other women who want to go, I’ll do it.” Then I watched in horror as a week later, three women handed in cheques for our group flight to Vancouver. I guess that meant I would be running. Steve and I decided that since I tend to struggle in the mud (and it’s always muddy in Vancouver) and it wasn’t my focus for the fall, I would be running nationals with the team in mind. I was to work with a teammate, probably Lauren, during the race. This made me feel a bit better about what I had signed up for.
Let’s fast forward again. It’s late November and I’m in Vancouver. I’ve won the Ontario Cross Country Championships with a decent race. I check out the course at Jericho Beach and it’s pretty dry. I start to think that things are starting to go Leslie’s way, and I let my competitiveness get the better of me. So I pitch the idea of taking a run at a top-10 placing to Steve and after some discussion, he agrees. I jog the course again on the day before the race. It’s in great shape. The forecast calls for rain on Saturday, but I think the course can take a bit of rain before it gets sloppy. I’m good to go, let’s do this!
If you’ve seen any pictures or video from Canadian XC, you know that my optimism was merely a bunch of delusional wishful thinking. It rained all day and the course was a swamp. I sighed and put my 12mm pins in my spikes. As I warmed up, it rained harder and my enthusiasm was dampened (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I was feeling anxious about the race to the point where I felt sick to my stomach and I really didn’t want to be there. 2012 Leslie would have let that anxiety get the better of her and would have had a terrible race. But the superior 2013 Leslie looked for a more productive solution. I found Steve and told him that it was getting worse out there by the minute, so it was time for a change of plans. Evidently he was thinking the same thing and we agreed to go back to the original plan of running with Lauren, at least early on. I was to relax and feel things out in the first 3k and pick it up in the last two laps of the race if I was doing alright with the footing. This talk was exactly what I needed; I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my chest. I headed off to the start line feeling good for the first time all day.
The gun went off, everyone sprinted across the field, and I stuck to the plan. I let the main pack go and chilled out on the initial 1k loop. It looked like a ton of people were ahead of me, but I didn’t panic. I couldn’t see Lauren near me, so I did my own thing and focused on running at a relaxed effort. I focused on moving as smoothly and efficiently as possible in the mud and finding the best footing. Though I wasn’t expecting this, I started to pass girls on the first loop as runners slowed down in front of me after sprinting the first straightaway off of the line. As we moved into the first of three 2k loops, I continued to get a feel for the course and managed to pass more girls along the way. At the time, I thought I was way back from the lead pack. As it turned out, I was probably already in the top twenty. But the most important thing was that I wasn’t moving horribly in the mud and I still felt comfortable.
On the second 2k loop I didn’t make as much progress moving up in the field. I could see Amanda Truelove and another girl ahead of me, but I couldn’t seem to close the gap. I was starting to hurt and I didn’t want to be redlining just yet, so I tried to keep the effort even and hold my position as best as I could. Heading into the final loop I was feeling tired but ready to go to the well over that last 2k. I made a bit of a push and rolled by Amanda and the other girl. As I ran towards a switchback before we got into the wooded area, I was able to see the lead pack, and I realized that there weren’t that many people in front of me anymore. I passed two more women in the woods and then worked my way up to two more. After coming out of the woods, I heard Steve yell at me that if I passed the two in front of me, I would be in the top ten. If I hadn’t been running hard and gasping for breath, I would have told him to shut up and quit messing with me because I didn’t believe I could be that far up considering how easy I had gone out. I passed the next two girls and tried to put as much of a gap on them as I could. I saw two more women ahead of me and I was able to close the gap a bit over the final 500m, but they were just too far away. I crossed the line in 10th, my best placing ever at a Canadian Cross Country Championship.
Of course, the never-satisfied competitor part of me questions whether I could have placed higher if I had gone out faster. Nevertheless, I am happy with my effort. After two blow ups and disastrous races in the last two years at Canadian XC, it wasn’t worth the risk to go out aggressively on a sloppy day. Besides, it felt great passing six girls in the final 2k of the race. Most importantly, I didn’t run like a useless piece of garbage. A top-10 placing was just icing on the cake.
After this race I have concluded that cross country isn’t all that bad. I had a decent run and wasn’t hampered too much by the mud. Running this race and turning in a decent performance has gotten me past this mental block I seem to have with cross country and muddy courses in particular. Another big part of this was fielding a senior women’s team for the first time in London Runner history. It was great to travel and run cross country as part of a team again. Lauren, Karen, and Courtney, thanks for coming out to Vancouver to run in the rain for London Runner. I wouldn’t have made the trip if it wasn’t for these three, and I ended up having a lot of fun. We placed 4th as a team by an agonizing two points, but it gives us something to build on for next year. Even though cross country is far from my favourite discipline, I will keep running Canadian XC as long as we have a team.
Now I’m on a bit of a break, but I am excited to get back on the roads, after apologizing for cheating on them with cross country, of course. Let’s keep it on the ‘crete for another eleven months!