The going get tough, the tough get debt

It’s the long-awaited (not really) update! Sorry everyone, I was too busy sucking at running and I didn’t want to talk about it. This sport can be pretty cruel sometimes. I had a rough 2014 and it somehow turned out that my redemption, the moment when I pulled myself together and turned things around, was during cross country season. Cross country! As a staunch roadie who claims to hate cross country, I was just as puzzled as you are now. Maybe I’ll have to admit that I actually like cross country. Just don’t tell anyone; I’ve got a reputation to uphold here.

So, back to the sucking. Right, May, track season, running fast. Then June hit and like the last 15 minutes of the Mass Effect 3 or The Offspring after Smash, I just started sucking. It was subtle at first, waking up tired after what should have been sufficient sleep, a rough workout here and there. It’s easy to write off a some sluggish easy runs or a workout where you have a work harder than usual to hit your splits as fatigue and not read too much into it. But then when you fly to Portland on your own dime to run a fast 5,000m and end up running slower than your 10k pace because you feel like crap, it can get a little frustrating. That’s a pretty specific scenario. It was exactly what happened to me in June. This continued with a terrible 10,000m at the Canadian Track & Field Championships, and spilled on into the fall with some bad blowups in road races. By September I thought I had turned a corner and my training and workouts were going well, but I still couldn’t put it together in races. The disappointments culminated with a very rough marathon performance in Columbus in October.

The marathon was a terrible experience, but two good things came out of it. First, I finally finished a marathon! Over the past two years I’ve trained for three marathons and this is the first time I made it to the start line healthy. It is incredibly disheartening that struggling to a 2:50:54 finish is somehow a step forward for me, but it’s something. Alright, this is more like ‘one kind of ok thing and one good thing.’ Second, running the marathon forced me to take a rest and a gentle build up back into training. I don’t like taking breaks, so I tend to cheat a bit on my downtime and build up aggressively immediately afterward. I suspect that this practice is a big part of what hurt my fall season. After the marathon, I didn’t have a choice. Even though I didn’t run very fast, the distance still beat me up. I took a nice recovery week and then eased into running more gently than I ever have in the past few years. It was exactly what I needed.

This brings us to my short cross country season. Running cross required changes in my training and in my attitude. I dropped my mileage a bit and focused on running some good workouts. The attitude I brought to every workout and race was the same: low pressure, smart racing, negative splits. I knew that the fitness was there, so I gave myself simple instructions: race like I did last year at Canadian XC, running the first lap controlled and moving through the field in the second half of the race. The field in Vancouver seemed stronger this year than it was last year, so I figured a top-15 finish would be a good goal. Before the race, Steve told me that it was about “race execution and mental toughness.” I was in a great place mentally; less focused on the outcome but ready to execute my race plan, run hard, and see where it got me.

Even though I followed the same plan last year, it still surprises me how well I can place by running an even race. It can take a long time to shake the “get into the lead pack and hang on” mentality, so the doubts can still creep in when you let the lead pack go and focus on your own effort. On the first lap I tried to hammer out a good pace while still feeling comfortable and it looked like there were tons of girls in front of me. I thought: “oh crap, I’m not going fast enough. Have I made a huge mistake? Or maybe I’m just running slow today because I’m sitting in about 40th and this pace still feels pretty damn hard!” But my game plan was vindicated after less than a lap. Steve told me I was around 20th, and I was already starting to move up. On the second lap I started to feel better. After months of marathon training, 8k cross country race pace felt hard and a little outside my comfort zone in the early stages of the race, but it was a pace I could sustain if I kept grinding along. And grind along I did, moving up to around 16th by the end of the second lap. I pulled off my toque, tossed it to Steve, and the real race began. (It was probably warm enough to start the race without the toque, but I wore it so I could make the symbolic gesture of throwing down my hat to let people know it was on.)

I passed some more women on the third lap and as I got close to the 6k mark, I was sitting in 12th and closing in on 10th and 11th place. Steve, who is normally pretty calm and reserved during races, was as close to losing his shit as I’ve ever seen him. He updated me on my place and yelled “those girls are hurting up there!” Sasha Gollish and Andrea Seccafien were just ahead of me and I could see the next group of Benson, Carson, and Bernard. The last lap was tough. The course was a mess and my legs were tired and wobbly from slogging through the mud for the last 6k. Yet as I entered the final lap, I knew I was going to pass Sasha and Andrea and move into the top ten. I put in a little surge on the uphill before heading into the woods and, to my surprise, ended up dropping them and working my way up to Maria Bernard. I was just trying to stay on my feet at that point. Navigating the muddy course in the last 500m was rough, but I managed to outkick Bernard for 9th. I was pretty fired up after the race; I had bettered my finish from last year in a stronger field and had my best finish at Canadian XC. Steve Boyd told me I was “like a freight train coming through” on the last lap, which I thought was pretty awesome.

Photo by Sean Peicheff.

Photo by Sean Peicheff.

So our tale of a rocky and inconsistent year comes to an end on a high note. I’ve journeyed to the Emerald City of Vancouver to have a fake wizard tell me that I had the power to not suck all along. Metaphorically, of course. Lessons learned and happy ending earned. Which is ok, I guess, even though I don’t mind downer endings. But seriously, owing my redemption to cross country? Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming.

Stay tuned for my next update where I write about the Boxing Day 10-Miler and ummmm…some other things! Probably!

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