Final preparations for my ‘away mission’

The leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping, and race day is nigh! It’s marathon season, which is obviously my favourite season. As a fan of the sport I am excited to follow the results of fall marathons, and as a competitive runner I can’t wait to get out and run my own goal race. Matt Suda (teacher, teammate, and aerobic monster…but a different Matt Suda than this guy) and I are heading down to Columbus, Ohio next week, where he will be running the marathon and I will be running the half. Yup, I’m only running half a race. Don’t worry, I will do a real grown-up distance soon, just not this year.

Training has generally gone well this fall, but it took me until last weekend to really feel confident about my fitness heading into this race. On Sunday Matt and I ran our race simulation workout, which turned out to be exactly the confidence boost I needed as I head into my taper. The workout was a Brooks-Hansons style marathon simulation, with Matt running 26k at marathon pace, while I ran 13k at half marathon pace. We started our warm up at the crack of dawn (Matt wanted to go early, thanks Matt!) and then Team Columbus, plus Steve on his bike, gathered at the west end of the bike path at Springbank Park to start the workout. This run was yet another example of what a great city London is to train in. We ran the workout as an out and back on a 6.5k stretch of bike path that had every 0.5 km marked (the bike path goes much longer than 6.5k, but that was all we needed on Sunday).

Overall, the workout went well. Except for the part where Matt dropped me. See, we are somewhat training together through this block because we all figured that my half marathon pace would be pretty close to Matt’s marathon pace. But reality rarely works out as neatly as you think it’s going to. Fortunately for Matt and unfortunately for me, Matt has managed to get himself into great shape and now he’s too fast for me. At 3k or so into the workout he starts pulling away from me. I think, “oh no, I must be falling off pace.” Then I check my split at a kilometer marker, see that I have actually picked up the pace, and realize that Matt still put four seconds on me. So yeah, you read that right. Suda makes us start earlier in the morning, then he goes and drops me. What a jerk. Seriously though, I’m really excited that Matt is in great shape and I can’t wait to see him clock a solid marathon. If it means I’ll be running alone, I’m sure I can handle it.

Anyway, I managed to hit my goal pace for 13k, so I was pretty happy with my workout. I went into this workout feeling a bit tired from a high-mileage week, so to hit my pace and come through 13k feeling strong means my fitness is right where I want it to be. Now it’s time to drop the volume a bit and rest up for a big race effort. Onward with marathon season!

Oh, and I had to draw attention to this, ie. the greatest comment ever:

comment

That was awesome. Comments like that make this blogging thing seem worthwhile. Thanks, Delmonte’s flow! I’m committed to the blog reboot this time around. Well, time to do more running so I have something to write about next time.

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The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows

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.

zoo run2

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!

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A runner is you: the gritty franchise reboot

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.

Post-race with some fast ladies, enjoying the scenery.

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.

Pre-race with Adam Stacey. I’m trying to look happy and he’s trying to look focused, but in reality we are just really, really cold.

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.

Things were going well at this point. Then I tied up and two people passed me.

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!

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If this ground started cracking, my heart would too

Well, I’ve “completed the set,” so to speak. For months I’ve been joking about how I have a gold and a bronze medal in the 5000m from the two national championships I’ve run, so I needed to get a silver at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships to complete the set. And then I could retire or frame them or something. And what do you know, I go run the half in Montreal and I get the frakking silver.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy with how I raced. Well, not really. The positives are that I had a nice time in Montreal and my race was decent. Once again, Alan Brookes and the Canada Running Series folks put on a great race. I got to room with my Toronto Waterfront Half buddy Kate Bazeley, who won the race. I’m happy that Kate ran so well and didn’t make fun of me too much on Friday when I was suddenly obsessed with watching Storage Wars (I blame taper madness).

I felt alright early in the race, but not great. My first few kilometers were a bit fast, so I backed off and ran comfortably. Kate was on a mission or something because she dropped me and I wasn’t interested in running 35-flat 10k pace early on. So I hung back, following the plan of going out conservatively and then hammering the last 10k or so to do a negative split. It didn’t really work out that way. I felt like I made up some ground on Kate a few times throughout the race, but then I would turn into the wind and lose what I had gained. I really fell apart just after the 14k mark and unfortunately I still had a third of the race to go. There were several kilometer splits in the high 3:40s, but at the time I felt there wasn’t much I could do about it other than maintaining the effort and trying to hold on to second place. The gap Kate had on me got bigger. I stopped thinking about Kate and went into survival mode.

There was some late-race drama as I had to fight pretty hard to hold my runner-up spot. At the 18k mark, I paid for my slow pace as Erin MacLean comes up and passes me like I’m standing still. I tried to snap out of my exhausted rubber-legged stupor and go with her as best as I could. I drew even with Erin at 19k and got a bit excited (read: stupid). I put in a surge which didn’t last long and caused me to fall off badly about thirty seconds later. Erin put a small gap on me again and I went back into survival mode until 20k when I thought “screw this, I don’t want to be third.” I pressed pretty hard to draw even with Erin again and then kicked the pace up another notch to go past her. I was pretty worried that I had mistimed things, because if I had gone too early the race volunteers would have had to scrape me off of the course, but I made it across the line, so I guess I had enough to make it home. I “outkicked” Erin (I probably wasn’t running that fast at the end, it just felt fast because I had 20.5k in my legs at the time) for second to finish in 1:16:54.

I wasn’t very happy with my race, so I suppose I have a few things to think about. While I am happy to have medalled at a national championship, I was also disappointed for a few reasons. The most troubling part was that I completely lost it from 14 to 18k. I was feeling bad, I let the pace slip by a fair bit, and it wasn’t until my position as the second woman was under threat that I woke up and started running hard again. It’s tough to maintain pace late in a race when you feel bad and are in no-man’s land, but that’s part of the game, especially for someone who plans to be a marathoner very soon. When I’m really on my game, I’m very good at this. That wasn’t the case on Sunday. I need to be better at staying focused and pushing hard when things aren’t going well.

Overall I wasn’t happy with how the race went, but it is nevertheless a good step forward. I wanted to contend for the win, so I am a bit disappointed.  However, I still placed in the top three at a national championship race, which was the goal from the start. Five years ago, I could never have imagined a scenario where I would be pissed about getting the silver medal at a Canadian championship. That’s how it goes for runners: we get faster, our goals get more aggressive, and falling short never gets any easier. Still, I can look at my goals for the year that I typed up, printed out, and put up on my wall a few months back. It says “place top-three at Canadian half-marathon championships.” Mission accomplished, I guess. I can live with that.

Here’s some music. I’ve had this in my head for a while, which is good, because it’s a song I like.

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tl;dr

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!

Image

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.

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A Not-So-Unexpected Journey

On Tuesday morning I finished my last big workout before Around the Bay. It wasn’t a particularly special day, and my workout wasn’t even all that great, but for me it was another big step in a journey I set out on at the start of this year. (Yes, it’s going to be another one of those blogs…all overly dramatic and crap. Sorry.) It began in December, when a sad and dejected Leslie returned from having her soul crushed at the Canadian Cross Country Championships in Vancouver and boldly decided to forsake cross country forever and set out on a new path by running Around the Bay and a fall marathon in 2012… No, wait. That wasn’t how it happened, because I wasn’t all that upset about my performance at Canadian XC, I haven’t given up on cross country, and I had planned on running those races well before that point. Maybe the journey began back in 2007 when I decided I wanted to (eventually) run marathons.  Anyway, at some point last year, Steve and I decided that for Leslie Sexton, there would be two and only two goal races for spring 2012: Around the Bay 30k and the Montreal Half Marathon. Everything else was secondary. Now, I’m not going to talk very much about the Montreal Half Marathon in this blog because, well, Around the Bay is coming up in a week and Montreal isn’t.

My buildup for Around the Bay has also been a trial run as I work towards my first marathon this fall. I’ve been doing some real distance donkey training. I love it. There has also been the matter of figuring out fuelling, which involved me trying to chug Gatorade in zero-degree weather and being perplexed as so how to get more carbs in until I was told to use gels and water and I felt like an idiot. Gels, what a concept! I only sell them to people every time I go to work! I’m really not sure what my problem was there, but since then I’ve been taking my GUs and handling the fuelling aspect well.

Overall, my training block has gone fairly well. My mileage is very close to what I was doing last fall in preparation for the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, but I have taken a big step forward in my workouts. I have been handling the longer workouts and long runs very well, while keeping in touch with my speed. (So if anyone was confused as to how I got convinced to run an indoor 3000m race in February while I was training for a 30k race, don’t worry, it made sense within the context of my training. It went well and I ran a personal best by over six seconds in the middle of a 180km week.) I had a good fitness test race at the Really Chilly 10k here in London back in February. I ran faster than my track 10,000m personal best and started the year off right by beating Lucy Njeri (last year’s score was Njeri: 4, Sexton: 2…I need to do better this year). In any case, my training and my races have indicated that I am in good shape.

So, coming back to Tuesday’s workout. The big tough training before Around the Bay is now over. I’m not naive enough to say that the hard part is over and that the race will be easy in comparison to the training I’ve just done. I know that the 30k will still be a ridiculously difficult race, no matter how hard I’ve trained for it. The difference is that it doesn’t scare me anymore. After Tuesday’s workout, I realized that I’ve been to the edge a bunch of times already. There is still the unknown of how it’s going to feel when I hit that last big hill with 25k of hard running in my legs, but the past few months have shown me that I can handle it. It might not be pleasant, but I’ll grit my teeth and put my head down and power through and get it done. I’m heading into this race as confident as I can be while still having a ton of respect for the distance.

That’s it for now, I suppose. Expect a boredom and anxiety-fueled update next week when the taper is finally getting to me, followed by a much-too-long race report after Around the Bay (can I title the blog “there and back again” if I’m racing on a loop course? Probably not.) Anyway, the journey continues. Hamilton is but the first stop.

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A marathoner is you!

Well, eventually.

That’s right, 2012 will be the year of the marathon for me. After having marathons on the brain for all of my collegiate years, watching tons of online streams of the marathon majors and getting fired up every time, and experiencing constant frustration with ridiculously short races (1500m, I’m looking at you!), it’s time. Now, I’m not planning on running one until the fall, so thankfully you won’t need to hear completely unrealistic garbage from me about “taking a shot at qualifying for the Olympics” or endure endless tweets with “#london2012!!!” in them.

Why the marathon? As a self-proclaimed distance donkey, I’ve felt that I tend to perform better at longer distances. And, more importantly, I will finally get some respect in the running community! I’ve suffered through years of having to tell people “I’m a runner! You should think I’m awesome!” only to hear something like “have you run a marathon?” And then I have to say no while attempting to hide my shame and mutter something about my 10k time or that I’ve done a lot of 100-mile weeks. Now I get to say, “I’m running a marathon in the fall!” See, I haven’t even run the marathon yet and I already have a better response to the dreaded “have you run a marathon” question!

In the meantime, I’m training for Around the Bay as a trial run this spring. This race has been on my bucket list for a while, and it makes sense to try a 30k in preparation for a fall marathon. I will also be racing the Canadian Half-Marathon Championships in Montreal this year.

And so the grind continues. I’m getting used to doing some longer workouts that seem to go on forever. Seriously, at Tuesday’s workout I finished a tempo and everybody else in the club was gone. And I still had to do my cool down. I don’t have any good stories yet, but I’m sure that over the next few weeks I will have some tales about badass workouts to tell. More interesting stories means more frequent blog updates.

So, friends, follow me in my journey towards the marathon this year. I plan to provide mileage totals, entertaining race reports, and the maybe the occasional rant if something annoys me enough to overcome the marathon-training-induced-apathy I will surely get. It should be fun…right?

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Return of the blog

It looks like I haven’t blogged in a while and I have a lot to catch up on. I was going to talk about how I’ve become a hermit and moved up north to train on soft country roads or something cool like that, but my internet history would betray me by revealing that I’ve been spending an awful lot of time on online games and reading Letsrun. I have been doing a lot of running, though. I’m training for the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon on October 16th. This is my first true half marathon training block and my first serious attempt at the longer distances.

I started my buildup at the end of July after a short break following track season. I ramped up my mileage pretty quickly, and before I knew it, I was three weeks in and it was time to race. The Acura ten-miler was very early in my buildup, but Acura is an awesome race and I wanted an early-season rust-buster. I ran about 160 km that week because I was building up to 175 km and I didn’t want to lose a week in order to rest up for the race. Running on tired legs in pretty decent humidity, I managed to just run under one hour and finish fourth among the women. I wasn’t terribly happy with my race, but I tried to tell myself that it was simply an early stepping stone in a long process or something like that.

As few weeks later, though, something clicked. I started having some great workouts and I knew that I was in decent shape. Time to race, right? Well, no. There’s this thing called “racing sparingly,” which was a completely alien concept to me as a university student, but I’m doing it this season. It feels odd racing only every four or five weeks, but I know that I am getting in good training and that when I step on the line, I am fired up and anxious to race.

My next race effort was the Springbank Half-Marathon in London. I took more than two minutes off of my personal best in the half marathon, running 1:18:33. Springbank is a rolling course and it was pretty humid, so I was satisfied with the time. After Springbank I got into a nice groove, running three high volume weeks and some solid workouts. I averaged over 180k for that block, which is my highest ever with workouts (I’ve discovered over the past year that running a 220k week of just easy runs and no workouts is insanely easy compared to running 180k with some tough half-marathon workouts in there. As much as it pains me to say it, big numbers aren’t everything. They’re important, but there are other pieces to the puzzle.) The training was tough, but I’m happy to say that during this block, I was able to put my head down and get it done. When one trains at this level, there isn’t much time for soul-searching. It is simply a matter of getting out the door, whether you want to or not, and getting a run in. Most of the time I genuinely enjoyed the training, but there are always a few days when it’s tough and you need to run anyway. I haven’t had very many of those sorts of days lately.

Between the mileage, some great workouts, and my current mental attitude, I’m feeling very confident as I head into the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon this weekend. I know that I’m in the best shape of my life and I can’t wait for race day. The marathon is going to be a great race and I’m fired up about being a part of such an exciting event. Part of me wishes that I were running the marathon, but I understand that racing a half this weekend is new territory and a stepping stone for me. The plan is to run my first marathon in fall 2012, and having another year’s worth of mileage, consistent training, and experience will make a huge difference. For now I’m content to (only) go halfway.

I feel fit and ready to race. I think I should be able to survive the taper (I just started reading George R. R. Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons,” so I have about 1000 pages to keep me occupied). See you on the start line.

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Post-nationals blues

I seem to keep trying to blog, but each time I end up writing a long, rambling post in a mostly depressing tone. And then I end up giving up because no one wants to read that (and Steve will complain that I’m being too negative…Negative? Me?)
 
The trouble is that I haven’t really had anything particularly exciting or inspiring to write about since nationals. I’m in a post-nationals-pre-Ontario Championships state of limbo, and to be honest, it’s not very enjoyable. The Canadian Championships went better than I ever could have expected. I was fit going in, I peaked well, and now…well, I’m not sure what to do with myself. There is still a week to go until the Athletics Ontario Championships, and I seem to be lacking strength and motivation. I’m almost anxious for the season to be over with so that I can get on with training for the Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon (only 99 days until race day!)
 
I had a rough race last week at the Forest City 5k. I was hoping to go after a fast time in the 5000m. It was a good setup, as some guys from the club were also racing and looking to run around the same time as I was. Unfortunately, about 3k into the race my body said “screw you Leslie, I raced a week ago and I’m still tired.” Then I fell off horribly and barely ran under seven minutes for the final 2k. Ugh. I finished in 16:53.03 (at least it was faster than I ran in Calgary!)
 
Looking back, I can’t really be surprised at how the race turned out. I had a great race in Calgary. I went to the well and left everything out there on the track. Six days later, I took a gamble and raced again because it would be my last opportunity to run a fast 5000m. Obviously, I was still tired from my effort at nationals, and it showed.

So that brings us to the present and there isn’t much more to say. I can’t brag about my awesome training and high mileage because it’s near the end of the season and I’m tapering/maintaining. I promise something more exciting once half-marathon training starts and I have plenty of tales of epic mileage totals, hardcore workouts, and magical runs out on Denfield. The callousing begins on July 24th.

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You’ll get it right sometime. You will.

It was a weekend of triumph and defeat. Why defeat? Because I lost perhaps the most important contest of all: the Steve Weiler vs. Leslie Sexton Championship Prediction Contest. This year, before the OUA and CIS championships, Steve and I wrote out our top three picks in each distance event. I lost both. Guess what happened this time around? Strangely enough, the event in which I earned the fewest points was the women’s 5000m. I picked Wright for first, Schaaf for second, and Wodak for third. Unfortunately for my predictions (but fortunately for me when I was actually running the race), the top two seeds did not toe the line. I only earned half a point in the event, because I picked myself as the dark horse. Everything else was wrong. I did a little better in other events on Friday (day one of our prediction contest), taking the lead when we tallied the day’s points. But of course, history had to repeat itself on Saturday as Steve surged into the lead and took the win. I was pretty upset about it. I’m zero-for-three now, and it hurts. I’ll need to redeem myself when Junior Nationals roll around to stitch up this terrible wound. I should note that we have $0 riding on this — I simply have a huge debt in pride.

On a happier note, I won the 5000m. It was definitely an unexpected victory. I knew that when the top two seeds DNSed, I had a shot at a medal. I felt good on race day (my legs had that “itching to go fast” feeling on the warm up, which I know means that I’m ready to go), but the effects of altitude were still unknown to me. I planned to start conservatively and settle in the pack so that I could come on strong in the last 2k of the race and take advantage of other runners’ mistakes (which, I figured, would be even more costly at altitude). The pack went out at what normally would be a reasonable pace for me, hitting 2k in 6:41. I hung on as best as I could, but I definitely noticed that the pace felt harder than it normally would have. The pack put a small gap on me a few times, but I stayed stubborn and was able to grind my way back up to them each time. I passed Ashley Hinther before 3k and latched onto the lead pack as she started to fall off. With five laps to go, the pack was down to four women and I felt increasingly confident. The pace had slowed down a bit and there was only 2k to go, so I was feeling fresh and ready to rock. I told myself to be patient and tucked in on the inside rail at the back of the back. With three laps to go, Tamara Jewett made a huge move that completely broke apart the field. My legs seemed to respond faster than my brain at this point, as I found myself surging ahead of the other two runners to follow Tamara. She looked so strong at that point; it took all I had to keep the gap between us from increasing. I was starting to really feel it there, but my mind quickly went from astonished to be in second, to race mode where I needed to catch Tamara and I wouldn’t be happy with anything less than the win. I told myself, “relax, she went too early, she went too early.” I maintained the gap for another lap and started to move up with about 700m to go. I caught Tamara with 500m to go in the race, started a long kick, and moved right on by her. I ran scared for the final lap. My legs started really burning with 200m to go; it felt like I had to force every single step towards the finish. I tried not to look back. There was nothing more I could have done at that point. I was all out, in pain, and I had no more gears. I crossed the finish line in disbelief, stumbled for a few steps, and then my legs just gave out. I was sprawled out on the track, legs feeling like they were on fire, yet I felt the euphoria of victory.

In the end, after by far the most painful 5000m race I’ve ever run, I walked away with the gold medal and an awesome cowboy hat (yes, the medallists at this race got cowboy hats. Calgary, I’m sorry about all of the mean things I’ve said and will say about you because of your altitude, dryness, and cold weather. You’re awesome.) But most importantly, I got some serious scalps. Getting scalps is important. I got lots of scalps at 1500m night, but they were mostly high school/junior/youth scalps. This time my scalps included people who have made national teams and run times like 16:1X for 5000m and 1:16 for the half marathon. But I still haven’t paid my debt of scalps to Weiler and de Witt. Back to work for me.

I will talk more about the rest of my trip next time. For now, I’m focused on running a fast time at the Forest City 5k (which is actually a 5000m…it’s important to distinguish) in London on Thursday. The championships are done; now it’s about running fast. Scalps are still important, though. I’ll get more scalps.

Cool picture

Article on London Runner

Cowboy hats! (Lindsay made me pose for this one)

Music: Hot Water Music — “Trusty Chords”

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