I don’t hate cross country!

I figured I would do a quick update. Training has gone well since the half marathon. I took a very easy week, then ramped up the training again, and threw in a few races for fun and profit. In late October, Steve got a call from Dave Scott-Thomas saying that Sheila Reid was injured and that he was looking to fill her spot on the team going to Chiba Ekiden, which I was quick to accept.

I’m really excited about this trip. First, because Japan is awesome. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve been playing King of Tokyo with my housemates. Sidebar: King of Tokyo is an awesome game, because you get to play a monster and punch other monsters by rolling dice.

My personal favourite, Gigazaur.

My personal favourite, Gigazaur!

It helps to get into character by talking in a monster voice. Where was I? Oh, right, Japan. If I don’t see at least three monsters attacking Tokyo while I’m there, I will be pretty upset. Seriously though, Japan has awesome depth in road racing. Eighteen guys just went under 63 minutes at the Ageo Half Marathon. Crazy stuff. Secondly, going on the trip and doing this race will be a great experience. I will be travelling with a bunch of fast runners, so I plan on learning a lot from my teammates about travelling, competing, and becoming a better runner. I’m there to race first and foremost, but I also want to get the experience and knowledge that comes from racing on the big stage.

I will be doing some blogging on trackie.ca during my trip, so head on over there, maybe check out the forum while you’re at it and make a few posts, as long as you’re not a troll.

On Sunday I raced the Athletics Ontario Cross Country Championships, which were held just outside of London. Despite my claims that I was done with cross country after last year, I somehow got sucked into racing not only the Ontario championships, but also the Canadian championships in Vancouver. Why? Because three crazy women from my club got together and decided to race, and with me we would make a team or four, so really I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

But I jest. Sunday’s race was actually a lot of fun. When I heard that the race was going to be held at Belvoir Farms, I expected a boring cross country course around a bunch of corn fields. It was still a course around a bunch of corn fields, but they added some logs to jump over and a fun ditch thing that really kills your momentum. I wanted to win this race. It certainly helped that the Athletics Toronto ladies weren’t running, but I still had to deal with Rachel Hannah. Rachel is pretty badass at cross country; she’s just a grinder that tends to beat people who are faster on the roads or the track. I hung with Rachel for about 2k. Of course she put a gap on my on the muddy section, but I reeled her back in when the footing got better. We ran the ditch (it was a quick, steep downhill followed by a quick, steep uphill) and I seemed to get back on pace faster after climbing the hill, so I stepped on the gas and opened up a gap on Rachel. From there I tried to grind out my way to a good lead, as I didn’t want Rachel anywhere near me on that muddy section on the second loop, or anywhere near the finish, for that matter. My hurdle technique was a little rough, but I managed to jump over all of the logs without falling and or looking too ridiculous.

I held my lead through to the finish, coming through in under 24 minutes. Yeah, I think the course was a bit long. I wasn’t wearing a watch while I raced, so I had no concept of how long I was out there anyway. I didn’t mind, though. Logs to jump over and dubious course measurements, that’s old school cross country, I love it!

The best part about Sunday’s race was getting to run on a team again. Last year, London Runner scraped together a senior women’s team by moving a junior up and age group and convincing a master to run as a senior. This year we had four women, all around the same age, who were excited to toe the line of a cross country race as a team. And we won the team title, which was awesome.

3/4 of team London Runner. We couldn’t find Lauren after the race.

The full squad, plus Lauren’s dog. And Steve.

Watching the senior men’s race was great, as we had 11 guys from the club running. In a bold move, Steve split the men into two evenly matched teams. London Runner ‘A’ and ‘B’ ended up taking the top two team spots.

After this race I am happy to say that I don’t hate cross country, pretty much because I didn’t race like a useless piece of crap (which I tend to do when I race cross). Hopefully my opinion doesn’t change after Canadian XC. I will be heading to Vancouver after racing Chiba. This will give me a chance to chill out for a few days and do a workout on the race course before meeting up with the team. Maybe I’ll be less useless this time around. Onward to Chiba and Vancouver!

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Throwing the game plan out the window

Shortly after I finished the Columbus Half Marathon last Sunday, the following conversation occurred between my housemates back in London.

Ben: (Steve coming up the stairs) “Did you see the result yet?”
Steve: “Not yet.”
Ben: “You need to see.”
Steve: “I was a little worried when I saw the halfway split.”
Ben: “You don’t need to be worried about it, but you need to see it.”
Steve: “1:14? Holy shit!”
Ben: “No, look again.”
Steve: “Oh, that’s Matt maybe. 1:13?! HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT.”

That was pretty much my reaction, too. Going into the race, I had reasonable expectations (ie. I didn’t expect to run a personal best by over two minutes). My training over the summer and fall had gone well. I had to compromise my half marathon build a bit by racing a 10,000m in August as I needed another time to apply for Quest for Gold funding, but overall I was happy with my training block. I had my best quarter (as they say in the business world) in terms of average mileage per week leading into Columbus and I was pretty consistent in hitting my workouts. Therefore, I expected to run faster than my personal best of 1:15:28. I figured sub-1:14:30 would be a good goal, and if the weather cooperated and I had a great day, 1:14-low or just under was possible. The plan was to run around 3:32 per km (or 5:41 per mile, since that’s where the markers are in an American race) and then try to pick it up in the last four or five miles of the race.

Well, sometime you follow the plan, and other times you throw the plan out the window. This race was an example of the latter. The pre-race atmosphere was partly to blame for a fast first mile. We lined up and a guy sang the US anthem, complete with pyrotechnics when he got to the “bombs bursting in air” part. Oh man, it brought a tear to this Canadian’s eye. Then they start blasting AC/DC over the loudspeakers, which now sounds a bit cliche, but when you’re there, wow it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. I ran the first mile in 5:25. Suda pulled up beside me and we joked that we could both picture Steve telling us to settle down. So we settled down and ran a 5:45 for the next mile. By then I had pulled up beside the lead woman in the half and she settled in with our pack of Matt and I plus some other marathon guys. I kept the effort steady, so I expected to see splits around 5:40. Instead, I saw splits in the mid-5:30s. I knew that I was going out fast, but the effort felt right, so I told myself not to freak out and just hung out with the pack.

Complicating matters was a Kenyan woman who insisted on running about half a foot beside me and constantly bumping elbows with me even though we had an entire road to ourselves. She was really up in my grill, running super-close to me and then listing to one side or another in what felt like an attempt to run me off the road. At one point Matt moved to the front of our pack and she almost ran him into a parked car. It was ridiculous, just totally violating my personal space. Now, before you think I’m some pampered road racer complaining about a bit of harmless contact, let me tell you, I’ve run my share of mid-distance track races. I’ve been boxed in, bumped elbows, I know what’s what. This lady’s actions fell somewhere in that gray area between “not really against the rules” and “hey, that’s not cool,” or in the generic category known as “being a dick.” I tried various strategies like dropping behind her and moving to the other side of the road, but within about five seconds of me doing that she would be beside me, bumping elbows again. I even tried moving to the other side of another guy in our pack to use him as a buffer between me and her but nope, she just moved around him and latched on to my hip again. So I thought, “well, if she’s going to pull this crap I’m gonna run behind her and draft off of her,” which seemed to work.

In the last four miles I was getting pretty pissed off at this chick, so I wanted to beat her pretty badly. I kept trying to crank the pace up, but she wouldn’t let me go by. The result was a few pathetic surges on my part, followed by her surging back and forcing me to the side of the road again. My tangent running was probably terrible. Matt put a gap on our pack at 10 miles or so and crazy lady wouldn’t let me by to chase him. At around 11.5 miles I saw there was an uphill stretch and realized I had to go there and make it a decisive move if I wanted to win. I put in a hard surge on the hill and managed to get clear. Checking over my shoulder about ten seconds later, I saw that I had a five-meter gap and I knew I had the thing won (barring any Galebach-like collapses).

The last mile was awesome. It actually was my fastest mile of the race, a 5:23. My legs hurt and I was tired, but I somehow felt like I could have kept running forever. I now understand how elite runners have the energy to do a victory lap, a smile on their face, seemingly in no distress despite having finished a hard race a minute earlier. I felt like I could have done anything in that last mile; it was just about the greatest feeling I could get from running. I ran through the finish with a big grin on my face.

I felt great until about five minutes after I stopped. Then my legs got sore and tight, even my arms hurt. I went to the elite room to grab my gear, where a volunteer handed me the banner in the picture above, telling me “this is yours to keep.” Cool. The race director came up to me shortly after and informed me that I had broken the half marathon course record. I stared at him in disbelief. “You didn’t know?” I explained that I knew what the course record was (1:13:20-something), but that I never thought I would be able to run that fast, so the thought of breaking the course record had never crossed my mind.

There was still the matter of run-you-off-the-road crazy lady. I decided to take the high road and kill her with kindness (after having put 20 seconds on her in the last mile). I walked up to her, shook her hand, and said, “great race, thanks for pushing me out there. I just ran a 2-minute PR and I couldn’t have done it if I had been out there on my own.” In retrospect, this was probably a mistake, since she then started following me around and wanted to be my best friend. I managed to get away when the race director presented me with a plaque, a big-ass glass trophy, and had be pose for a photo with a big novelty cheque for my race winnings. Wow, they do things right down in Columbus.

After a long cool down (I ran the long way out to the 24-mile marker to see Matt, yelled at him a bit, then realized I had to run 2 miles back to the finish…I was running pretty slowly by the end). Then I gathered my gear and made the long trek back to the hotel. Talk about a good problem to have, I had to lug my trophy and the rest of my crap back to the hotel. It took me forever. Matt made it back shortly after I did. He had an awesome first marathon, clocking a 2:27:43. Not bad for a guy who’s never broken 15:30 in the 5k! We both got to the computer in time to watch the Canadians finish the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on the live stream. What an awesome day!

It’s days like Sunday that make me realize how much I love this sport. Breakthroughs happen when you put in a ton of work grinding out mileage and workouts and everything comes together on race day. Redemption is possible if you are patient. Matt and I both dropped out of Toronto a year ago, but we both made some changes, came back stronger, and ran great races this year in Columbus. There were great examples of this north of the border too, with Lanni and Krista coming back from disappointing races in Moscow to run under the Canadian marathon record in Toronto. And all of the sacrifices we make as runners are definitely worth it.

I can’t end this blog without saying thanks to everyone for the kind words after the race. On a day when I thought my race would be overshadowed by performances at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon (and rightly so, two women ran under the Canadian marathon record!) I still got lots of congratulations over email, facebook, and twitter. My sister posted a picture that got over 100 likes. Do I even know that many people? Thanks to Matt, who did all of the driving last weekend and was a great running buddy out on the course. Thanks to all of my teammates in London for being great training partners and friends. Thanks to my family; mom, dad, Alison and everyone else, who maybe don’t fully understand what I do or why I do it, but support me just the same. Thanks to Runners’ Choice and New Balance for their tremendous support for London Runner. And finally, a huge thanks to Steve Weiler who has been and will continue to be exactly the coach I need, capable of encouraging me or giving me a kick in the ass if that’s what I need on the day. There is no way I could have run that well without everything he has done for me for the past three years. Steve, I realize that I’m probably not the easiest person to work with, but your patience, support, and hard work over the past three years has meant the world to me.

Sorry folks, I got a little sappy at the end there, but I’ve had a lot of emotions to process over the past week. Naturally, the best solution is to announce them to the entire internet. Thanks for reading and until next time, run more miles!

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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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