Hey, it’s me. I know long time right? It’s about that time for a long overdue post-season wrap up. Last blog post I just came off a huge PB in the 3000m in Ottawa and was chasing my goal of breaking 10. You know what? I never quite did hit that mark. That race in Ottawa was one of those rare moments where you don’t feel the pain of the race and you just fly. You feel invincible, like you can take on the world. Those cherished experiences are rare to come by in running, and I was lucky enough to have that several times this year – OUA XC, Ottawa, and OUA track. Each race, I crossed the finish line feeling on top of the world. Reflecting on those experiences, several things were in common. I raced with gratitude – thankful to be there and for those opportunities. I had goals but I also didn’t put pressure on myself to perform. I find these two things are somethings very conflicting – I often want to hit my goals so badly that I go the other way and under-perform. I’m still finding the right balance for myself in this aspect.
(^Trials of miles…and the death by speedwork)
Feeling on top of the world after Ottawa I truly believed I could get MUCH faster in the 3k. However, an unfortunately timed chest cold a week later had other plans. I lost a fair amount of training trying to let me body get healthy (which is especially hard on my crazy schedule). As I started back on workouts I still felt strong and I was faster than ever before. It did take a few throw-away workouts before I felt good again. The week before OUAs I tried to chase that sub10 at our home meet. But, I put so much pressure on myself that after only a few laps, I knew it wasn’t going to happen, and stepped off the track. I decided to fight another day.
Next up was OUAs. I refocused and knowing that it was a championship meet, I took the time goal pressure off. My goal was to really try to race – as a road racer who’s often in no man’s land, this was a new experience. It has only been a few years now that I’ve been competitive enough to be fighting for positions and I knew that the track was a great opportunity to learn some of those skills: when to make moves, when to follow moves and when to kick.
I arrived hours and hours before the race at the York University track. As I walked into the building, memories of high-school indoor track rushed back to me. I always loved running for the Durham Dragons and my coaches Dale and Craig were the ones who lit the fire under me. They believed in me and pushed me to get the most out of myself. I actually vividly remember one race at this very track where Craig chirped me for playing with my watch too much while racing and thus taking my watch away from me for my next race! I thought, “I won’t be doing that today!” This pre-race time was spent trying to find the perfect balance of getting excited to race yet not taking myself too seriously. Josh often tells me that he can tell hours before the race whether I’m going to race poorly – this he keeps to himself until afterwards of course. Usually some combination of too much focus and too much seriousness. Now, I like to think that I’m pretty aware of myself, so I knew I had to take steps in order to prevent this. My mantra for that day was “I am grateful to be here – back at UWindsor I could only dream of making OUAs – so I’m already a success just being here.” I also distracted myself with teammates going to get snacks and getting out of the building for a bit.
I did my regular pre-race warmup of 5km solo with my tunes blasting followed by drills and strides. I stepped on the line eager to truly race for positions. The gun went off and I was one of the first few girls to get off the line. I smiled from ear to ear knowing how abysmal my starts have been all year. Including my one and only 1500m, that I ran with a fever no doubt, where I had not one but two different girls shoved at me. “I’m getting a hang of this track thing,” I thought. I was in the mix near the front for a few laps and every so often a few girls would go around and pass me but I never gave in to them, I went right with them. The race went out on the exact pace I had been chasing all year, giving me confidence that I could hang with the group. Every time I got pushed back, I clawed my way back up to the middle of the pack. As the lead women sped up and gaped the field, I dug in trying to get the most out of myself. I was holding 9th and one lap to go someone had passed me. Normally, this late in a race, I just give in and let them go. This day I decided – “No. No you will not beat me today.” I found another gear and not only passed her but caught another girl and chased her down the back stretch just catching her before the line. 8th place at Ontario University Champs (going in ranked 10th) in a time of 10:13 – my second fastest 3km ever. I was proud.
Do I think I could have done better? Perhaps – if I hadn’t gotten sick especially. But there’s no way to know that. However, did I think I could have done anymore that day? Absolutely not. I know that for one of the few times in my running career I got the absolute most out of myself on the day. I didn’t save any in reserve for fear of blowing up, I just gave it everything. There’s something so freeing about this experience. I could still come 8th yet be so proud of my race as if I had won. I also scored 1 point for the University of Toronto team with this placing – amazing!! – not only qualifying for OUAs but helping a bit towards our Woman’s Team 3rd place at OUA.
Now some of those girls were continuing to USPORTS in a few weeks. I didn’t qualify as I needed to a) be top 12 ranked in USPORTS b) top 3 at OUA or c) have the standard of 9:24. Qualifying was in the back of my mind at the beginning of season. I also knew I had a practical exam the day USPORTS started and since they were in Manitoba, if I had qualified, it would have been a bit of a logistical nightmare. In the end I was ranked 18th in USPORTS with my 10:04. I wasn’t disappointed as I knew this was a bit of a long shot, especially with it being my first season on the track since grade 12 (2009) really. As a back up, I had planned to roll this track season into a few 5km road races. That I did. I set my sights on breaking 17 (current PB 17:08).
(photo credits: Top left and bottom: Daniel TNF Photos, Finish line: Maxine Gravina
The week after OUAs I ran the Chilly Frosty 5k in Burlington. I was so hyped to be back on the roads with all the familiar faces I’ve come to know over the last few years. My teammates Mitch, Tyler, and Rob were all racing as well as my friends Rachel Hannah and Krista. I was quite glad they were in the half-marathon and I didn’t have to worry about them in the 5k to be honest! After flying on the track at 3:20/k pace, it was a strange sensation trying to find my 5k pace from the gun. I would pull up alongside one group and realize they were going too slow then repeat. As I passed the lead women in the half-marathon (as the two races started together) it was strange to be in front of these fast women. It really shows how much I’ve improved in the last few years both in confidence and speed. I pushed ahead mostly solo to finish first overall female in 17:20. Not quite the 17flat I was aiming for but I was very proud of my even pacing and the solo run. Wins aren’t guaranteed so I was also thankful to break the tape and celebrate the success of that day. Big thanks to Kelly Arnott and Kathy who always put on a stellar event!
(Photo credit finish line: Maxine Gravina)
I kept the 5k season rolling even returning to the track one more time to do another speed workout. “The track isn’t so scary after all, I actually like it” I thought. Next up was the Steam Whistle Achilles 5k in Toronto. I have done this race for the last 2 years with Josh and I both winning our weight in beer last year. I knew that it would be a low key, fun race to do. The race didn’t disappoint but, the weather did. It was -5 degrees with wind compared to the rather warm Chilly 5k weather (~2 degrees or so). I put my best foot forward and end up in the 17:30s but was very grateful to win the race for a second year. The wind proved quite challenging as it was a head wind from the turnaround most of the way to the finish and left me running in no man’s land.
The plan at this point, regroup for one last fast 5k at ATB and then a week later run Spring Run Off and call it a season. In these last few weeks, I was having a harder time putting my full effort into workouts, getting nervous that I wouldn’t be able to break 17. Now did I get my fairy tale ending of winning a 3rd straight 5k and finally standing on that podium at ATB? Well, no. I ended the day in 4th just over 18 minutes. I was disappointed but I also realize how much I was asking of myself. I chased my goals while studying intensively for my Masters of Physiotherapy, which involved 3 seasons closely tied together – xc –> indoors –> roads. At the end of the day I’m proud of how I was able to maintain such a high level of success in both aspects. It’s also amazing that I was able to push myself outside of my comfort zone and try something like indoor track in the first place.
I never hit my A goals of break 10 (3k) or break 17 (5k) but hey, that’s why you set multiple goals. I think my 10:04 and 17:20 were pretty successful in more ways than just some time achievement. I learned how to race, compete, pace myself, and dig deeper at the end of races. In order to accomplish this I moved my morning runs to lunch if possible (usually 1x /week), planned my schedule ahead of time determining when I’d have access to the track 1x/week and just made that work, I managed expectations giving myself permission to be less than perfect, and I lived each day with gratitude. Gratitude meant always being thankful that I had the opportunity to compete (Thanks Coach Jill and Terry!) and gratitude for my body allowing me to do these crazy things.
Post season I decided to give myself a longer break than usual, 1 week off and 2 full weeks of down time – running as desired plus some extra trail therapy. I knew with how much I pushed, I needed some time to rebound. I also didn’t force myself to race Spring Run Off after all. Even though I was signed up, I realized with the way I felt at ATB, having no desire to fight to chase the women who ran away with the podium, that it was time to call it a season. This is my first full week back at training at about 100km and I plan to have a solid base season of ~10weeks of mileage before I start my workouts towards fall XC season. I will blog as my pre-season progresses with my new goal of hitting higher weekly mileage than I did between start of school (September) and now while still balancing school through the summer. I always love chasing big miles.
As always, GRIND ON.
Thank you to all those who make this journey possible. To my husband/coach extraordinaire Josh who despite his own struggles post Haglunds surgery (for the second time) always pushed me and supported to me. To my dad who’s support is invaluable – who I can always count on to be there cheering me on both good and bad days. To my GRE teammates who inspire me daily through their own life challenges and triumphs. Mitch Free‘s dedication and no bull attitude always inspires me to crush it regardless of the situation. Thank you to Skechers Performance Canada for their ongoing support – it is invaluable having their support and passionate team behind me. I look forward to a year of fast shoes and even faster times. I also had the wonderful opportunity to train a few times with Krista Duchene and Rachel Hannah. Krista is such a great role model and always respects all runners regardless of level – something I look up to. Rachel is the most gritty runner I know and I always am in awe of how far she can push herself on any given day to always give 100%. I always try to soak up as much knowledge as I can from these amazing ladies. Thank you to everyone else who supported me, cheering me on and sent me wonderful comments throughout the season. You helped me stay on track and pushed me even further.