With the start of a new year it’s time to reflect on last year. It’s been a while since my last blog and I’m looking forward to writing more consistently this year. I treasure the mindfulness that comes with writing down my thoughts and giving them light. I also feel that it is an important part to my life to feel that I am giving back in some way by inspiring others. This one’s about sticking to your goals even when the cards are stacked against you. Let’s jump in.
I spent the summer dissecting brains among other things during our unit on neurological disorders and neuroanatomy. This meant months of intensive anatomy study trying to identify different shades of grey. Unlike most university programs, our program continues through the summer with full classes. All the while, I worked on consistently building my mileage and base for the upcoming xc season.
Luckily, we had a 3 week break from the end of July- start of August. Josh and I took advantage of these weeks and travelled to our favourite place in the world – Flagstaff, Arizona. This trip was a great opportunity to rest yet chase my fitness goals. I purposely kept workouts light prior to this trip and used these 3 weeks as a jumping off point for my fall fitness.
After a bit of a rocky start to the trip including a 24hour travel day, the rest of the trip went smoothly. Days were spent watching endless episodes of Masterchef between naps and running multiple times per day.
The first 5 days we had rented a car which allowed us to take a trip to Sedona for the first time! Sedona is about 1 hour away from Flagstaff and brought us down to about 4000ft from 7000 ft. This offered us a chance to catch our breath at a lower altitude but also explore the amazing red rock of the area. We travelled down the 89-A, a beautiful winding road with views that cannot be captured by words. We arrived at the Hangover trail and views did not disappoint. We opted for the Hangover trail run that totaled 14k – the hardest run possible! We hit midday heat of 100+ degrees F, had to scramble on our hands and knees to climb the side of the rock face, and endure sharp evil cacti piercing both of us at least once. Here are a few pictures of that amazing run:
We also visited Buffalo Park the day after we arrived, another item on our bucket list. It’s a small park near Mt. Humphreys with a dirt trail. Luckily we chose to go that day because the park closed later that evening for the rest of our trip due to a bad forest fire on Mt. Humphreys dubbed “Museum Fire.” We will have to make a trip up the mountain another time.
Our final road trip during our time with our rental car included a second trip to the Grand Canyon. The state park is so beautiful, we wanted another chance to see it. Earlier in the day we ran a track workout, 10 x 200m for me and 20 x 200m for Josh, so 7km of walking was a workout in its own rights. On the way home we grabbed a deep dish pizza just because.
The rest of the trip involved a lot of naps, almost every single day during those two weeks. I had a goal to run a few 160k weeks while I was there. The first few days in Flag rounded me up to 133k for that week. The 1st full week in Flag brought me my 4th ever 160k week including the track workout, averaging 21k per day and a 30k long run with 2x 5k tempo efforts at 7000ft on Lake Mary. The second full week in Flag, I ended with 128k after pulling my neck early in the week but was still able to get a solid hill speed workout in, run to some of my favourite places, and hit a 24k LR with a tempo at the end of the week when we returned home. The final night before we left Matt had a birthday party and we were invited. We both did a double take as we saw Molly Huddle and Emily Sisson walk through the front door. What a great experience it was to get to know them and spend the night eating caking and playing games together. Molly Huddle is a terrible liar by the way! So fitting of how I imagined her. I even made it in to her instagram stories that night.
My time running in Flagstaff was pretty special, I find it so beautiful there and love the struggle against the thin air. I had many slow runs where I just took my time and didn’t rush – allowing my body to cover the distance as it pleased. This gave me time to enjoy the sights and also to run out of water, a lot. Many thirsty runs led to grumpy T, but Josh didn’t seem to mind, or perhaps he is just used to it by now! It was so important to me to have this time to not rush and just take my time. I have spent the last year running around with my head cut off trying to keep up with my intensive master program studies on top of my commute there as well as trying to excel in my athletics as well.
We are so thankful to our hosts Matt Llano, Brannon and Jason for allowing us to stay with them for a second time. We were happy to leave our bad influence on Matt having talked him into binge watching the third season of Stranger things while we were there.
My last week off of school I hit another 160k week and a solid 400m workout session. Upon returning from Flagstaff my body really crashed. I went from on top of the world to ending up in a bottomless pit of fatigue. I suspected that having a 3rd week in a row off of school after being used to going 1000% during the school year really screwed with my system. I was sluggish, sleeping all day and generally not feeling well. I struggled pretty hard this week, not going to lie.
I took a few down weeks but each time after I had a few days of feeling like myself again, I would crash. I watched Josh and Rob crush Endurrun, a race in Waterloo that adds up to 160km over 8 days of racing. During this time we were also in the the final 4 weeks of our Neuro unit. This had me doing multiple run-commutes to and from union from all over Toronto, often North York area just to fit my runs in. My backpack and sweaty clothes definitely became tiring after the 3rd round-trip. Of course, many of these were uphill but no worries because what goes up must come down! I’m especially proud of myself for these last few weeks of that unit because I was having difficulties managing fatigue levels but still hit my weekly Wednesday and Sunday workouts. I had to learn how to negotiate with myself, really getting to know my body and knowing when I could push the fatigue and when I had to back off. Often this involved lunch runs or post-class-rush-for-the-train-runs but I really had to adapt to the ‘just get something in’ vs. ‘trying to be perfect’ mentality. This was hard for me not always having a set routine but, at the end of the day I know I am asking a lot of myself and have to be willing to compromise sometimes. And to that point, I actually ran some of my best workouts to date including both speed and strength even under these crazy conditions and schedules. For that I am truly amazed with what my body gives me.
Throughout september I continued to struggle with my fatigue levels, yet still have hit some great workouts. I checked my bloodwork and nothing too concerning there and have had no other signs of REDS. Without any physical signs of the cause of my fatigue I turned my attention to my mental workload. I had to acknowledge that my program is intense and the months of studying and commuting had piled on top of each other to end up in full on burnout.
Even in this state, I pushed on through, I competed for UofT for XC. At my first cross meet at Western it ended with a big fat DNF. I got 2km in and couldn’t get my legs to match how they had felt in training. My strong, fit, endurance bound legs were failing me and I had zero mental energy left to fight through it. I stepped off the course disappointed in myself wondering if I was going to be able to compete this season at all, fully aware of my current feelings of burn out. Luckily, I try not to focus on my failures, instead turning to the next goal. A few weeks later there was a race in the USA (Pennsylvania) and I was able to get my confidence back. I had a great start and worked my way through the pack well, showing some of that old fight that I knew was in me, so many american women everywhere as I chased a sole Queens singlet that I could recognize (I didn’t get her either, but damn I tried).
The following weekend I tested my mental grit. I had a presentation in the morning for class that was quite important (which I had moved to be able to go to the meet). Some days, having all of this may have stressed me out and negatively affected my performance, but, on this day I rose to the occasion. Our meet was in Hamilton on what would be the OUA course in 2 weeks time – one final chance to test my fitness before the big show. The gun went off and I felt great, I looked around wondering why I felt so good. We hit 1mile and I decided “this is my race,” and I took off. I gaped the field and imagined having one of those days where the leader just runs away from the group never to be caught again. Somewhere between the 5 and 6k mark of the 8k race the girls caught me and blew by me. But hell if I cared, I really went for it and at the time it felt like the right move. When else was I going to get that chance to lead a collegiate xc race? I have won plenty of road races before so why not now? Might as well learn my limits. I finished 9th overall in 29:29, which matched my Spring Run-Off 8k best time, not too shabby.
The following Monday I started the first of two back to back 5week placements for Physiotherapy. I had set up a placement near home in Simcoe, ON. I was really hoping that a proper schedule getting rid of the commute would cure my burnout. It did not. I continued to struggle to get any training in, in the midst of full body fatigue. Again, I negotiated with myself. I ran most of my workouts in the evening after placement (which I never do). I was really enjoying myself on this placement and was in my element, not feeling the mental strain that I was previously working with during school. I think the problem was that I was too far gone by now. The worst of it came the week of OUAs, I was so exhausted that I didn’t run for the 3 days leading in to OUAs. On top of the exhaustion I had additional mental stress added when a past teammate had a positive doping test and that reflected badly on myself and my team, creating a huge amount of stress. I got to the race not feeling like myself and on top of it my breakfast did not sit right. I started the race thinking that my stomach cramps would solve themselves but they did not. I tried to just run even and let my body go on autopilot – as I was to make it through my workouts this season my mantra had been “the body knows what to do, just let it do it.” I finished a minute slower than 2 weeks earlier on the same course but was able to place 26th overall on a very negative day. The big silver lining was to help my team to a 3rd place overall. I know the women work so hard and it was great to watch Lucia crush the field to win after working so hard. Luckily, a night full of friends at our annual halloween party was exactly what I needed to reset.
ONE FINAL RACE. USPORTs cross country was in Kingston again this year. The team traveled on a Thursday evening to go. Luckily, the placement I had set me up to be able to go up with the team and was very supportive. I made it a point to try to enjoy myself as this would be my last ever experience as a collegiate cross country runner. I was very grateful to be able to compete in my 2nd USPORTs as in my undergrad years, I never came anywhere close to being able to qualify. I roomed with one of the girls from the team and treasured the chance to be able to give some advice and encouragement that I have been lucky to gain from years and years of experience. This definitely helped spark my passion. We spent a the Thursday evening and all of Friday staying relaxed. I used my pre-race shakeout the day before as a chance to spend some time alone and center myself. I wasn’t feeling nervous, I just ran through all the hard work in my head and accepted what the day was going to give me.
Saturday morning came and I had a great long sleep. I was slightly nervous but, just the right amount. I listened to Kanye and some motivational youtube vids to get myself into the zone. I thought through my favourite quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others”
- Our Deepest Fear – By Marianne Williamson
I made it a priority to stay happy and excited on my way to the race venue and not get too into my own head. I set out to the streets of Kingston for my warm-up knowing that multiple 2k loops was going to be enough time spent on that course (and appeasing the true road runner in me). I was a bit rushed to the start line as I waited until the last minute to ditch my sweats and put on my race shoes (since I decided to race in shorts). The gun went off and I had a great start, unlike last year, thank god! I was in the top 60 somewhere but it was hard to tell exactly because the race is so tight with bodies. I had the goal to finish in the top 30. I was in the mid-50s last year and wanted to improve on this placing. I set forth with laser focus and attacked each loop trying to hold on to every single spot I gained, truly focused on the here and now. I clawed my way through each spot and hammered to the finish getting every inch of effort out of myself. I finished 40th overall and was the 3rd placer on our team helping us to a 5th place overall team finish. I was so proud of my effort, somehow I pulled out of full burnout to get quite a lot out of myself. After the race, I realize that at some point I had rolled my ankle, so focused that I didn’t even notice. I had a good 6 days off and called it the end of a hard fought season.
OFFSEASON: END NOVEMBER-DECEMBER
As my offseason came to an end, I started my second 5 week placement, this time in Mississauga. This involved me driving 1-2+ hours each way every day. I decided to beat the morning rush and leave the house between 5 and 530 am. The drive would be just over an hour and I would go for my run then prep for my 9-5 work day followed by a 2-2.5hr drive home each night. The first 2 weeks went very smoothly, I felt great getting back in to my mileage. Unfortunately, I quickly fell back in to burnout. Struggling to get up and make it through my extra long days. I made adjustments where I could and had to accept a few days off each week to be able to handle any kind of work load. My placement went extremely well and I had a great time but was a bit set back with my training goals.
Thankfully I have had the last 2 weeks completely off and was able to recovery and get back in to the swing of training. I have been able to start my early season work for indoor track and finally feel like myself again in training for the first time since August really. Minus having the flu the past 2 days I feel great. A christmas vacation was exactly what I needed.
Now that I have finally caught up on my 2019 season I can look forward to 2020 and keep up with my blog more consistently. At the end of the year I have learned that I do have limits, but these limits are pretty damn good, realizing that I can still accomplish pretty big things without forcing my body. With reflection I noticed that I had lost that edge of gratitude and positive self-talk. I stopped enjoying each day and started worrying about future problems. Since I came to that revelation, I have been working on improving these aspects and adding a gratitude mindset back into my daily routine. And hey, how can I really complain, I got to work towards a career I love and go to my favourite place in the whole world. Here’s to 2020, where I will graduate and get my license as a Physiotherapist, run one final season for U of T on the indoor track, return to the road racing scene and try to incorporate more relaxation and fun in to my every day life. My plan is to get outside more, try new things (like bouldering), and to find some fun in each day. Even though I have a lot of responsibility on me right now, I need to still enjoy my life as a 28 year old.
As always, GRIND ON.