Off-Season’s Greetings

‘Tis the season to be holly and jolly, for Festive Specials, and retrospectives.

And in the vein of looking back, ’tis the season also to remember that you once wrote semi-regularly in a running blog and neglected it for a few months even though there were both events to cover and time to write. Looking back on the most recent entries, I can see that the last one was written at the end of August and was entirely about the Chinese Hurdler and may seem not to fit into the narrative of my own training or fit any sequence of events. In fact, this entry was written as part of a job application for a “hip” start-up company, who insisted that part of the application contain a YouTube video of the applicant explaining why (s)he would be a good fit for the job. I’ve made one YouTube video in my life, and although it is partly because I am not completely on-board with all vehicles of technology and social media, it was more due to the fact that I do not like being on a screen, moving or still, for strangers to see that I created this clever work-around to the requirement of a YouTube video and simply copy and pasted my blog entry into the box in which other applicants posted a link to their YouTube videos.

I didn’t end up getting the job.

Prior to that Fail Blog, I had written about my race plan for my first 5000m race back in July. I’d prefer glossing over the two 5000m races I did but simply stating that I hated them both and that twelve-and-a-half laps around a track ranks up there with chronic bowel discomfort in terms of unpleasant experiences in life.

Looking back to those summer months, I can see that I was doing a lot of cross-training, between 2-3 times a week, and I was only averaging about 30k/week in the early summer. Yeesh. By September, it looks like I got up to 60-65k/week, which has been my steady weekly mileage for the last couple months. I’ve also stopped cross-training, which means I’m running six days a week and which also means I’m a lot happier. Sure, I can see how cross-training would have its benefits, especially for those who are injury-prone (ie. me), but if I can at all help it, I would prefer to avoid it, and running almost every day ranks up there with gut-wrenching laughter in terms of pleasant experiences in life.

After dabbling in my first outdoor track races as a Master, I remember feeling quite pooched. Neither of those races had gone well and prior to those my early-season road race results were like the last desperate fart of a dying corpse. Strangely, the most successful race I had was a (secret) 800m track race at the National Championships up at York University where I ran a 2:32:06. I say secret because I didn’t inform my coach that I’d be running and had done brief Google search on how to run an 800m as part of my training. I was pleased with this race (which, had I mentioned it to my coach prior to the meet, would not have happened, and which, of course, I realise would have been for my benefit) not only because it exceeded my uninformed expectation of simply wanting to run sub-2:40 but also because it was a heck of a lot more fun than the 5000m, and although there was a lot of pain and suffering, it lasted a sensible two laps. It gave me a taste for the kind of speed and punishment that was so foreign to me, almost like tasting an olive for the first time.

With this meet, the outdoor season ended and I had one more event on the horizon: the Canadian 5km Road Race Championships in Yorkville. I had raced this one in previous years, and although it isn’t really the fastest course, the convenience of location and the deep field it brings out were appealing factors. Of course as is the case for most races, I had registered for this one months in advance, not knowing what my physical and mental states would be at this time. I remember waking up the morning of the race, eating my oats and drinking my coffee, and thinking that I really REALLY didn’t want to race that day. The thought of not racing and going back to bed seemed like the best idea. I had even convinced myself that I could show up at the race to cheer on my teammates and then go for an easy long run and it would pretty much be the exact same thing.

(In addition to my complete lack of motivation and emotional interest in racing at this time, I had been diagnosed with an intestinal parasite and had had the (bad) poops for weeks, which would continue on and still continues on even now with no apparent end in sight. NEVER EAT HERE.)

Although the urge to crawl back into bed was as strong as my urge to evacuate, I hopped on my bike and rode to the start. I ran into a few of my teammates, who all seemed very focused, and met with my coach. We chatted briefly about a race plan (at this point, I guess I had to race): the first kilometer would be downhill and fast, so there I’d try to stick behind a couple runners I knew would be 19-low or so and stay with them as we took the first turn and then on to the uphill portion at the third and fourth kilometers. There would also be a bit of a headwind coming up the hill, so we talked about how important it would be to tuck in behind a group at that point. I did a slow jog for about five minutes, did some drills and strides, and then parked my butt at the start-line, at a modest distance from the front, seeing as it was a national championship race. I was feeling pretty relaxed and indifferent when the gun went off, so much so that I forgot to start my Garmin as I crossed the start-line.

As expected, the first kilometer was fast. I looked down at my watch only once during the whole race, and it was during those first few hundred meters when the pack started careening down Bay Street; some would maintain their pace, but from past experiences, I knew that most of these runners would fade and it would be painful, both physically and emotionally. I was running just under 3:45/km pace and before I could get it into my head that this was too fast and shut it down prematurely, I tucked in behind another runner, who I could trust to be strong and steady, and just followed her down for the first split. And then the next one. And the next one coming up the hill. And the next one coming around Queen’s Park and north of Bloor Street. And then coming around the last turn with about 400m to go, we were still together.

Some runners have finishing kicks and it is absolutely awe-some and so much fun to watch. Some runners have no finishing kick and it’s about as boring as multigrain toast with cold butter. I consider myself to be multigrain toast. Years of marathon training has led to a soupy, slow-twitch finish, with no bravado, no balls. So, when I turned that last corner and went wide to come up beside my race-long companion for the last stretch before the finish, I’m not entirely sure what happened that allowed me to somehow launch my little legs into a flurry of a finish. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a “kick”; perhaps it was more of a “long finishing stride”. Yeah?

At any rate, in a race I had to drag myself to, in the end, it was a PB race by about 40 seconds. Most of my teammates (really just this one Korean guy) say that I just haven’t been running hard enough and I should’ve been posting these times long ago. It’s possible. Anything is possible.

Since that race, I’ve been maintaining a weekly mileage of about 60k, doing one medium-long run a week, one track workout when I feel like it, and filling in the rest with easy running. It’s been great to run without attention to a particular schedule or with any specific goals and to just enjoy the company of my teammates or the quiet and calm of my solo runs.

(Oh, I recently joined Strava. And I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a secret account, so shhh.)