Personal / Running

Mixed Emotions

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Last Saturday night by the numbers:

7.5 – laps around the track

35 – hurdles cleared

2.21 – seconds under the old Canadian record

12 – years that record had stood

0.89 – seconds over the Commonwealth Games “B” standard

It’s taken me a bit of time to figure out how I feel about my race this past Saturday. I’ve gone through multiple different emotions, sometimes all within the same few minutes. Hopefully putting it all into words will help me get back in the headspace I know I need to be in. Before I talk about the race and the resulting feelings I had about it, I think I need to rewind a little bit.

Back in March when I first got injured I was stressed out to the max.  The mental state of mind when you first get injured usually follows something along the lines of: ok, it’s nothing major, I’ll just rest it for a few days, maybe do some cross training and then it will go away and I’ll be right back to where I was before. When it doesn’t get better panic slowly starts to creep in until it’s full on stress mode and you’re imagining the worst and not being able to train feels like it’s the end of the world.  Dramatics galore.  Having gone a few weeks without being able to run, and with no real improvement with my injury, I had well reached this point when I was talking to my mom on the phone one day.  I pretty much broke down and let out everything I had been worrying about. “I can’t run, I can’t even cross train! Just when training was finally beginning to feel good, and now I can’t train and the qualifying period is so short for Commonwealth Games, and I already only have three maybe four chances to qualify. This sucks and there’s nothing I can do about it!”  Her response was “You’re right, it does suck, but there is nothing you can do about the fact that there aren’t many qualifying opportunities or that the qualifying period is as short as it is, so there’s no point in stressing over things you have no control over.” I already knew this, but it’s much easier said than done.  She told me that maybe I had to think about the possibility that qualifying for the Commonwealth Games team just might not happen, that maybe this year would just be a transition year. It was a hard idea to accept as I had been working so hard to achieve the goal of making that team and being able to represent Canada, but I knew she was right.  I’m a big believer in the power of positive thinking, or whatever you want to call it. If you believe something will have a positive outcome, the chance that it will occur that way will be greater than it having a negative outcome. Sometimes it might not be realistic, but being negative about something isn’t going to make you, or the people around you, happy.  Hearing that simple statement of “don’t worry, everything will sort itself out” was exactly what I needed to hear.  Deep down I already knew this, but sometimes I need to hear other people tell me these things, in order for me to really change my mental state. After that I felt like a switch was flipped and I went from being stressed to putting all of my focus on the things I could control and do to get myself better.

A month later I was up in Flagstaff and had progressed to being able to elliptical without pain and run on the Alter-G treadmill with a little bit of pain, but without it ever getting any worse.  The first day I got on the track I didn’t know what to expect.  I only had a few 300’s but I was able to get through a full warm up, the entire workout, and a cool down and my knee actually felt the best it had since before the initial pain had started.  The workout itself had gone surprisingly well.  A few weeks later, and a couple more workouts completed, I was faced with the decision of whether or not to race. Run and see where I’m at (good or bad), or stay in Flag to train and try to hit a really good one at Oxy.  Deciding to race was definitely the right decision to make, and I’m so glad I took the chance I did. As one of my friends pointed out to me, going into that race with no pressure on myself to hit a certain time, and the mindset that anything could happen, likely set me up well for the rest of my season.  Had I gone into that race thinking I had to run a qualifying time and then failing because I just wasn’t in that type of shape yet could have mentally set me back quite a bit.

Before the season had even started the goal and plan was to hit a qualifying time at Mt. SAC, Payton Jordan or Oxy and then just be able to train and race a 1500 someplace to sharpen up for nationals. With the setback the injury caused I figured that plan was out the window. However after Payton Jordan, where 9:53 had felt easy, I was fairly confident I was ready to hit a PB and run under at least the Commonwealth B Standard in my next race.  If I felt really good hopefully I’d get close to the A. Workouts back up in Flagstaff had gone well and I felt mentally and physically ready to put in a solid race effort. I definitely didn’t think running under 9:50 was going to be easy, but knowing that there should be good competition and a rabbit to pull us through the first portion of the race I was going to be really surprised if I didn’t run faster than I had a week and a half earlier.

Well… so much for that!  I didn’t run under 9:50. Not even close. I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel awful, and over three weeks later I’m still slightly shocked that I only ran 10:07. I was attacking the barriers, my water jumps were smooth, and I felt strong. I was just apparently not running as fast as I felt I was. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that before. Usually I can tell when I’m slowing down, but I honestly thought I was running significantly faster than I was. Maybe the heat made me delusional (race day had record setting temperatures) but for the first few minutes after I crossed the line I was somewhat convinced that the clock had been messed up. Clearly I was a bit out of it since I also couldn’t remember clearing the last water barrier or much of the last lap in general.  My legs felt like lead, I slowed down significantly, and afterwards I felt nauseous and had a hard time even sitting, never mind standing.

This has happened to me multiple times over the past few years and for the longest time I had no idea what was causing it.  I had blood tests and heart tests done, both with clear results and no red flags. Finally I think my coach has seemed to figure it out.  He thinks I’m experiencing Athlete Reactive Hypoglycemia, which so far is the best theory of why I’m “crashing” in races and can’t recover afterwards.  The first google result I got and the best explanation of it I can find is in this article by Dr. Trent Stellingwerff.  I’m extremely lucky to actually know Trent, and furthermore that he is here in Victoria.  He is a brilliant exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist and as a Canadian athlete I feel very fortunate to have him as a resource for these types of issues.  The good news is that this isn’t a difficult problem to fix.  Basically for me it means not eating half a protein/energy/power bar an hour before a race.  Funny (but not really) that such a tiny thing was having that great of an impact on my performance.  I wish I could have figured this out a long time ago!  After getting home to Canada I got the results back from the blood tests I had done right before I left Flagstaff.  My iron levels were really good, but they showed that I was immune suppressed.  As much as it sucks that that coincided with an important race, it’s at least nice to know that there was some other factor that to a degree explains my poor performance.

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{ Rachel Francois and I after our races at Oxy }

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{ Flying into Burbank }

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{ Vancouver Island – much better }

With that chance to hit standard gone I had to find another race. Which leads me to this past weekend. Thankfully the Speed River Track Club in Guelph was hosting the Speed River Inferno.  With the rise in number of strong female steeplechasers in Canada and a fast track, it was set up to be a good race.  I flew into Toronto on Wednesday, got in a sharpening workout that afternoon and then just relaxed the next day before driving up to Guelph on Friday to get on the track and do a final race prep.  My grandma had travelled from Calgary to be my support team for the weekend and it was so nice to just have someone else with me so that I wasn’t alone in my own head all the time, and to have someone look after little things like driving.

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 { My “frama” and I }

The day of the race I woke up fairly nervous.  All day I felt like I was in a battle with my mental and physical state. Mentally I would tell myself over and over again to relax but my body wouldn’t always cooperate. By the time I got to the track to warm up I finally had a pretty good handle on it. I had told myself to just enjoy the race, that I might not run the time I needed, that whatever happened it would be ok. My warm up felt good, the weather was perfect and I had hopefully figured out how to avoid crashing. I had seemingly no excuse to not having a good race. Once they put us out on the track, I wasn’t really nervous anymore. I just wanted to get the race started, and to run what I knew I was capable of running.  When you grow up racing the same girls, you get a fairly good idea of how they will run a race. Just as I know the other girls’ race tactics, they know mine, and that I will not sit back and wait for someone else to take the race.  If the pace is too slow, I’m going to go after it. With the exception of a championship meet, I would much rather take the lead and push to run a fast time and end up losing than sit and run a slow time and win.  I get zero satisfaction in winning in a time I know is much slower than what I’m capable of.  With this being the absolute last chance for me (or any of us in that race) to possibly qualify for Commonwealth’s I knew I would likely be leading most of the race (and was ok with that) but I hoped that someone else would take it out for at least for a lap or two. I saw no reason why we wouldn’t all be going for it.  There was nothing to lose. As soon as the gun went off I tucked in behind Julie-Anne Staehli and tried to get a feel of how fast we were going and if she was going to keep trying to lead. She was the one real wild-card in the race and I really had no idea of what to expect from her.  Within 150m it was clear she was waiting for someone else to take it. Every meter I waited was more time wasted, so I went. I ran my own race, listened to splits and tried to mentally stay focused on continuing to push the pace and not let myself get comfortable.  I knew I was on pace and just kept trying to maintain form.  Crossing the line I knew I was close but wasn’t sure if I was over or under that 9:48.00 time.  I sat on the track and heard Dave Scott Thomas announce I had run 9:48.00. I said out loud to no one in particular, “you have to be kidding me.” 9:48.00?! Im going to miss running under the standard by 0.01 seconds?! Officially I ran 9:48.89, so it wasn’t quite as dramatic.

If you had asked me right after my race if I was happy with it, I would have given a non-convincing yes.  I was happy to break the Canadian record, but that was never my main goal. I wanted that run under that qualifying time, and the record would come with it if I won. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression.  I’m very happy and proud to have broken the record.  I’ve worked very hard to get there, but I still felt like I came up a bit short. Half an hour later I would have told you I was really happy with my race, that it was ok that I didn’t get the qualifying time. Yes it would have been nice to get it and be put in the selection pool on the very very off chance that I would be chosen for the team.  There were already so many people with A standards and with the number of people they would take for relays it seemed as though I could have run under the A standard and still not have a secure place on the team. People kept saying to me, “Congratulations! It must feel bittersweet.”  And I would say, “Yes, but its okay because I would have had to run the A standard to even have a chance.” And I truly believed that, and I think so too did most everyone else that had looked at the selection criteria and knew there weren’t many spots on the team.

A few days later back in Victoria I had just finished a solid off-track workout and was headed to get some treatment when my phone buzzed with an email notification.  The team list was posted. They took ten more people than they originally said they would and everyone with a B standard had made the team.  My okay-ness was gone much faster than it had come on because I know with 99.9999999999% certainty that I could have run 0.90 seconds faster in that race. I gave it absolutely everything I had in that race, but only for the last 2850m.  If I had just gone for it from the gun, or even decided a second earlier, I would have most likely been on that list. Maybe. I guess I’ll never really know.

Writing this hurts. I should be happy with a new personal best and setting a new national record, and I am, but it’s hard not to be upset about not making the team. I almost always mentally bounce back from a poor race by the time I’m finished cooling down but I’m still struggling to get over this one. I know it’s not healthy to dwell on things that are over and that I can’t change, but I’m finding it really hard. The only other time I’ve had this difficult of a time getting over a race was last summer when I was about to run a qualifying time for the World Championships and hit the last barrier.  In almost ten years of running the steeplechase, that is the only time I have ever hit a barrier. It’s interesting to me that out of the hundreds of races I’ve run in my life the two I’ve had the most difficulty getting over were some of the best races of my life, not the worst.  More than anything I love being able to stand on a start line with the word “CANADA” across my chest.  Representing my country is the biggest honour and it is frustrating and heartbreaking to know that a single second of hesitation or not lifting my knee up those few cm is probably what prevented me from doing so these past two years.

People keep telling me, and I keep telling myself, “look at the bigger picture, we learn from these things, next year is your year.” I know it’s true, but I feel like I’ve been saying this exact same thing to myself for the past two years.  In 2012 I learned that having low iron levels does not translate over well to running fast.  After not having set out enough of a concrete goal in 2012, in 2013 I sat down with my coach at the beginning of the year and said “I want to make the World Championship team.” I woke up every morning with that thought in my head and every training session had an end purpose.  Last year’s lesson was not to put so much pressure on myself. I haven’t figured out yet what this is going to teach me, and I probably won’t figure it out for a few more months.

This upset, frustrated girl isn’t the real me.  So on top of all of this I’m angry with myself that I can’t just get over it. I want to just be able to snap my fingers and be done with it.  I feel selfish and self absorbed writing this because there are much bigger problems in the world and I have so many things to be thankful for.  As tough as it is to be so close to reaching my goal and to come up short, I’m glad I was that close because it’s better than the alternative.  I didn’t miss the standard by 10 seconds or because of an injury or serious illness. I’m getting to pursue what I love, I’m healthy, and I have an amazing group of people who support and love me. I’m still going to go over to Europe and race, and I know barring serious injury that I’ll run well under 9:48.00. It’s only the beginning of June and I still feel like I’m fairly far off my peak fitness. I’m thankful that the steeplechase is even offered for women in the Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Olympic Games because ten years ago it wasn’t. My heart breaks for my friends EvanInaki and Ben who, despite being absolutely on fire this season, breaking national records of their own, and setting personal bests, won’t be able to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Games because the organizing committee has decided not to include racewalk as an event.  It was in the last Commonwealth Games, and will be in the next one, but not this year.

I’m so happy for all of the Canadian athletes that made the team, not just in track and field, but in all other sports as well.  I know how hard everyone works for this and each and every one of them deserve it.

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on my race, wished me well leading up to it, and has helped me sort through some of these frustrations.  Out on the track, doing one of my last strides, I thought about all of the people that believe in me and how lucky I am to have all of those people in my life.  It gave me reassurance that I could accomplish the things I set my mind to, but knowing that regardless of the result they wouldn’t love or support me any more or less was comforting as well.  It was a nice feeling to have right before the start of a race.

I also want to thank Speed River for hosting a great meet last weekend.  Travelling around Europe with the Speed River group last summer I constantly heard about the great community support they had in Guelph, and I’ve now seen firsthand what they were talking about. Congratulations go out to all of the athletes that competed there who set a personal or seasonal best.  I know there were a lot of them.  It was inspirational to see so many run so well that evening, and each time I’m at a meet I’m reminded of how great of a track community we have in Canada.

I’ve gone through a lot the past few months in terms of my mindset and plan for summer racing.  I went from working towards qualifying for Commonwealths, to accepting the fact that it probably wasn’t realistic, to then having it be a lot more realistic than I would have thought possible.  If someone had told me two months ago when I was in the middle of dealing with my injury that I would be where I am now, it’s highly unlikely I would have believed them. Things don’t always go according to plan, and that’s life.  We readjust and make new plans.  Maybe next year is my year, but so is this year.  Just in a different way than I originally thought.

 

 

 

 

 

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