The end of my racing season has come and gone. All right, so you can barely call the half dozen running races I’ve done over the last 7 months a ‘racing season’ but it’s all the racing I’m planning on doing this year.
The ‘promising’ season began with a documented marathon-running adventure, and ended a few weeks ago with an interesting trail running affair – the Jim Howe Memorial Cross Country, an 11 k beater through the woods and mud just outside of Ottawa.
There were a few interesting highlights in between those two tilts, including a vomit-inducing Canada Day 10 k where I woke up 10 minutes before the start, skipped breakfast, broke several traffic laws en route to the race, was the very last person across the start line which the crew was packing up, and promptly passed over 300 people while recording my PW (personal worst) 10 k time. There was also a 4 miler where I humiliated a collection of Junior Boys that I coach in what the Nakkertok Head Coach told me afterwards was “the most effort I’ve ever seen you put into a race,” which is embarrassing, because he also used to be my ski coach.
Anyway, back to the trail run. I have to admit I was absurdly excited about it. I love trail running, it’s way more exciting than the road variety, and if there is a chance that I’m going to come out the other end of an adventure covered in mud, my enthusiasm goes up.
Also, Brad (yup, he’s back) had coerced me into signing up, so I thought that it would be a fitting season finale to our continuous back and forth duel.
And unlike Canada Day, this time I was determined to go in well prepared (but not too well prepared, I didn’t realize it was happening until about 5 days before…). As soon as I figured out that I needed to run, I shut down the hops and barley related beverage consumption, increased the amount of sleep and water in my life, set my alarm, and told my parents (who were picking me up in the morning) to call me when they left home to make sure I was actually ready to go.
All the tick boxes checked then, in Kieran’s mind. Then, when we roll up to the location and pile out of the car on Sunday morning, my Dad pops the trunk to reveal a pair of spikes. Sure, it was a pair that would have been regarded as dashing in the 80’s, but still, they were lightweight, and had pointy nobs on the underside. A quick check of my Brooks Cascadia 5’s (just a fantastic, utterly amazing shoe, light, nimble, sexy colors, clever top-side aeration and comfortable*) I quickly realized that I was going to be out-gunned in the shoe department.
Nonetheless, I didn’t let that discourage me from doing a sub-par Zone 1 warm-up, a couple of half-assed sprints, and a fair amount of trash talk to the gathered ski-crowd, most of it Carleton University and XC Ottawa (the local Senior racing team that have some solid talent ).
As I lined up next to the XC Ottawa and Carleton U athletes (I should mention at this point that for the most part they are actually athletes, not “athletes” as I would classify myself. Big difference.) I was busy sizing up the crew around me. To my left was an incredibly serious trail runner with spikes, a fleece hat, running gloves, and a hefty paunch who was motioning and yelling at the crowd (two or three supportive spouses, a couple of small children) to get out of his line. To my right were the abovementioned real athletes, who I incorrectly assumed I was in the same league as. I know, it’s absurd that I thought my half-assed coach-training lifestyle would put me in the same running shape as a bunch of guys and girls who are actually aiming to race fast this winter, but I blame the sudden reduction of C2H5OH in the bloodstream.
The gun went off, and I quickly focused on not going out too hard, but slotting myself in behind the group of leaders and next to a few guys who I used to race against. Seemed like a solid enough strategy for the first kilometre at the time, so I stuck with it. Until about 500 meters in, my brain stopped registering my legs as ‘large masses of effective muscle’ and re-categorized them in the folder in my brain labelled ‘concrete blocks’.
“Aha,” I thought to myself, “this seems like a good time to slow down, and actually listen to all those little things I tell my athletes about pacing, mid-race recovery, long strides, breathing, yada, yada..”
After giving that a shot for the next kilometre, I found myself grinding out the first major uphill, where the lack of spikes was a slight inconvenience, and getting passed by local hill climbing legend and XC Ottawa veteran Sheila Kealey was actually a point of pride. She’s just that good.
After cresting the hill, and meandering through some interesting terrain, XC Ottawa’s other hard-woman Megan McTavish came cruising up beside me just as we left the woods for some open terrain, and some surprisingly windy loops around a couple of soccer fields. Now, rather than be accused of being sexist, I opted to be quite magnanimous at this point and let Megan lead for a significant portion, just ducking in behind and hanging on.
As we re-entered the woods, myself now a dozen yards or so behind Megan, and entering a bit of a muddy section, Brad came cruising into the picture. After some hard-fought trash talk (“don’t spend it all on the first loop, Dad,”) I matched him stride for stride for a little while, until he used the muddy conditions and his completely-legal-yet-not-really-in-the-spirit-of-the-competition-spikes to up the pace and scoot away firmly attached to the ground. While he caught up to Megan, I floundered my way through the mud, and dropped 20 meters or so fairly quickly.
At this point, I was content to settle in, hold a consistent pace, and then try to make up ground on the second loop, which was going to happen in less than 1 km. As we headed down a hill and into the final approach to where the lap and finish lane splits, I saw Megan crank up the pace.
My hopes for redemption started to sink as she turned on what I would deem a full-bore sprint across the field, with Brad keeping pace – until she turned into the lap lane. Which immediately made me feel a little bit better, as A) she wasn’t sand-bagging it on lap one, and then going to hose me by 10 minutes on the second lap, and B) Brad had just been forced to up the pace and spend some effort, something which would play into my hands as I reeled him in on lap two.
Unfortunately, while item A was pretty correct, my body had other ideas about item B, and instead of picking up the pace as I headed out onto the second lap as my brain instructed, my legs decided that they were pretty happy with the status quo, and opted to maintain it.
I must admit, at this point I was rather frustrated. Brad was out of sight. People who I didn’t know were starting to pass me, and I wasn’t able to hang with any of them. Every time I saw my mom, her cheering was less of the enthusiastic and excited variety and more of the “keep up the good work, you’ll probably make the finish line before lunch, and if not, I still love you anyway,” type.
There was a wallowing in self-pity party going on in my head, and the place was rocking harder than the dance at U.S. Junior Nationals (I have to be honest, I have no idea what that is like, but JohnnyKlister mentions it like twice a week, so it must be a good time).
It was around this time that a former coach of mine went by me with some words of encouragement – nice of him to be sure, but unfortunately it didn’t do much to spur me on. At least at the time.
Another couple hundred meters, another couple of passes, this time by a University-aged girl and a grey haired but talented runner. Enough was enough; the only guy not at the pity-party so far, pride, decided he’d had it. Pride took the opportunity to roll into the pity-party, slap my brain violently, grab it by the throat, and drag it out into the street for an entirely different sort of entertainment, namely an ass-kicking.
After mope-arsing, as one of my room-mates would call it, for most of the second lap, with roughly two km to go I had opted to make a plan to salvage something from the experience. I set off in hot pursuit of the grey-haired gentleman, and reeled him in, and then he and I worked together to collect the woman. Heading up the last hill I was content to just sit in behind the other two, jogging lightly, and conserving energy for the upcoming highly embarrassing but very effective Petter Northug-style finishing sprint.
Highly embarrassing for me, because while I approve of Northug’s tactics, he makes it good because he does it for the win, rather than 19th place in a local cross country running race against non-age category competition.
Anyway, the three of us cruised across the flats, down a steep pitch, and then I unloaded my kick, putting six seconds into the unsuspecting competition in the space of 200 meters. Again, I’m not pleased with my actions here – I’m just retelling the story.
End result – an embarrassing 48:06 11 k, or good enough for second last in the Male 20-29 age category. And about a minute 15 back of Brad. Whoops.
Luckily my parents still took me out for lunch afterwards, and I didn’t get disowned. After an awesome croissant sandwich at a very hippy bakery/lunch joint, I was still less than pleased with my race effort, but significantly happier to go home, sit on the couch, and watch football for the rest of the day.
Some other things I’ve been kicking the tires on recently:
- I went out for lunch with a friend of mine recently, and we got to talking about the difference between being a skier, and being a fan of skiing. Why is it that I can find dozens of people who spend hundreds of hours a year devoted to skiing, and yet can’t name more than two non-North American World Cup athletes? These are the same people that can rattle of hockey statistics, or tell you who won the football game. Sure, skiing isn’t on Sportscenter, or the front page of your newspaper, but have you heard of the internet?
- My office is awesome some days.
- I dislike washing dishes.
- The recent discovery that 23 Teams in 23 Days was featured in Estonia’s national newspaper reminded me that when I first thought of the idea for it, we at FasterSkier weren’t sure whether it would be a good use of our time. Suffice it to say I tend to think it is, but please see my first point.
- I didn’t do Halloween (I mean the dressing up and collecting candy part) but instead my roommates and I went grocery shopping the day after. We now have over 500 mini-chocolate bars in our house, and are in desperate need of a dental plan.
- From my perspective, a huge portion of my job as a coach is having athletes learn lessons. If I just say “do this, don’t do that,” that it defeats the purpose – they won’t know exactly how it feels when they do something that isn’t so great. I like to think I make educated recommendations, rather than be a dictator, because then when I’m no longer around (it’s quite possibly I won’t be coaching kid X or Y for their entire life, I hope) they can make their own decisions. Yes! Independence!
- I organized a bunch of photo’s last week, and found this.
*Advertisement not actually paid for by Brooks Canada, although if you would like an endorsement in my blog (which I don’t know why you would, and I’m reserving the right to creative inclusion) please email firstname.lastname@example.org