You know it’s going to be a great adventure when you arrive at the airport and you hear the words ‘Ms Gollish we have moved you to business class’ when you’re at bag drop just before you are about to cross the Atlantic. Lufthansa did not disappoint.
After my 2014 Euro Race Adventure I knew I had to go back. With the magical Pan Am Games in my backyard last summer it just did not make sense between nationals and the 1500m Pan Am final to travel to Europe. I promised myself that I would head back in 2016. While I do not discredit the amazing North American races, I find there is just ’something’ about going to Europe. Plus I’m a travel adventure kind of gal and I love exploring new place. No better way to do it than with some racing.
I was flying Toronto —> Frankfurt —> Gothenburg for my first race and a first ever visit to Sweden. As I was sitting in Frankfurt waiting for my next flight I started chatting with my friend Adriel. Adriel and I met in 2013 at the Maccabi games in Israel; we were both participating in the crazy Maccabi Man/Woman event. Good luck charm #2 happens when someone you haven’t spoken to in forever is in the city you’re flying to. Adriel, an Australian living Gothenburg, and his amazing fiancé came to watch me race in their hometown. The world felt even smaller when Adriel mentioned that he and the meet director were friends; the meet director was originally from California. (I wish I had taken a picture of the three of us together!)
Race #1 – 3000m Folksam GP Gothenburg, SWE (July 15)
3000m. A race that has not been run at the Olympics in years! I also haven’t raced one since 2014, when it was the first time I had stepped on the track to race again. I was actually really excited to race this ‘off’ distance, and I was really excited to be racing in a country I had never been to before. Plus, I had heard great things about Swedish meets, and it did not disappoint. You never really know what’s going to happen in that first race after all the travel. You are not quite fresh, your legs kind of work, and your body is still adjusting to the time zone.
With 4 East Africans in the race (two Kenyans and two Ethiopians) with PB’s in the 3000 much faster than me I was reluctant to go with them. However, hindsight tells me I should have. We went through the first 200m perfectly, or so I thought. I was at the tail end of the pack of East Africans and I went through in 35 low/34 high, which would have put the rabbit right on for 69s per lap pace. However, as we went through finish line, the rabbit took off and it felt like she dropped a 33s 200 for that second 200.
I am fit, but I am not fit enough to run 66’s per lap for 3000, that’s a total time of 8:15! What I also didn’t know was that no one else from the pack had gone with me; I was stranded in no man’s land between the front pack and the chase pack. My secondary goal was to keep gapping the chase pack and see if I could real in any of the front leaders. I accomplished the goal of putting more space between myself and the chase pack but I did not catch any of the front pack.
You do not really get to complain when you run a 32 second PB! But you can always learn. I am doing a better job at believing; I belong on that start line, I belong with the leaders, so next time, just go. Because the worst that happens is you blow up and crawl across the line! Plus, the race made for a good joke, 4 East Africans and a Jewish cross a line – joke or a race?! (Thanks family!)
Race #2 – 1500m British Milers Club GP, Oxford UK (July 23)
When you get to race at the place where Roger Bannister first broke the 4 minute barrier for a mile you know it can be magical. The facility has been updated since his miracle mile in 1954 and is a new, proper mondo surface. I had done a few workouts here, a couple in 2014, plus this year’s workouts and I felt like I was starting to get a feel for the track.
Fellow Canadian Bird Laura Carlyle was also racing, along with her two teammates Anne and Kaitlin. There was also a British U23 800m phenom racing as well, she has run just over two minutes for 800m, so I figured it would go out with the rabbit. And it did! I tucked in behind the rabbit and Judd, the U23 phenom. As we went through 800m I could feel Judd slowing so I made a move around her to go with the rabbit, who was going to 1000m. My thought was tuck in and push that pace!
As we came around into the home stretch I could feel the wind whack me in the face, but I put it out of my head. I wanted to hear that bell and try to run away from the field. I did. While the time wasn’t super fast, 4:10.35, it was the best solo effort, time-trial I have run in over a year, the best one I’ve ever run outdoors. I have been so afraid to time trial, to push my limits alone, and I broke that barrier in this race. It was a great step forward mentally. I know there is more in there and I can go faster, but I also know now I can trust myself and just go. Next step, learn how to close in 60-61 alone!
Race #3 – 1500m Folksam GP Karlstad, SWE (July 27th)
This was the final race in the Folksam GP series and it did not disappoint. The crowd surround the entire track, deep into the stands, and was very loud and positive – apparently not typical Swedish behaviour!
I have a few race plans. I didn’t know if I should go with the rabbit, sit in with the pack, but I saw that Lucy Oliver, New Zealand 1500m Olympian was entered and she has a PB of 4:05! I thought ok great this is going to be a fast one. Unfortunately Karlstad is on a river, which is a part of a lake system, and while extraordinarily beautiful, also very windy!
With the winds kicking up I thought ok just sit in and use that kick. The race went out really slow, no one went with the rabbit (who, to be fair, did a great job at hitting her pace and times!) We went through in about 67s for the first lap, well off the pace so I told myself just relax, and I did. I sat in just behind the woman leading. Unfortunately she would slow down every so often and I would get a spike to the knee cap, which you can imagine becomes quite painful after the first time (my knee looks even better today! lol).
With about 250m to go, fellow Bird Jamie Cheever made a move and I was a little boxed. I didn’t panic, I knew I could get out coming around the corner and I did. And it felt so good to unleash my kick again and finish strong. As Jamie and I cooled down we chatted about how much that was like championship racing, which I love. That was Jamie’s last track race for the season and it was awesome to watch my teammate and friend finish on such a high note.
Race #4 – 800m Joensuu Eliittikisat, Finland (July 30th)
When you’ve done no speed training all year of course you jump into an 800 to finish off your season! Well, I do anyways, it’s my love for adventure and the pursuit of being relentlessly fearless.
The day of the 800 I was so nervous, more nervous than I was for most of my races. It wasn’t that it was a stacked field or that this race really mattered. But something in the pit of my stomach was flipping and wouldn’t stop. Maybe it was the unknown having not run an 800 for so long? Maybe it was the thought of the discomfort that would come from the 800? Maybe it was the thought of my season ending? To be honest, I still don’t know. It also doesn’t matter; I channelled that nervous energy and used it to my benefit, I would not let it get the better of me.
With no speed training my last race was a resounding success. I ran a 2:03 low. Most importantly, I had the time of my life doing it. It was just so much fun to put myself out there and not worry about the consequences of what happened. My goal was just to hurt and I certainly did; I gave myself wobble-legs by the end!
I was starting in lane 8 with the rabbit. She was a 400m runner and I knew she was going to go out crazy fast. Typical Sasha for the first lap it didn’t really look like I was a contender in the race. I know my body and 59-60s is what it can do for the first lap of an 800 right now; I went through in 60mid or high (I’ll have to check the video). Coming around the last corner I really thought I was going to catch the lead girl. I dug in, gritted my teeth, and went as deep into the well as I could; again leg wobble. But she held me off. As much fun as it would have been to win, the Polish girl deserved the W. She lead from the gun with the rabbit and while I could see her fading I guess I was too!
What about the rest of the Adventure
One of the goals of my trip was to go to some places I’d never travelled to before. I get a serious travel bug and love going all over the world to immerse myself in other people’s cultures – their food, their local areas, most importantly their coffee!
I have never been to Finland or Sweden. I guess as of last September I had travelled to Scandinavia when Rol and I ventured to Denmark for his World Masters Cycling Championships. (And actually, I just learned that Finland is not actually part of Scandinavia. Whoops)
I wavered between whether or not to visit Stockholm and I am so glad I did, and I am definitely going back. This gorgeous little metropolis has amazing food, culture, coffee, and is absolutely accessible by foot, bicycle and transit. There were so many things I want to go back and see, museums, parks, bridges. Stockholm is a series of little islands, I stayed on the oldest, Gamla Stan, so that I could get a feel for the city even if I didn’t walk to walk around and fatigue my legs. Cobblestone streets, the former King and Queen’s palace, The Nobel museum, and two of the best meals I’ve ever had. Gamla Stan was also a lovely shakeout run around the island!
I did not end up venturing from Oxford to London on this trip. The plan had been to spend at least a day in London seeing my favourite museums, The Tate Modern in particular. But with the oppressive heat it just wasn’t worth it, it’s not like it’s normally 34 deg C in the UK. But don’t worry I have family there so I’ll be back.
My favourite race town was Joensuu. In the middle of Finland, it is surrounded by lakes and green. It feels like home very far away from home; running through the woods around the track I was reminded of Camp Walden, my cottage and Rol’s cottage. The sights, the sounds, the smells; it’s amazing how small the world can feel at times. The people you meet, the places you go, there are bits that remind you of home. I’m super fortunate to absolutely love where I live. While I will always go adventuring, I also look forward to coming home.
I also had the chance to meet some really amazing people and get to know a few others better. Jamie Cheever, a fellow fierce flyer, introduced me to Amber Schultz. Amber is one of those people who touches your soul, she was one of the highlights of my trip. An amazing runner and just a beautiful person inside and out. Plus her and her husband, Jedd, together were an absolute riot; so much love between those two. Another fierce flyer Laura Carlyle, introduced me to her teammates Annie St Geme Beck and Kaitlin Gregg Goodman. Donuts and champagne ladies, donuts and champagne.
The track season is officially over. I really feel like I am just getting started and all of a sudden it feels like I’m shutting down. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe like cycling, if you eat when you’re hungry it’s already too late – maybe it is better to stop before you need or are forced to stop. Forever optimistic, I can’t wait for the fall road and x-country season to start, I can’t wait to start running again, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
For now you’ll find me at the lake, either in Muskoka of Thunder Beach.
Head Up, Wings Out!