For those of you that know me well, you know how much I dislike Cross-Country running. It’s cold. It’s usually wet. I just don’t enjoy it all that much. But it makes me a better track runner so I do it.
This fall was a bit of an exception for weather. While it still had many rainy days the weather was seasonably warmer than usual (likely thanks to La Niña). And I will admit that I really did enjoy the training thanks to some very awesome teammates who made all the practices a lot of fun.
The plan this fall was not to race a ton. Last winter leading into the summer had me racing often and, especially last winter racing several events. I needed the mental break from racing and really approached this cross-country season with caution. I did a great job at getting my body to recover at the end of August on my break from running, but my brain was taking longer to recover.
I entered the TO Women’s 8k at the end of October. Running with 2000 motivated women through the ravines of Sunnybrook Park, yes please. I treated it like a tempo, enjoyed my surroundings, worked on staying focused, and making sure my last kilometre was my fastest.
Next up was the Athletics Ontario Cross-Country Championships at Centennial Stadium. Through high school I ran many XC races at Centennial; OFSAA was there three times while I was a student! Nationals has been there on and off through the years as well. And it’s where city championships are where I put my bunny ears on a for a few races each fall!
I was excited to race the 6k distance. I felt like my aerobic endurance had increased and I was ready to test my legs. The weather had threatened to be dark and cold but it turned out to be this amazingly warm fall day, which was definitely a bonus for me. Despite running there many times this was a totally new course and it was awesome. I went in thinking it would seem really flat and boring, but it was anything but that. Hills, off camber, twists and turns. The Etobicoke Track Club did a great job at putting together a really fun course.
I did not feel good starting that race. On the Monday I did this fun but really tough workout with Rachel Hannah. I don’t think I actually recovered from it until Saturday morning. I felt rough from the gun, my stride was off, my legs felt heavy, but I was there to fight. Rachel and I had an awesome battle out there pushing each other at different points along the course. As we came down the final downhill I pulled away from Rachel slightly and knew I had to go then if I was going to win. My legs were screaming; they felt thick and heavy, like they didn’t want to go anymore. ‘Shut Up Legs’ (said in my best Jens Voigt voice), was what I kept repeating to myself.
For the second year in a row I was crowned the AO XC champ. My team also took top spot, which was some serious icing on the cake. It’s so awesome to be able to share those moments with the people you work so hard with everyday.
This year (+ 3 more years after this) the championships were held at Fort Henry in Kingston, a notoriously windy, rainy place. It is a place I would avoid racing when I was younger because I found the weather so challenging. Warming Friday I thought that Castle Greyskull had moved in and would be looming until I left. It was steady rain and the temperature continued to plummet; standard XC conditions.
The rain stopped over night but the temperature really dropped. The forecast called for a high of 2 degrees Celsius and sunshine. Medium Sasha weather; if it was sunny I knew that would help keep me warmer.
As we warmed up I noted that my feet felt like they did when I would be alpine ski coaching. So frozen that it feels like you have frozen marbles protruding from the bottom of your feet. It sounds more painful than it is, but it’s like these frozen, uncomfortable lumps under neath that you’re trying to make go flat. And you’re keenly aware of how cold you feed are.
Warming up I was well dressed. Tights. Down Jacket. Hat. Mitts. How on earth on I thought I would survive in a singlet and arm warmers I still can’t answer. I was my own demise on a very cold day. Ignoring my own advice I tried to be a ‘tough cookie’ and race in my singlet, when in reality I knew I needed layers (i.e. a long sleeve on top) to stay warm and race well.
When the gun went off I couldn’t believe how cold I felt. I told myself to put it out of my mind and race smart. My race plan had been to go out with my teammate Rachel Hannah and sit in as long as I could. If I was anywhere near the front I was confident that no one would have a kick like I do; I was up against more distance girls than mid-distance girls.
I stayed focused. I stayed relaxed. And I made sure I stayed near the front. The course is super spectator friendly and winds out and back, allowing everyone to stay put and catch a lot of the action. It got a little pudding like with all the racers and the previous day’s rain but it was more than manageable.
When we came around the loop at the 6k mark, with 2k to go, I had a little chuckle in my head. I love 6k cross-country and as I lead around the corner into the last lap I thought can I quit now, raise my arms and call it a day?! Of course not, and I honestly thought I had a chance at winning the race at that point. I still felt strong, I felt like I had more in the tank. But the bitter coldness of the temperature dropping really started to get to me.
I don’t know how to quite describe it. My forearms were burning they were so cold. My feet were these marble-y messes. With about 1k to go I thought ok, you’re going to make it, just ignore how cold you are, you made it this far. With 500m to go disaster started to strike. I couldn’t fight off the cold anymore. My body when into fight or flight mode, which meant no matter how much I told my legs to move forward they would not cooperate.
I saw Rachel Cliff go by me with about 300m to as well went up the last little up hill. Then my vision really started to fail me. I had to close one eye to be able to focus. Not far from the finish line Leslie Sexton passed me. I couldn’t see her go by and my field of vision kept narrowing. I looked up at the clock and couldn’t
make the numbers focus, retreat to my strategy of just using one eye. I just needed a few steps to get across the line, because at that point it was for my team and not for me.
I finished 5th and made the Pan American Cup Cross-Country team, my first national XC team!
I ran XC to improve my aerobic capacity. If I look at my 8k and XC results from 2014 to 2015 there has definitely been an improvement. Goal achieved. One of my 2016 goals will be related to the discomfort zone. XC is in the realm of my discomfort zone but I will work hard at it until it becomes part of my comfort zone.
And if it’s going to be as cold as it was Saturday next year, I will be wearing a long sleeve and a hat. I know my body and it needs to be warm. Plus at -1 and temperature dropping you can’t really over dress.
Look out ACXC 2016 I’m coming for you.
A few more awesome shots from #ACXC. Thanks to Peter Stokes for all the images!