#4 A Long Road Back

aaron-backroadsI had intended to keep my blog updated with at least a monthly post. But to be honest the last few months (err last year) was not a great year for me training/fitness wise and I was not excited to share that in my personal blog. I really don’t know how to explain what went on with me in 2016. Did I have too high of expectations for how my training should be going and how I should be racing that I mentally blew myself up?

At the end of 2015 I believed that I had a very outside shot at making the Rio Olympics in either the 5,000m or 10,000m. When I ran 28:53 for the 10,000m in April of 2015 I did it off of consistent indoor 3,000m training, which started off with a couple 180km volume weeks at the end of 2014. So, I thought if I used the winter and early spring of 2016 to have more consistent ~160km-180km volume weeks with longer tempo’s/fartlek’s and some 10,000m specific track workouts I could significantly bring my 28:53 personal best down. I knew everything from the 2015 cross country season onwards would have to go perfectly for me to have a shot at the Olympics.

That was my plan anyways, but the plan never came to fruition. After regaining my confidence at the 2015 CIS cross country championships with less than ideal overall training (I think I was stronger in 2013) I took time off to begin putting my plan in place. I kept having a setback every time I would get close to 3 weeks of consistent training in. Fist Achilles, then my IT band, then I got a really bad cold. I was already thinking last winter that my already outside shot at the Olympics was getting smaller and smaller with each injury and illness. Perhaps that is where I began to lose my confidence.

I think I had changed my goal for 2016 from making the Olympics to getting personal bests in the 10,000m and 5,000m by the beginning of March. I didn’t realize just how hard that would be after a winter of inconsistent training. I did have consistent training from March until the last race I started in June, but nothing seemed to come together. In 2016 I never felt like I adapted to any of my training. If I did have a half decent track workout, then it felt like it took a week or more to really recover from it. I had one decent 5,000m race in Hamilton that I ran 14:26’ish which gave me some hope, but again I felt awful for too long after that race. The last race I started was the Inferno 10,000m, which I’m not sure why I started. Training had not been going very well and I was not at all confident in my fitness. Being confident in your fitness is definitely important to have before starting a 10,000m race.

2016 was probably the first year since I started running that I did not personal best in any event. That was tough for me especially in an Olympic year where that has been the goal for many years. I told myself after the Inferno that I wasn’t going to do intensity unless I really felt like it, which resulted in very few intensity workouts for the rest of the year. I took a lot of days off in the fall and got myself busy helping my parents with soybean and corn harvest, and working with Emily on our new store BackRoads London and planning our Hop Yard. I found that I needed to find a new balance in my life so that I am not solely focused on running.

I have also found that I still do have the tick to be an elite runner. I know I have not reached my running potential and I want to see what my potential is. I still want to run fast on the track but I also have new ambitions for the roads. It is going to be a long road back to being as fit as I was in 2015. I think I have added other aspects to my life beyond running like helping run a business and starting a life with Emily that will make me feel fulfilled.

For the time being I am coachless since I have moved to Parkhill as Emily and I get BackRoads up and running in Hyde Park London. I don’t view being coachless as a bad thing at this point because I think it will be good for me to follow my own training plan for a while.

If you are interested you can also follow my training on Strava now.

#3 Cross Country 2015

Once cross-country season came along I was able to put FISU and Pan Ams behind me and focus on the next goal that I set for myself since finishing the 2014 CIS cross-country championships: win CIS. Getting back to training for cross with the Gryphon boys is something I really looked forward to every year. Good friends, ambitious teammates, and getting hard work in as a team with high expectations is just FUN to be a part of.

My first race at Vic Matthews here in Guelph did not feel great but I knew I had been training pretty hard the week’s prior. I just needed to take it easy for a bit to get some sharpness back in my legs. The next couple races we did were in the U.S. and each one got better. The second race in the U.S. at Princeton I was able to make a push from the front at 5km (in an 8km race). Although I didn’t have a strong last km and faded to just barely a top 10 finish I gained some confidence because I knew my fitness was really starting to come along.

Heading into championship season I was feeling pretty confident. The Monday before OUAs we did some repeats with changes in pace and I felt the best I had in a very long time. I felt very smooth and strong and could push the faster portions of the workout feeling in control and I could bring it back to tempo effort and recover well for the next push. So I gained more confidence after this workout.

I likely made some tactical errors at OUAs that may have cost me a bit in the last couple of km’s of the race by leading the chase pack for the first 2 or so km’s. When the pace picked up around 3k to go I was able to go with the initial pickup but didn’t have another gear to go with the next pickup. I finished fourth but didn’t feel like I slowed down in the last 1.5km. I was disappointed not to medal but knew there was definitely more in me once I sharpened up and tapered.

The next two weeks was all about being 100% ready to go for CIS. I had a race strategy figured out for a few weeks before CIS. So I was able to visualize and focus on my race plan during workouts, especially in sections of the course important to my strategy. I didn’t think the big finishing hill was my strongest part of the Guelph course so I wanted to get well clear of the field before hitting the bottom of it. I figured if everyone was running hard and were already maxing out that whoever got to the bottom of the hill first was likely to win. So that was my plan and it worked out pretty much to a tee. For me personally, I was pumped with how I felt the whole race and I was excited to finally feel and race the way I know I am capable of.

It was hard to swallow getting 2nd place as a team, but I know, and the team knows, that we put everything out there. Victoria played the race very smart and their tactic of getting pretty much their whole team to the front off the gun and their ability to stay there in a pretty quick pace worked out very well. I know the Gryphon guy’s will be very hungry to regain the team title this year!

I am happy to have finished my last University cross-country season with a strong race. Competing for the Gryphon’s is something I’ll be very proud of for the rest of my life. I made a lot of memories and good friends over the last five years putting in work, travelling to competitions and team socials. I am sad to be done competing for the University of Guelph but I’m excited to be part of the cheer squad as an alumni. Now that I am done school, I’m looking forward to see what being a post-collegiate has in store for me as I begin life and wedding planning with my fiancé.

My achilles is 100% now and I am over a cold I had at the beginning of last week. So now I am finally getting some good training in without my achilles bugging me or feeling drained from a cold. It is going to take a while to feel fit again, but I’m looking forward to grinding out some consistent training through February and March before hopping on the outdoor track to race. Speaking of outdoor track, the Speed River crew got a nice February outdoor track workout in last Wednesday. That was pretty awesome, oh it hurt, but was awesome. I will likely get into a road race in early March. That will be fun; I haven’t done a road race in a very long time.

DSC_0327 (2)

Top of the last big hill, Photo from Mark Yungblut

#2 A not so short quick year in review

Here is a review of 2015, it was a year full of experiences that I thought I should share!

2015 was a very exciting year for me. I had a great winter of training and got a nice 3,000m personal best breaking the 8-minute barrier for the first time. I raced three times in California in the spring and then in the summer competed at both the World University Games (FISU) in South Korea and then the Toronto Pan Am games in the 10,000m. To top it off I ended my University varsity career by winning the Canadian University Cross Country Championships on my home course in Guelph. Needless to say, it was a very busy year for me.

At the beginning of the outdoor track season I ran my first real 10,000m and achieved my first goal of breaking 29 minutes. Two weeks later I ran a 5,000m that was only a second off of my personal best in the middle of having a cold. Racing with a cold and a long day of travel the day after took a lot out of me and it took a while to feel good again. I travelled back out to California a third time for the Payton Jordan, where I was hoping to build on my previous two good races. This race definitely did not go as planned, I felt good for the first few km’s but the second half of the race was a struggle. Like any runner, I hate not finishing a race so I stuck the race out and finished in about 29 and half minutes.

I took May and June more laid back to get the sharpness back in my legs. I was pretty confident that I was going to be selected for the FISU games in South Korea in the 10,000m so my focus was to get my legs back and get ready for that. In May and June I had some good and bad workouts but kept a positive mindset. I raced the Guelph Inferno 5,000m at the end of May and then the Athletics Ontario 5,000m in June. Neither race went particularly well, at the Inferno I ran 14:06 feeling like I was just barely holding on in the last 2km. AO’s felt more like a time trial because I led the majority of the race but was outkicked in the last 50m. I looked at the positive side of that race that I could run 14:18 not being tapered and without any help.

July and August were very exciting as well as stressful months. It was a nice surprise to be selected for both FISU in South Korea and the Toronto Pan Ams games. I had 12 days between the FISU 10,000m and the Pan Am 10,000m. I thought with making sure I was doing everything in my power leading up to FISU and in between FISU and Pan Ams, that I would have no problem performing well in both races. In the past I have performed very well in 10km cross-country championship races that are just two weeks apart, so I thought this to be very reasonable. But things did not go at all how I wanted them to.

When I stepped up to the starting line for the FISU 10,000m I was confident in my fitness and believed I had a real chance at medaling. The majority of the top guys in the race had personal bests or season bests in the 28:30s, and I believed that I was more than capable of running with guys in that range. Being a championship style race and likely a race with a large negative split, my early season 10,000m personal best gave me confidence that I could hang on to a low 14 minute pace in the second half of the race. The day of the race was one of the most humid days since arriving at the Athletes village in Gwangju. I wore an ice vest on my warmup and made sure I was drinking lots throughout the day and before the race.

Two kilometers into the race I remember noticing just how much I was sweating. My singlet and shorts were absolutely drenched in sweat and sticking to me. I could see sweat flying off my arms every time I drove my arms forward. At this point I was feeling very comfortable and just hanging out in the middle of the pack trying to keep things smooth and relaxed. So I shoved the thought of sweat out of my head and focused on feeling comfortable and slowly moving up into the top 10 so as to not lose contact if the pace were to pick up. Right around the 4km mark a Belgian guy and a couple Russian’s started picking up the pace a bit here and there, which resulted in stringing out and bunching up of the still pretty large front group. I think it was around the 6k point in the race that things really started to feel uncomfortable for me. I went from feeling pretty good to feeling pretty crappy in a matter 200 metres. And this is also the point where the race started to break apart into smaller groups. I tried focusing on regaining myself and getting into a rhythm. But my mind and body were not having it, negative thoughts started going through my head and my body felt worse and worse with every 100m. I began thinking about Pan Ams and justifying to myself why it would be okay to drop out. I remember thinking to myself, “I have Pan Ams still, I can still have a really good race there, and it will be easier to recover if I don’t struggle through this race.” So I made the stupid decision at 8km to drop out of the race. I’ve been angry with myself for that decision ever since because (as mentioned above) I hate dropping out of races.

I did not sleep very well the night after that disappointing race. I started getting a bad cough, stuffy nose, I was super dehydrated and my legs were still beat up from 8km of racing. At least I knew why the race did not go well because I had a cold coming on.

The rest of my time in South Korea I had a very annoying cough and stuffy nose. I tried to rest as much as I could and drink lots of liquids to fight off the cold. With the cold, time change and uncomfortable beds, it was hard to get a good night sleep. The travel back home was one of the most uncomfortable 28 hours of my life. The dry air in the airplane made the tickle in my throat and cough wayyy worse and impossible to get comfortable. I felt like I constantly had to cough the entire way home.

I made it back to Guelph and spent the next three days before going to the Pan Am athlete village trying to rest up and get over the cold. I was keeping my coach, Dave Scott-Thomas, up to date on how I was feeling so the Pan Am staff knew how I was doing. I went to see a doctor in Guelph and oh man was that ever an experience. They thought I might have caught my cold in South Korea so obviously (at the time) they were worried I might have something really bad and contagious. I was confident that I had caught the cold before leaving for South Korea because my first symptom occurred on the plane ride over when I got an annoying tickle in my throat. It went away after I got some sleep after getting to the athletes village but I could feel it every now and then in the evenings. I didn’t think a lot of it because my runs were feeling good and during my sharpening track workout I felt the best I have all season. Back at the doctors, after some sample taking and testing it was determined I just had the common cold.

I made my way to the Pan Am village by train two days before my race. I was feeling better but still not 100%. I was staying positive and believed my cold would be gone in another 48 or so hours and I told myself I would be fresh and ready to go when the gun went off. My warmup for the race I felt light and finally comfortable again, and I was pumped because I really thought anything could happen. When the gun went off I was ready to sit at the back of the lead group and just go with it, and hopefully my body was over this crappy cold and ready to race. Just three laps into the race I knew this was not the case. The pace felt uncomfortable and my legs felt like if they had to go faster they would go lactic. So pretty quickly I found myself off the back of the group with 8km still to race. I was determined to finish this race. The home Canadian crowd was amazing and something I will never forget. Despite how much I was hurting the cheering of the crowd on every single lap was incredible. I’m not sure if many of the fans realized just how much I was really suffering in that race. Struggling through a race like that is an entirely different feeling than the pain one goes through at the end of a good race. Rather than trying to make the legs go faster at the end of a good race, struggling through a bad race is just trying to get one leg in front of the other for what seems like forever. But the Canadian fans at Pan Ams certainly helped a lot to get one leg in front of the other.

I would run both FISU and Pan Ams (or two international competitions) again if I had the opportunity. I’ve thought about these races a lot and I know with planning my season a little better and not getting sick at the most inopportune time, that I could race to the best of my ability at both races 12 days apart. I know what I did wrong and I know some uncontrollable factors went into my very poor performances at these international competitions. But I was still very disappointed, frustrated and angry with myself that I was not ready to go when it really mattered. It took quite a while for me to get over that.

I’ll end this long blog post there and continue on with the cross-country season in my next post in a few days.

11754731_897645233651942_460112958483602256_o

The first lap or two of the Pan Am 10,000m, photo from my sister-in-law Kendra

#1 The Back Road Runner

Here is my first blog post since October 2008, back when I was about fifteen years old. I haven’t looked back at the old blog for probably five years until I managed to find it today. I used my old blog more like a training log (explaining my day-by-day training) but this blog I hope to talk about more than just my training. In this blog I’d like to share some of the past experiences I’ve had, such as competing in the CIS and on Canadian National Teams, and keeping my family and friends up to date on my training, races and travels over the next few years. At 22 years old, having just finished my undergrad at Christmas, and then getting engaged, I have a lot of exciting times ahead in 2016 and beyond.

I named this blog after my previous blog: “The Back Road Runner” because my favourite place to run are on back country roads. That is, the gravel roads surrounded by corn, soybean and wheat fields. These roads I find it the easiest to get into a nice easy rhythm, where I can just think about what ever I want while not worrying much about traffic. At home, just south of Parkhill Ontario, I have a 14km loop that I run pretty much every time I am home. It is not uncommon to hear from other runners that their favourite places to run are the twisty and soft trails surrounded by trees, streams, and ponds. But for me, I don’t think anything compares to the 14km gravel road loop I do at home. Maybe I am just a person of routine and repetition, but the straight and long roads, surrounded by only fields is my running happy place. Just to clarify I don’t dislike trails, I enjoy them, but after 20-30 minutes I just want to get on a gravel road and get into a rhythm.

Anyways, the Road Runner part of the blog name comes from the Saturday morning Teletoon cartoon “The Road Runner Show”, which I can remember watching on many Saturday mornings. I remember when I was making the original blog and I was trying to come up with a good blog name. My Dad had mentioned the Road Runner from the cartoon show and I thought about how I do the majority of my runs (at the time) on country back roads. I think the two of us put the two ideas together and came up with “Hendrikx, the back Road Runner.”

Since the Canadian University (CIS) Cross Country Championships, running has been coming along pretty slowly. I took a two-week downtime after CIS cross, no running, which I think I really needed after a long outdoor track season and a pretty quick but intense cross country season. When I started running again, my left ankle/Achilles felt a bit tight but would loosen up and feel good after 5 or so minutes of running. It was getting into exam season when I started running so my focus was more on that and I wasn’t too worried about the ankle. I thought it was just an ache from not running for a couple weeks and would go away once the body got used to running again.

After a couple weeks of easy running and getting back into workouts my Achilles still wasn’t feeling 100%. It had not gotten worse, but not better. This was annoying me because I had not really started getting running volume in yet. I had physio and massage a couple times post CIS cross and pointed out that my left Achilles was bugging me a bit but (at the time) not at all preventing me from running. So because I had seen physio and massage, and my Achilles had not gotten worse with running and would feel good after a few minutes of running, I decided to get into my first week of medium volume and two full workouts. I was still thinking that the bit of discomfort in my Achilles would go away with some more massaging, foam rolling and icing. After a workout of 32 minutes of tempo later that week, I could feel a bit of tightness in my Achilles on my cool down so I decided not to push my Achilles anymore and to stay off it until it felt 100% to run on.

Unfortunately, it took three weeks before my Achilles felt 100%. It took over a month before I could run after the same Achilles blew in race in Belgium a couple summers ago (I believe it was the second last lap of a 5,000m). I’m into my second week back running now and everything is feeling good. My calves have been getting tight from hard roads and the indoor track, but that’s just the legs getting used to the new surfaces.