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