The best races, I have found, are the most difficult to remember. On good days, the legs just go, regardless of what the mind or the clock is saying. Looking back on a great race, it’s easy to forget where it hurt and recall only glory. It’s easy to relive the last 100 metres and become nostalgic for that time when for twenty short minutes, fear and pain made way for pure running bliss.
Saturday’s race – the RSEQ cross-country Championship in Quebec City – was not one of those races. I know because I can remember every second of it. I speak only for myself, of course, as I know several of our girls ran their hearts out (I’m looking at you, Chantal Bourassa!), and that our team triumphed by posting the lowest score (19) and winning the Provincial banner. I’m proud of all our team accomplished but disappointed in my own performance.
After a bad race, it’s impossible to resist the temptation to pinpoint, blame, and rationalize. Here was my list of silly excuses:
-Poor sleep due to unscheduled late-night giggle-session over lobster-trap webcam.
-Broken coffee maker in hotel room = late coffee consumption = delicate digestion routine spoiled = Inner Bitch unleashed on innocent teammates.
-Mysterious course/route changes and unwise daydreaming during assistant coach’s debrief
-Arm warmers left in bus
At the end of the day, I didn’t have a great race because I implemented the “fade from the front” (FFTF). This was a phrase I read once in a Rob Watson blog post and have clung to ever since because it makes being foolish sound like a fun (if slightly misguided) race strategy. The FFTF can succeed, on rare occasions, if one gets a far enough lead from the get go, but more often than not it ends with the runner realizing energy is scarce and thus decreasing his or her pace from glorious gallop to glorified shuffle.
After the Great FFTF, I cowered around the finish line, ducking back into the fray periodically in order to get my hands on more of the free chocolate milk. When the volunteers bent down to open more boxes, that was when I pounced. Laval’s cross country course may have gotten the better of me this time, but I would get my revenge by drinking all the milk. Mmm.
After setting up a small milk fortress out of a raincoat and broken spikes bag, I ripped the four layers of second skin off my heel (long story) and joined the girls for a barefoot cool-down around the Plains. My spirits lifted as the sun shone through cloud and I could feel some bounce returning to my legs. In London there will be no bounce.
I’m disappointed in myself for fading and for not giving my absolute best. But at the same time I know that races cannot all be “bliss races,” and that their rarity is what makes them worthwhile. I also know that “bliss races” often are very painful and that the pain disappears upon reflection. Racing well as a team in London will demand that all seven of us run our best and though it will be tough to have all of our individual ideal circumstances (good health, undisrupted routines, no injuries, no fading!) I’m convinced we can make it happen.
Three hours wasn’t quite enough time to fully enjoy our luxury bus, but we did make full use of the Wifi, checking approximately every five minutes for the missing boys’ results.
The boys, of course, were not happy having to wait around for their results. And understandably so. It’s one thing having to run a hilly 10k in the first place. Quite another to wait over a day for results of said 10k. I would guess that the anguish of waiting outweighed any pain the boys felt during their race. In the end, coach Jim McDannald’s calculations proved correct: our boys beat out Sherbrooke by one point for 2nd. All of this raises questions about the so-called superiority of chip timing. If one dude with an iPhone can score a large race effectively, why bother spending time and money on all the technology?
Technology fails and FFTFs aside, the RSEQ champs were a success for McGill XC, and the last serious step on our “road to London.”