From Mediocrity to Olympic Standard: How I Made it Happen
I did it. I hit the Olympic standard.
Last Friday, on a beautiful night in LA, I ran 15:17.8 to better the Olympic standard of 15:24. The conditions were perfect, the field was primed and the (three!) pacers were on it. All I had to do was be brave, be focused and capitalize on this seemingly perfect opportunity. I was ready. I wasn’t nervous, I was excited and all I wanted was for the race to get underway.
The plan was to be in the front pack and once the rabbits stepped off the track I needed to, as Ross put it, “be in the party at the front.” I tucked in behind the pacers in about 4th place, just where I like to be. I kept a laser-like focus on the women ahead of me ensuring there wasn’t even the faintest gap. The pacers did a great job, getting us through 3k right on 15:25 pace.
When the pacers dropped, the race was on. With about 4 laps to go, I started picking off the women one at a time, lap by lap. With about 1km to go there was only myself and one other athlete left in the lead. At this point I thought I could play it safe and sit here, or I could go for it. Almost without thinking about it, I moved into the lead and at that point the decision was made. I wanted to commit to the lead, something that I hadn’t done at Payton, and started a long kick for home.
There was a large Canadian contingent out on the track cheering that night. Their energy, combined with the possibility of hitting the Olympic standard, carried me for those last two laps. As I sprinted down the home stretch, I almost couldn’t decipher if this was really happening or if it was just another scene from the visualizations that I have done hundreds of times this season. I was filled with complete shock and euphoria. I had actually done it.
A lot of people have asked me what changes I’ve made, what my training is like and how my stride is so different. So here they are, all my secrets:
Don’t Play Small
Last summer I spent a lot of days questioning whether I wanted to keep running. I was injured, there was no chance I was going to have an outdoor season and a cross country season was becoming increasingly unlikely. I just didn’t know where the light at the end of the tunnel was. I had a lot of honest conversations with myself in the long hours pool running about whether I wanted to continue to do this. I’m not the type of person that doesn’t have other dreams or wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t running.
But, I always came out with the same answer. I knew I was capable of so much more and it would have been a disservice to myself to call it quits right then. I looked quitting right in the face and decided to pursue this outdoor season with the utmost passion and determination. I don’t question what I’m doing anymore, and that’s huge for me.
When I decided I wanted to keep running, I was giving myself one more year to make it happen and then I would be ok with walking away. So I committed. I focused, I took naps, I slept more, I ate better, I stretched, I foam rolled. I did it all. I’ve learnt over and over to not stretch myself too thin, which a younger version of myself would do. I didn’t want to play small anymore.
Since November of last year, I’ve been working with Kris Sheppard at the Runner’s Academy on strength training and biomechanics. When I first saw Kris, I was a mess. I shuffled, I had chronic hip flexor pain, my arms crossed, I leaned back, and the list goes on. Upon our first meeting, Kris said “If you can run that fast with this stride, I’m excited.” We got to work, first with establishing better neurological patterns and cues to help me lift my knees. The first session was hard and I left the clinic feeling sore and awkward. But I had bought in.
Kris has been working with me to strengthen my hamstrings and glutes through weight lifting, drills and plyometrics. It’s been a long process of subtle changes that may never be complete. But the work we’ve done so far has been, I believe, instrumental in my improvement.
Previously, my turnover and stride had been a limiting factor. I just wasn’t powerful enough to hold proper form over 5000m. I wasn’t even strong enough to do a proper power clean. But now, I can simply move faster and with more power being generated from large muscles, instead of trying to run from my hip flexors. Not only that, but I have fewer niggles and everyday issues than I had before that would have been irritating in training.
I’ve changed a lot about my environment in the past two years. I’ve always said that no training situation is perfect, but you have to find the situation that is the most perfect for you. I’m part of a great training group with two emotionally intelligent coaches who are there for their athletes in a relational and personal capacity. I also have an amazing training partner in Sasha. Our workouts are usually giggle-fests, broken up by hard intervals. The whole University of Toronto Track Club is incredibly supportive and inspiring in their own right.
Living in Toronto is sometimes hard as an athlete, but I’m definitely a big city girl. I love the liveliness, the culture and the countless coffee shops. Having a city where you can’t possibly be bored is something that I’ve learnt I thrive off of.
And that’s it. No crazy training, nothing really that special. I’ve just been able to take lessons from the past few years of disappointments and injuries to make it happen.