So what do you do when you desperately want to crack 18:00 for 5000m, but there isn’t a woman within one minute of your goal time in every race you consider entering and the National 10000m Championships are three weeks away? Why, you enlist the help of a former National marathon champion and 2:32 marathoner, a past CIS All-Canadian in cross-country and sub-31:00 10000m runner and a former World XC team member and 14:20/30:40 5000m/10000m runner to pace you on your home track, of course!
Such was the case on July 15th, when Nicole Stevenson, Joe Campanelli and Trevor Caldwell kindly lent me their legs to help me reach my goal. No pressure, of course! The plan was to go out at 18:00 pace or 86s/lap (3:36/km) for the first 3000m and see what I could do from there. I arrived at the track thirty minutes before our planned start time of 7:00PM. We had hoped that the later start would allow for the temperature to cool to something bearable, but alas on my jog over to the track I realized that it would be a sweaty, hot mess. When I arrived, I watched the other UTTC athletes as they struggled to finish their workouts under the scorching sun, some swaggering sideways after finishing a repeat and others collapsing to the ground, soaking in their own pools of sweat. Even Ross, who stood motionless on the side of the track, was glistening with sweat. The whole sight was horrific. When I finally mustered the courage to set out to finish my warm-up around the track, I heard a hysterical scream from within, and turned to see Jay Brecher waving at me frantically to stay back: “I would STRONGLY advise you to finish your warm-up under the bleachers!” he exclaimed. Well I wasn’t going to argue against that. I quickly retreated back into the shade and did my last ten minutes back and forth along the cement, praying that somehow my new hat and the 2 litres of water I had drunk that day would miraculously save me from any ill effects of the heat. Nicole appeared at the gates as I finished jogging in her usual way, pumped-up and ready to go, seemingly unaware of the weather conditions: “This is going to be awesome! You are SO ready!”
We had originally asked Spencer Morrison (a.k.a Spen-Mo or Spen-Mo The Clown) to help with the pacing, since he is a great pacer when he is on his game. When he is feeling a little off, however, everyone knows that anything and everything can go wrong. As I was putting on my spikes Spen-Mo suddenly appeared beside me, drenched from head to foot and looking extremely pale. “Spen-Mo, are you alright?” I asked nervously. “Errrr….ummm…I am feeling a little sick, actually,” he stammered, “…the thirty-five minutes I just did with Joe felt absolutely awful, and I feel like I am about to pass out. I’ve been sick with allergies for the past week as well. But I can try to pace you and see how it goes…” “Um well don’t worry about it if you are feeling that bad, Spencer, I’m sure Joe and Nic will be just fine…” I responded in concern. Luckily, at this point Trevor stepped in and offered to take Mo-Clown’s place. I think everyone – including Spencer – agreed this would be a much better alternative!
As the hour approached, it did start to feel a little cooler than it had just thirty minutes before. I tried to focus on staying relaxed and did a few strides to get my legs in gear. Trevor and Joe decided to run 200m in 43s to try and get a feel for the pace. I watched them jog slowly around the track, wincing at just how pedestrian the pace looked. ‘Is that really what a sub-18:00 5000m looks like?’ I asked myself in disappointment. We all walked over to the start line and I asked them how it felt. “Umm, that was 40s. A little too fast.’ Joe said. Nice.
3-2-1 and at Ross’ word we are off. First 200m: 42s. A little fast, but not too bad. Nic is running behind me and tells the boys to slow down. The pace actually feels very relaxed. We go through 1000m in 3:32 and still I am feeling very comfortable. At this point Nic barks at the boys to run side-by-side instead of switching leads. I thank her subconsciously for this, since I am basically wasting as little energy as possible, staying mute and ducking behind the two of them. We slow down over a couple laps in the 2nd 1000m and go through in 3:38 – time to pick it up. Once again, Nic makes this clear. I hear Jay, Selam and Sasha on the sidelines yelling ‘Go G.I. Jane!’ and I am motivated by their support. Partway through the 3rd kilometer, however, I start to feel much more laboured, but still we pass through in 3:35. At this point I look up and see Jeff in his suit and tie standing with the sick and swaying Spen-Mo on the sidelines. ‘Oh lord,’ I say to myself (again in my head ;), ‘He’s come from work just to see me, I had better make it worth his while in case BMO fires him for this.’ At this point I also realize that I only have five laps to go, and try and put this in perspective. I continue with the self-talk. ‘That’s nothing! It’s one loop of the cemetery; a warm-up at the beginning of one of our winter workouts; five-hundredths of a marathon, etc., etc.’ Nicole continues to yell words of encouragement behind me, ensuring I keep the pace going. We go through 4000m, clocking another 3:35. Yes. At this point I am really tiring. I am starting to moan and groan and if there weren’t three people around me, I would have undoubtedly started cursing as well. They hear that I am struggling and yell positive words back to me, all the while keeping the pace honest. With two laps to go I want to die. I even step out slightly and motion to Nic to go ahead of me, but she would have none of it. “You can do this!” she exclaims [I shake my head], “YES YOU CAN!!! DO IT!” At this point I am starting to become a little fearful of Ms. Stevenson. What would happen if I slowed down? Would she yell and scream and push me to the ground? Would she drag me through the finish line? The terrifying possibilities raced through my head. All I knew was that I was going to haul ass to the finish line whether I liked it or not. And that is what I did, with Nic’s screams getting shriller and more threatening by the second. “YOU HAVE TO GO, NOW!!!” she yelled with 200m to go, “NOW! NOW! NOW! SUB-18! SUB-18!”. I pushed with all I had left in my weak, plastic legs and somehow crossed the line standing up in a miraculous 17:59. No joke. It was that close.
I lay collapsed on the ground for a few minutes, and after some help getting up staggered over to my wonderful teammates, coaches and spectators to thank them profusely for helping me achieve my goal. It was truly a special moment. Joe and Trevor did a perfect job of pacing and I will never forget how Nic pushed me in that final kilometer. The whole experience was completely surreal, and one that I will never forget. We stood around for a good twenty minutes before I gathered enough energy to begin my cooldown, at which point I had already forgotten about how close I had come to exerting myself to death and was already planning my next attack on the distance. Such is the cycle of distance running…
I got home around 8:30PM in a heat and fatigue-induced delirium, in which all I could think about was an ice cold strawberry-banana smoothie from Starbucks chased down with litres of lemonade powerade. To my annoyance the Starbucks employees (formerly friends of mine, lol) informed me that they do not serve Venti sizes in their smoothies, so I bought two for $9.00 without a second thought and began to double-fist them as I stammered back up to my apartment. I have to say, they tasted almost as good as a 17:59 5000m – but not quite.