I'm beginning to sense in myself a correlation between my desire to write and imminent change. My previous two posts have come on the eve of races and training camps that saw me pick up and leave one place for another for extended trips and I write this now at the beginning of a weekend to be spent packing up and moving homes. To write any further on change at this point seems trivial, as for most of us the near-constant state of flux we've been collectively thrown into this year has made the very idea seem unavoidable and unalterable. As we all continue to adapt and adjust daily to the ever-changing rhythms of a global pandemic, my sense is now less one of breaking from the normal temporarily as having adjusted to a new normal indefinitely. Unpredictability seems to be the only thing we can predict.
As far has embracing this new normal goes, I feel incredibly blessed with what this new season has brought for me. At the time of last writing (March 31st) I was preparing for a second month-long stint at altitude. In late March, Canada's national struggle with the pandemic was still very much in its infancy and I, along with many other athletes, was holding out hope for some form of track season in the not-so-distant future. In that light, I looked forward to a month up high chiefly as an opportunity to prepare myself if and when racing became possible again. While the camp was in my opinion a success athletically, what I believe the greatest positive of my decision to venture away from the city was the sense of normalcy it lent to my life amidst much uncertainty. A training camp serves to make normal a habit of living that would otherwise be unsustainable amidst the demands of a balanced life (one with more to it than simply training, eating, and sleeping). It is to do, for a brief while, all the extra things that you couldn't or didn't do at home so as to set yourself up as best as possible for a specific goal. Moreover, as I came to understand over the course of a month away from people, a training camp in its essence is a form of willful self-isolation by another name and the reframing of the reality that would have faced me no matter where I was during the first weeks of the pandemic did a lot to buoy my spirits.
Regarding the specifics of training, the camp began with a mile time-trial on April 1st to capitalize on the track speed Kieran and I had cultivated during our time in Flagstaff and held onto in preparation for the ill-fated track season. We decided to split up the work into 500m segments and, after a perhaps overly-optimistic first lap by yours truly, I was resigned to watch Kieran pull away in the latter stages of the races as I wallowed in lactic acid. Final times: 4:04 (KL) and 4:08 (JG). From there, the focus shifted from shorter, faster work to long, grinding aerobic sessions in preparation for a second time trial to take place upon our return to sea level in May, this time over 10,000m. While I've never raced a 10,000 on the track it has always held a certain allure to me and I enjoyed the month of high mileage and big volume workouts leading up to the effort, a month of training that under normal circumstances would have been out of the question for me at this time of year. Big White itself proved to be a good host to us and after suffering through some early days running very hilly routes on the mountain itself, we were rewarded by the discovery of several beautiful (read: FLAT) dirt roads nearby that proved our saving grace for the remainder of the camp. In step with our changing fitness was a marked change in seasons and I enjoyed the near-daily reminders of the coming spring as the snow melted and the leaves came back.
When we returned to Vancouver at the beginning of May it was clear that Spring had come to the coast long ago. The first week back in the city was timed with a long streak of sunny days and warm temperatures, which made for a perfect final phase in the lead up to our time trial. As a venue we chose Burnaby Central, a track facility that is well protected from the wind, quiet, and (crucially) open for public use during the pandemic. The experience of the time trial felt as close to a race I think could be expected under the circumstances, a much-needed reminder of the jitters, intensity, and excitement that make racing so alluring. Similar to our previous outing, the plan was to alternate leading duties between Kieran and myself, with each of us taking 800m at a time. Unlike the last time trial, however, this one would be played out over 25 laps instead of 4 and the enormity of the task ahead was admittedly daunting. With everything beyond the 5000m point a venture into the unknown, our first half was decidedly cautious. We had set out to run 70s/lap and reach halfway in about 14:35 but with the decimal points adding up came through 12.5 laps in 14:45, 10 seconds behind schedule. From here the task ahead still seemed daunting, but we began to find a more confident rhythm and forged ahead. It was here that I became most grateful for a training partner willing to go the distance and the tough middle stages of the race were made much easier knowing that for every 2 laps at the front I would be rewarded with 2 laps tucked in and dragged along. At 8km the end began coming into reach and I found I'd resurged after some slow kilometres through the middle stages. The feeling of racing had come back and I amidst the fatigue I was just thrilled to be pushing myself and competing for the "win", no matter how trivial it would be. I was able to notch the pace down lap-by-lap over the last 2km and came home in a time of 29:10, right on the pace we had set out to run, albeit by a very different means than I'd anticipated. Kieran, for his part, battled home in 29:28, a feat that was all the more impressive in light of nearly two weeks mid-camp hung up with a nagging hamstring injury.
John Eamon Gay