Since my last write-up I’ve been working my way back into fitness preparing for a title defense at the Canadian Cross Country Championships (#ACXC). After the Canadian 5km road championships in Moncton I took a full week off of running followed by two more weeks without workouts. The astute reader will deduce that I’m thus eight weeks back into “full” training, and desperately trying to hammer out this post prior to the starter’s pistol in Ottawa on November 26th. I felt now marked a good time for a brief check-in with you, my dear and deeply invested reader. While fans of the site have doubtless become accustomed to sprawling recaps, unasked-for detail, and an over-reliance on the oxford comma (that one’s here to stay), this post is my attempt at breaking things up into smaller, more focused chunks, just as nature intended.
At the conclusion of each year I sit down with Coach CJ to talk through the past season and lay plans for the one ahead. Looking back over the canon of training and racing we try to decipher what contributed positively to good performances as well as what may have factored into the race results we wish we could change. Overall, this past year has been a mixed bag. Despite personal bests in secondary events and strong early season performances in the steeple I wasn’t able to put together the races I felt I was capable of when it really mattered at the major championships (Worlds, Commonwealth Games, and to a lesser extent the Canadian Championships). In revisiting my training progression throughout 2022 I feel that I got into great racing shape quicker than expected (and off of less specificity than anticipated) but had trouble holding onto the same shape late into the season. While there will never be a perfect diagnosis, CJ and I believe that my ability to get race ready quickly following a heavy aerobic block is reason enough to keep longer sustained sessions like tempo and steady state runs in play even in the final days and weeks leading into key races. I’m finally resigning myself to the reality that, despite my love for flashy race-pace interval sessions, it may be on the humble long runs and mid-week steady states where I’m making my biggest strides.
To that end, these past 8 weeks have been about getting back to basics and doubling down on the heavy stuff. Gone (for the time being) are the double-workouts, triple session weeks, and broken thresholds, in their place a steady diet of sustained-efforts and hills. I’ve begun to approach the grindy sessions as the highlight of my training week and have gained confidence in my ability to settle into a hard rhythm and push. Through it all I’ve been fortunate to have great teammates who are equally dialled into their training. With Chris Taylor’s return from Toronto (in case you hadn’t heard), our Thunderbirds Senior men’s group has grown from three to four, comprising CT, myself, and both Thomas Broatch and Christian Gravel. Though small, the shift from trio to quartet has reintroduced a sense of team into my daily training environment that I thought was lost when I graduated from college running. Working out together week-in and week-out has jelled our group and fostered a confidence rooted in respect for the hard work of my peers. With ACXC circled on each of our calendars all fall long it has been an incredibly fun build up and I’m excited for the anticipation to come to a head this weekend in Ottawa, where I think we return to defend our Senior men’s team title an even stronger force than one year ago.
In addition to my reluctant embrace of steady states, the other frank acknowledgement that I made was with regards to rest. For years I have built much of my self-identity as an athlete around the belief that I can work as hard as anyone. Defining myself in this way reinforced a belief that it was only through constantly pursuing more: more mileage, more workouts, more weight, more days/weeks/months without rest, that I would continue to progress. I eschewed days without running as an option of last resort and even in the final preparation for key competitions battled nagging doubts that I was losing fitness with every additional day of tapered training. Intellectually, I understood that rest was necessary for performance while subconsciously I framed it as a luxury afforded only to athletes more talented than myself. When my competitors backed off, I would press on and only then, I thought, would I be able to compete in a league where I didn’t truly belong. This narrative led me to go many, many weeks at a time without planned respite from training. Too often, days off felt like a punishment, a forced removal from training after a failed workout or niggling injury signalled to my body that I had gone a bridge too far. I had become greedy in my training and resentful of anyone or anything that tried to intervene with my pursuit of more.
By the time my summer season came to an end I had gone 53 weeks without any two consecutive days free of running. Only in retrospect did I become aware of just how tired I had become. As I looked to the year ahead, I sensed for the first time that my trajectory was no longer one I could sustain and resolved to make an intentional course correction. Beginning with my first week of easy running this fall I decided I would commit to a full day away from running every week for 10 weeks. After some careful planning and lots of thought CJ and I found a way to incorporate all of the elements of my typical training week into a 6-day span, leaving Sundays as a day of rest, recovery, and (missing for much of the previous year) a reprieve from thinking about running. While the shift may seem trivial (and probably hasn’t warranted a recap as self-indulgent as this), it has completely reshaped my perspective on training. Not only has the promise of a rest-day each week helped to focus my efforts Monday through Saturday and allowed me to start each week fresher and hungry, it has restored a much-needed balance in my life, relationships, and outlook. Much has been made in biblical teaching of the Godly ordinance for a sabbath. yet it was only by handing over something as dear to me as my running career that I began to understand just how life-giving it could be. A farmer plants his seeds and must then wait for them to flourish; there is an inevitable element of faith and waiting that accompanies any form of growth. For too long I withheld that element of my career from God and tried on my own to force growth through hard work alone. In handing things back to God and trusting in his design I have felt a sense of release from that self-imposed pressure. What's more, I have faith that the LORD's plan for my life is far greater than anything I could achieve on my own.
On that note, I'll leave you with this incredibly grainy picture taken last week at my final big session pre-ACXC. It's the only visual documentation I can find of my training this fall; here's hoping there's some more content to fill the stream by this time tomorrow ;)
ACXC Senior Men's Race - 11am EST (8am PST)
John Eamon Gay