Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Thoughts of a Hermit

Good things come in twos. Crosby and Malkin, Ernie and Bert, Chuck et Albert etc. That was good enough logic for me to compose this blog in two parts. If you are short for time, enjoy the first half, as the hardware precedes the software. If you want a glimpse of my inner thoughts, hang tight.

First, lets hit up some hard results

May 7th - ANS Open meet - 1500m - 3:56.9
May 14th - Boston New Balance Twilight meet - 1500m - 4:00.8
May 27th - Totally Official PEI All-Comers meet 3000m - 8:30.6
June 22nd - NTL Aileen Meagher Classic - 1500m - 3:52.22
June 24th - East Coast Games - 1500m - 3:52.28

As you can infer from these results, I only really started hitting my stride later in the season. I think there are a few reasons for that. Ever since coming back from my year of sickness and injury, I have gained an affinity for racing. I think this sentiment was a by-product of the motivation that I drew from my rapid improvement. When I began achieving times that my longtime-anemic mind perceived impossible, racing was so satisfying that it almost became addictive. I was warned about the perils of over-racing by some smart people. This awareness helped me make peace with the idea of staying off the racing scene for almost a month following the PEI open meet. The decision payed dividends. After four weeks of rounding the StFX track, DJ O'Regan and I began our road trip towards Halifax.

Aileen Meagher Classic

This was my first time competing in the International Section of this NTL meet, and the experience was great. I lined up with the second slowest seed time in the field, but I was not intimidated. In the weeks leading to the race, I had the pleasure of training with John Corbit, who has gone 3:47 for the 1500m. Going from training with a group of guys that I consider equivalent to me in terms of speed, to training with someone considerably faster than me pushed me to a new intensity during workouts. By training with John, I came to know what to get ready for, so the competition itself did not startle me. And it shouldn't have anyway. We split 800m in 2:06. Pedestrian for them, very manageable for me. I ran most of the race in the vicinity of Little Peverill (Brother of Big Peverill), Jean Marc Doiron (alias coach JMD) and Will Russell (alias Wu-tang Will). As the pace intensified in the last lap, I found myself chasing Jean Marc, and his presence helped me kick in the last 100m. This brought me to a new PB of 3:52.22, and put me in 6th place in the strong field of 9. I also finished 4 seconds behind Mike Tate, who won the race. Last time we raced a 1500m, I think he beat me by 12 seconds. Based on my research, assuming the trend of me gaining eight seconds on Mike stays consistent, I will beat him by 4 seconds next time, and by 12 seconds the time after that. Better stay down in Utah and far away from me, buddy. Big thanks to Will, Lizzy, and Michaela "Orange Blur" Walker for their hospitality. Maybe I should thank Rusty Matt McNeil as well, I don't know. Need a source on this. 

With Olympian Jenna Martin
After 2 shiny new PBs
A bit of post-race debrief

East Coast Games

After a fun night with the Dal crew, DJ and I grabbed our new PBs and fled for Saint John, NB to meet with the MacMackins at the track for a little shakeout practice. Tell you what, there is nothing I wanted more than to get dropped by Nick like a sack of PEI potatoes on some 100m strides after a 4 hour car ride. Unofficial 11.7 wind-aided 100m for him. I definitely did not crack 12. We then retreated to Quispamsis for the night. I was amazed by two things. The first was the amount of deer that hang out in their backyard. The second was how closely his mother Patti follows track and field. She is an encyclopedia (shoutout to Patti if you are reading this)! Love you Mom, but you have some catching up to do. 

Fast forward to the race. Meet Director Bill had assembled a field that had to be one of the strongest ones Atlantic Canada had produced in years. Graves, Grimshaw-Surette, Doiron, MoSpeed Pellerin, Russell and MacMackin, among others toed the line. The pacing was brought to us by both Mr. BSL, and the author of the well-acclaimed best seller, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown. Like on Wednesday, we crossed the 800m mark in around 2:06. From there, I took the lead. For a while, I thought I had taken the field by surprise, as I wasn't hearing anything behind me. Little did I know, Wu-tang Will was creeping up on my shoulder, and passed me with a lap to go. With 150m to go, he still had the same gap on me when I saw Nick's pain-distorted face pass me, then Will. At this point, it became an all out kick match. Somehow, though slower than 11.7, my last 100 gave me the win in 3:52.28, edging Nick by just a hair. Gotta say that it was a cool feeling to win in a field so close in speed with a good amount of people in the stands. While cooling down, I came to the realization that this was one of the moments I will think of whenever I catch myself wondering why I do it all. I had just won a strong race, and a fun night with the whole racing crew was awaiting me. It made the last few months feel worthwhile. I think this ties in well with part 2.

Part 2

Warning: This is a rant/ramble. As a runner, I get to interact with many other runners. A major topic covered in conversations is training habits/methods/purposes. This is my elaboration on the topic of commitment to training. This passage is however blind to the issue of injuries. If any injured people are reading this, the perspective is definitely different. I think I voice my most concise opinions when I write them down, so this is just as much for me as it is for anyone else. Feel free to read and opine!

"Do you have what it takes to make it to the next level?" As beings of the 21st century, we have all heard this phrase that gets thrown around by hockey coaches, strength trainers and so on. So much so that it has almost lost its punch, its meaning. Because of its overuse, this phrase only represents a vague idea that is lost in translation between the messenger and the receiver. These so-called levels should be defined to the seeker. If not, the question itself is empty. While at different magnitudes, I think anyone has what it takes to improve. What some people may lack, however, is the ability to understand how to do so, or even the ability to commit to the idea. So, when trying to separate "the men from the boys" or whatever tacky expression these same hockey coaches use these days, the question should be remodeled. It should be "Do you know how to get to the next level, and if so, do you want to do it?" A bit less ring to it, but far more accurate..

Two months ago, by committing to this idea of placing more importance into my running, I gave myself an opportunity to reach one of these "next levels." Instead of going home to my family, I decided to keep living under the roof of 18 Greening, in Antigonish. Instead of applying for full time work, I opted for a part time job that is easy on the body. Why these changes? My choice of lifestyle at the time was widening the gap between how much attention I was attributing to my running, and how much attention I WANTED to attribute to my running. Lately, I made the conscious decision to invest myself more into my training. I started choosing good meals over bad ones, choosing sleep over nightlife etc. By no means do I make every right choice, but I am improving in my consistency.

Going from one level to the next in terms of investment made me ask myself the same two aforementioned questions. The first: Do you understand how you could take it to the next level?
My answer included some broad concepts (include more strides, pay more attention to your pre/post run routines, go to sleep earlier) and some more specific ones (ditch Kraft Dinner). I did not make vows, I just set some general guidelines for myself to try and follow, most of which I had never payed attention to before this training block. 

The second: Now that you know how to do it, do you want to do it?
My answer was yes. This part was tricky. Anyone can convince themselves they are going to be dedicated to their plan, sticking it out for months is another story. That is when the understanding part becomes important. If you know why you are doing something, you will be more motivated to do it. 
If it sounds this way so far, be advised that this ramble is not about, or meant to come across as, something along the lines of "what it takes to become a champion." Far from it. In my own terms, I am not a champion (a champion is invested at 100%), so the last thing I want to do is to instruct others on "how to become one" when I have not yet experienced the required commitment for myself. I have, however, noticed a trend in my attitudes towards running. I am slowly beginning to attribute more importance to it, in a healthy way. My current level of dedication is making me happy. Simply put with the help of arbitrary numbers, being 60% invested into running made me happiest in my second year. Being 70% invested into running made me happiest in my third year. Being 80% invested into running is making me happiest now. 

After exploring this concept of self-reflection for a while now, I notice that what an athlete should strive to avoid is disconnect between desire and the actions taken. Everyone has probably encountered a person who dreams big, but cannot produce big results because they do not make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their goals. To use an arbitrary numbers example, they want to run times that they could achieve if they were 80% dedicated, but they are in fact only 50% dedicated. Another example of the disconnect would be an athlete struggling to reach their goal because they are actually doing too much, and it is hurting their short term and long term development. Another thing I notice from interacting with members of either side is that neither is satisfied with their experience with running. The troubling part is often that an athlete on either side cannot recognize the disconnect. Once an athlete can realize they are not doing what it takes - again, not to "be the greatest," but to reach their goal - they become aware. Once someone is aware they are not doing the right thing to make them reach their goal, they will change that. This is why awareness is so important.

The reason I bring this up, is because I believe I have finally adopted a completely healthy approach to my running. Because I am aware of what I am doing, and aware that I want to do it, the questions about priorities stop. I know how invested I want to be, and respect that desire. This provides me with mental consistency and purpose. Before making a commitment to searching for the next level, one should try their best to comprehend what this level entails. Improvement does not come by wish or prayer, nor does it come with overworking. I think everyone should take the time to ask themselves these two questions. Do I have an idea what to do in order to reach higher? If so, do I want to do it?

Try it if you’re bored. If you made it this far, you definitely are.



  1. Good solid comments Alex. Yes, "the next level" is a bit of a cliche, but in fact there are a few more levels, and you have to at least acknowledge them if you are ever going to get there. One step at a time-3:48 next year and 8:15, thats another small level. But from there, you can see 3:45 and 8:00 as possible rather than vague goals.

    good luck.PS Come to Ontario for 1500m night next year!

    1. Thanks! Looking at those end times in steps makes it easier to fathom... 1500m night is on the radar for sure!!