Monday, 7 August 2017

Icarus - My Canada Games Nightmare

In Greek mythology, it is thought that a talented craftsman named Daedalus patented two pairs of wings out of feathers and wax. He made one for himself, and he gifted the other pair to his son, Icarus. Due to a dispute with King Minos, Daedalus feared his life on the island of Crete. The wings were his and his son's only way of escaping the island and finding safety elsewhere. Before handing the wings to his zealous son, however, Daedalus warned him to use the wings with caution. Flying too close to the sun would cause the wings to burn. Icarus, thrilled about the idea of flying high, ignored his father's warnings and fell victim to the hands of hubris. He flew near the sun, his wings got burned, and he harrowed to the ground.


***

"Hey Cyr, what are the odds you actually medal today?" asked Damon MacDonald, sitting at a table in the lounge of floor 11 of Pembina Hall, University of Manitoba's tallest student residence. I looked up from my phone. Eight guys were looking back at me, awaiting my answer. "Uhh, well that's my goal, I guess." I had been caught off guard with his question. I was in the middle of reading the electronic version of The Guardian and The Journal Pioneer's front page sports story of the day: "Alex Cyr Ready to Run at Canada Games", well written by Jason Malloy. He had asked to write a feature on me, so we had spoken for the better part of an hour, two days prior to the article's release. I seemed to be the headliner for our track team at these games.



I remembered reading a similar feature on Connor McGuire in 2013. At the time, he was the one: the saviour, the medal hopeful, the athlete slated to place Athletics PEI on the map. Whether or not he initially believed it to be possible, the idea of medalling at the Canada Games for PEI had been pounded in his brain by coaches and supporters so hard that anything less than a podium finish would come as failure. He was an AUS champion, a PEI record holder, and the face of distance running in our province. There was only one problem: Connor had been injured. His training regime had been strained over the summer, but the expectations remained the same. He had told no one; his supporters found out the hard way. In front of a sea of fans draped in green and white, collectively ignorant to his recent struggles, Connor crossed the line in 10th place, devastated.

I was 17 and mesmerized. From the stands, I wondered if I would ever be the one to bring the entire PEI delegation to the track, in the hopes of witnessing a medal-winning performance. I wondered if I would ever be the subject of an article on the front page of the sports section.

The time was now. I had waited four years, and was now racing in two hours. I had worked on my credentials. I, too, now had provincial records. I, too, had become an AUS champion at St. FX. My times had become similar to Connor's. That was enough for me to confidently believe in my chance at a medal. Rich had told me: "You have beaten many of these guys before, and you can beat anyone in this race on a given day. So why can't you just beat all of them today?" There was the mindset. I was not a favourite to win a medal, but I had a chance at a medal. That's all I needed. That's all PEI needed. A chance. It was enough to get people excited. Enough to get me excited. I had one shot to race well and go down in history with Connaughton and few others as a Canada Games medallist. "Cyr, we're painting your name on our chests, just so you know," continued Damon. I couldn't tell whether he was joking or not. "Can't wait," I said. I was nervous, but confident. With that, I said goodbye to the guys, took the elevator down from our high floor, and as Connor McGuire had done exactly four years ago, I marched on to my death.




***

"2:50, 2:51!" someone called out as I ran through the first kilometre. I was in the lead group, running comfortably. The pace was hot, but it was what it took to make it to the podium. I refused to step off the gas pedal. The second kilometre was, despite my increasing effort level, slower. "5:46, 5:47!" I had run a 2:56. Quick mental math told me that I was still under 14:30 pace. I kept grinding. By the third kilometre, I had slowed to a 3:04. Russell Pennock and company were out of sight. Soon, Brady Graves passed me. Then, Andrew Peverill. The fourth and fifth kilometres were painful. I blew up. I stepped off the gas pedal and pitifully heaved around the track for a few more laps. I crossed the finish line in 15 minutes and 11 seconds: my worst time in years. My placing? 10th. Never had I been so distraught and angry after a race. The only word I could utter: "F*ck." I left the premises. I could not stand people telling me that I had done a great job. I don't know if some people complimented me out of pity or ignorance, and I could not decide which possibility was worse. Disgusted with my performance, the reactions, and myself, I retreated to my residence.

---

I wondered why I had raced so poorly, and why I was so pissed off. Without question, I had an off-day physically. But, I then realized that I had also set myself up for a mental disaster. I had spent four years working on my wings, trying to get closer to my sun of glory. I had become Icarus, and I had flown much too high in a few ways.

-I had abruptly jumped into 3 hard track sessions per week in May, while ignoring the little pains until they became big pains. Rich had no idea I was hurting, because I had not told him. Just like that, I missed a month of training.

-I then came back fast, trying to fit in a whole season of running in the 7 weeks I had left before the games. My body had grown weary.

- I split 2:50 for my first kilometre, having never run close to 14:10 before, because I thought I was fit enough - no, I forced myself to believe I was fit enough.

- Then, I flew too close to the sun in my mental preparation. I stopped feeling hopeful for a medal, and began feeling entitled. I'm not sure how this thought manifested, but it may have had something to do with people's expectations. I consider myself good at blocking out those thoughts, but sometimes they still creep in.

I think my problem stemmed from the fact that I got too caught up in the glamour of winning a medal, and refused to go with the flow in my training. I never modified my expectations for what my body was telling me, or for the time frame I was given after my injury. Then, when I first noticed that my race was not going as planned, and I was slowing down after 2 kilometres, I considered my master plan foiled. One small hiccup and my perfect vision was ruined, and my mindset plummeted. I thought of my chances too good, the possible triumphant moment too great, to miss out on. In the end, I found out that my mental preparation for high-pressure events needs a bit of work.

No better time for a master's thesis in sport psych. I could do it on myself...now that's flying a bit too close.

AC




Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Winnipeg Bound!

Keeping this one short. I promise. Gabe Quenneville has been complaining about the length of these posts. As if he even reads them.

I am leaving the Charlottetown airport tomorrow at 8:00 am en route to Winnipeg, Manitoba for the 2017 Canada Games. After some thought, I will only be racing the 5000m on Friday night, August 4th. I was originally slated to race the 1500m as well, but given the feedback I received from my workouts, I am much more 5000m ready than I am 1500m ready.

After taking three weeks off to heal a hip injury in late May/early June, followed by two weeks of minimal mileage and no workouts, I did not feel very fast. I was able to hold on to a solid aerobic base thanks to the Dalplex's crappy bikes and precarious pool schedule. Coming back to the track, a few workouts helped me find my stride again. I felt fit within two weeks. I still don't feel fast.


That likely has something to do with the way we decided to tackle the training block. With the guidance of Rich I decided that, given the timeframe, it would be best to focus on the 5000m until the games to make the transition into cross country racing more fluid.

During this training block, I hit a few high points, all things considered. I won the Highland Games 5 mile road race, one of my favourite racing events, against a field of strong (albeit banged up) runners. I consistently logged 90-100km without re-injury, and began enjoying it again. The good thing that came out of this injury was the rekindling of my love for the sport. I had been healthy for a long time, and had forgotten what it was like to not be physically able to run. Now, I feel fortunate every time I get out the door, and this feeling makes the workload much more bearable.

Highland Games 5 miler


Another high point within this training block was my run of last Thursday: 22 km in the back roads of Antigonish with some good company. Fragile Scotty D made it to 50 and looked good. Mr. Jathan Neffs went for 60 sporting the classic blue and white striped shorts, and this Eric Gillis guy joined me for most of my run. Talking to him about the future of our program at X is exciting, and makes me wish I'd be around to witness the changing of the guard. I can't wait to see how Eric and Bernie whip the guys into shape this year. Along with Angus' amazing performance at Senior Nats, things are looking good on all fronts.


But, back to the Games. I think I'm ready for a good race, and I'm looking forward to catching up with friends from all over.  Catch my race on Friday night at 6:20 pm CDT (8:20 Atlantic). Here is the link : http://www.trackie.com/track-and-field/TrackieTV/Live/

#PEIStrong
AC

Friday, 26 May 2017

Why I Sucked Pt. III - What Made me Improve

Short answer: Because I was healthy.

***

Longer answer:

Consistency breeds results. Results breed confidence. Confidence breeds consistency in one's methods, I guess. It's like a positive feedback loop. When you're on a roll, it is hard to falter and lose momentum. Think of it this way: when are you most likely to get injured? Maybe this is only true for me, but I always seem to deal with minor pains and strains at the beginning of a training cycle. When I am fresh off a week or two of rest and trying to ramp up mileage or intensity is when my body is more likely to reject the change in training load. Most times, when I make it to the middle of a season with a clean bill of health, I cruise to the end without problem.  I've learned that if one finds a way to begin each season building off the past one without interruption, success, or at least improvement, is likely. That is how I improved over the past years. That is how I ran PBs. But, it is rather when the cycle of consistency breaks, that I leave things to chance.

I let the cycle break after taking nearly 3 weeks to recover after the U Sports 1500m this year. Don't get me wrong: breaks are necessary. But, they have to be done properly. Following this break, I may not have spent enough time in the gym strengthening, or I may have committed errors in the way I tried to ramp up my training load again. It has since been hard to find consistency, results and confidence again. This time, things have not been going my way. A foot problem carried over from indoor season. After taking care of that, my left foot starting hurting again, at a different location. After missing patches of training, I was able to get over this problem and run healthy for 8 days. They were great. But that was not the end. As I write, I am sitting on my porch in downtown Halifax, my abode for the summer, with my legs in the air. I have two icepacks in my vicinity. My summer job starts next week, and my regular training sessions ended last, due to a still-undiagnosed hip annoyance. After a hectic end of school year when running was being balanced with thesis work, classes and senior/graduation events, I now have plenty of time on my hands, and I'm trying to find ways to make use of it. I am very frustrated for two reasons.

1- I decided to move to Halifax for the summer to join Halifast Athletics, in the hopes of running PBs in the 1500m and 5000m, and ride a new fitness to big races such as Senior Nationals and the Canada Games. Though this hope is still well alive, these past two months have done little to reassure me. Other than a strong string of workouts in mid-May, training has, like I said, been spotty. One small injury substitutes itself for another, while I helplessly chase physiotherapists and chiropractors between my rolling and icing sessions. Being injured is being injured, and everyone goes through it, but this timing sucks. I elected to move away from my family and friends on PEI, and away from part of my crew in Antigonish, NS, to blindly move into a new house in a new neighbourhood. At the time of my decision, I still had no job. Put simply, I came here to run. After using my last month at St. FX to have fun and enjoy myself a bit more than usual, the mindset was completely shifted towards running. I wanted to see what would happen if I trained and lived like a professional athlete. Halifax would give me the facilities and 1500m training group that would enable me to do so. As well, moving into a new city would help me escape distractions. For the week I was healthy, things were going smoothly, as planned. I love the training group and environment, as I expected I would. But now, I cannot run, and I am questioning this entire decision.

2- I think my frustration also stems from the fact that I've become spoiled. I was blessed with a clean slate of health, as of late. Since 2015, I was able to compete in every AUS championship and even represent my school on the national stage, after missing my first three AUS races due to anemia and other injuries. I may be the only AUS distance athlete who has medalled in every conference distance championship race thus far in 2016 and 2017.
2016 AUS 1500m - 3rd
2016 AUS 3000m - 2nd
2016 AUS XC - 2nd
2017 AUS 3000m - 3rd
2017 AUS 1500m - 1st

Not because I was better, but because I was on the line and healthy on every occasion. None of my teammates can say that. All had been held back by an injury or burnout at some given time in these last two years. So, maybe this is simply the Regression to the Mean phenomenon in effect. Everyone has their turn. Who knows, maybe this is my turn to be out for a while. The hope that this injury is simply a short term thing like all the others I worked through in this last month, is what keeps me going. That being said, it has been difficult to suck it up and hit the stationary bike after having been away from it for so long. I guess this test is one of discipline.

So now, I'm trying to get myself out of this brooding state of mind. I did not compete for Team PEI at the last Canada Games, and a big goal I set for myself was to be competitive with the best when 2017 came around. The Games are romanticized on PEI, and become a big deal for us. It represented the end of a cycle for me - the end of my undergraduate career. Now, the chance that I make it to the games in peak fitness is shrinking every day. I am trying my best to believe that there isn't a good time to be injured, and that I am not cursed. I could have been hurt for my final XC or track season at St. FX, and that would have been no better. I guess I am writing this to remind myself to stop overthinking about my helplessness over what is to come. We all do it, but it's useless. All we can do is try to maximize our potential one day at a time. I am doing my best to get back on that consistency, so that I can reach a new height, so that I can keep improving. That being said, hitting the shitty Dalplex bikes in 10. See you around.

AC

***

On a more positive note, I want to take this opportunity to send a few birthday shoutouts.

1- (May 26th) This guy is funny and smart and is doing a masters next year to escape the work force so he can have more time to work on his rapping. Happy birthday Scott!


2- (May 26th) This girl is a brilliant, soon-to-be teacher whose excellent taste in sushi is only rivalled by her taste in men. Happy birthday Ellen!


3- (May 26th) This was going to remain a St. FX thing, but I see it's Roman Run Justinen's birthday too. This guy runs fast and can grow a beard and sometimes sends me snapchats. Happy birthday!

(No photo available)

4- (May 27th) This girl's name is Booty K. I miss her and I still don't know her real name. She means business. Happy birthday!