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.