My 2014 campaign started early with my training and prep beginning way back in October of 2013. It was by far the best winter of training I've ever had. 5 years into Uni and I had finally managed to find some sort of balance between school and training! Moving into January I was in the best shape of my life getting through three 40km+ walks, a handful of quick 30k sessions and some PB speed sessions, including a 48:01 12km tempo, and a 31:30 8km tempo to name just a couple. With my major race being in May I knew being this fit in January was going to bode well for the rest of the shortened year.
The first race was at the end of February in Chihuahua, Mexico. Feb didn't go as smoothly as Jan had as I was rudely interrupted with midterms, and then a post-midterm sickness. But I was able to get away for a week and spend reading week in Dallas training with Inaki, Ben and Jared Tallent which brought my spirits back up and I went into the race feeling confident for a good result. The plan was to fight from the front and force everyone else to race my race. I hadn't raced an international race this way before and it turned out to be the most fun race I'd ever had. I spent a large portion of the race up front forcing the pace and with 3km to go I tried to push for home, knowing I didn't stand a chance against some of these guys if it came down to a sprint finish. I came up a little short in the end and faded to 5th in 1:23:30 but I was still very happy with the race. The time was my 2nd fastest ever and a PB effort considering the 1400m elevation. I had a new confidence in racing that I hadn't had in many years and I was eagerly looking forward to what the rest of 2014 had to offer.
In April things got pretty stressful as I was writing the last 4 exams of my undergrad and trying to stay in good enough shape for World Cup at the beginning of May. There were a lot of days where training was missed and a lot of sub-par sessions but I had no time to think of that (I was treating it as an extreme taper!). I finished my last exam on the 29th and flew to China on the 30th. My 2 walks before the race in China were pretty average but I was staying positive, I knew we had a chance for a good team result and it was going to be a fast race so I figured I could come away with a PB.
It turned out the race conditions were absolutely perfect (rainy and cold... exactly the same as all those great January and March sessions in Vancouver!). Pre-race was the most calm and focussed I had been for a big race. I just kept telling myself the work was done, and now I got to reap the rewards. The atmosphere on the start line was awesome with people singing along to One Direction and then the gun went off. The first few Km were quite hectic with such a big field but after that things settled down and I went through 5km in 46th position in 20:27. I knew that most of the guys in front of me couldn't sustain their pace, and I had plans of speeding up, so I wasn't worried. By 10km I knew this would be a special race, I was feeling great still and went through in 40:18 (19:51) but was still way back in 32nd. I knew that I was going to go under the Canadian record, only at that point I was the 3rd Canadian, it was going to be a battle! Between 10-15km I dropped another 19:50 (1:00:07) and moved up alongside Inaki and Ben into 16th. The last 5km I started to slow a little bit but I was still catching people as Inaki and I walked virtually side by side. It wasn't until the last couple hundred metres that I was able to pull away finishing with a time of 1:20:13, a new Canadian Record. I crossed the line and turned around to immediately see Inaki and Ben come across the line. This was one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of Canadian Race Walking. All three of us had broken the existing record by 45+ seconds and we knew we'd have a chance for a team medal. Finding out that we had finished 4th, by 1 point to 3rd place Japan was initially quite agonizing, it took a bit of time before I was able to switch the phrasing in my head from "O, so close" to "Holy shit, we just came 4th!". I ended up 11th overall (although there is a dirty Russian in front of my awaited a bio passport sanction, so hopefully that will be 10th soon enough) and this was definitely the highlight of my career so far.
If you are so inclined, here is the race, starting from about the 8km mark:
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The race started off incredibly slow as it was a large group competing on a very tight 1km circuit. After 5km or so Inaki and I found ourselves at the front of the group trying to reel in one of the athletes who had gone off the front. This was a huge mistake for me as my knee was still giving me issue and I picked up 2 bent knee warnings in this first 5km. From that point on it became a race of survival. I needed to not get DQ'd to have a chance of finishing in the money of the challenge but I also knew I had to pick up at least a couple of points in the race as well. I slid to the back of the group and my thinking for the next 10km every step was, "don't get DQ'd, don't get DQ'd"... Not the best mantra for positive thinking.
By 15km the pace had steadily picked up and when I snapped back into focus I realized I was still in contention for a good placing despite the 2 warnings and was feeling great. In the last 5km I managed to pass a few people and catch up to Inaki. We talked briefly and I let him know my situation, I was feeling good but had 2 cards and was afraid to push it too hard. He and I walked together for the last 5km and in the final strides he actually let me beat him because the extra point in the challenge for finishing 8th would help me and would do nothing for him. Talk about an amazing teammate! It wasn't until the post race analysis that I realized I had still walked 1:21:53 and closed the last 5km in 20:06. This was about the same I closed in Taicang, but in much worse conditions and under intense technical stress. It was also my first 20km as a senior where my last 5km was my quickest! For a race that seemed doomed early on I was able to take a lot of positives away.
Expectations weren't particularly high going into Nats as I had only managed to get through 330km in June, none of which was of any extraordinary quality. In fact I'd say a lot of it was downright poor, as my two 10km tempo walks were 42:20 and 41:50. However Nationals and I have had a very good past, I broke the CND Jr. record in 2009; qualified for Commonwealth Games in 2010 with a 20km track race where I made standard by 1.8 seconds; in 2011 and 2012 I set PBs despite the 1000m of Altitude in Calgary. Then in 2013 I had to tie my shoe late in the race and lost out on what would have been a PB, so I was pretty determined to get back on a positive note in 2014. The course in Moncton is very nice 1.25km loop and the race was being touted as one of the premiere events of the meet, along with the Shot Put taking place in the middle of the course, so Ben, Inaki and I wanted to make it a good race. We went out harder than we should have going through the first loop in 5:04 before settling in to 5:10s for a few laps. Early on I noticed that I was dictating the pace and Inaki and Ben were following my lead so I made a conscious effort to pick it up and try to build a bit of a lead. It worked and I was able to build a substantial lead quite quickly and went through 10km in 41:00. Still feeling good I continued to accelerate, covering 10-15km in 20:15. I knew the Canadian Champs record was mid 1:21 so the goal became to try and get that. However racing on my own and my probable lack of fitness eventually took its toll and I faded over the last 3 laps, finishing with 1:21:57. All in all it was a pleasant surprise to not be feeling very fit and still walk a time that was basically a minute quicker than my PB a year ago.
Next week I will recap the 2nd half of my season, so if you managed to make it through this... Good on yah!