Your best days are still ahead of you
You ran the 10K Championship at the Ottawa Race Weekend finishing seventh. You said on your Instagram that you were feeling a little down on your performance there and a bit on your season. How do you feel now capturing the bronze in Winnipeg?
I try to enjoy every opportunity to line up at a national championship feeling relatively fit and healthy. Capturing bronze was certainly a highlight of this season. Although, to be honest, I still feel a little unsatisfied with my races this season, like I never really felt 100%. Maybe my expectations were too high coming off of some surprisingly good races in the winter (I ran 1:13:21 in January), or maybe it is a buildup of fatigue from training, travel and racing, while taking on a lot of other new responsibilities (teaching a course and being a grad rep) in addition to my PhD research. Altogether, I can’t be too upset with my season or the work I put in, but I do feel like there is more there and I hope to prove that in the fall.
How did you feel coming into Winnipeg knowing how competitive the field was for the Championship? Does it enter your head on race day, or is that all just chatter leading up to the event?
It was originally a tough decision whether to race the Canadian 10,000m championships here in BC, or the Canadian Half Marathon Championships in Winnipeg (these races were too close together to do both). We (my coach CJ and I) made the decision (to run the half marathon) before knowing how either field would shape up, and I think it was really important to have confidence in that decision and focus on my training plan, even as more and more competitive athletes announced they were running the half marathon. Honestly, it did enter my head in the weeks leading up to race day, but when I finally arrived in Winnipeg and passed some time hanging out with the other athletes (all of whom are just awesome people) I began to try to live in the moment, enjoy the experience, and just embrace the opportunity to be a part of an incredible group and event. After all, at that point all you can do is give it your best effort when the gun goes.
You run the majority of your races in track, but you have been moving towards adding some road races over the past year. Can you talk a bit about that decision and how you balance the two types of events with respect to your training?
For the past few years, I have been racing a little bit of everything (track, road, cross-country, and trail), but there has been a gradual shift in my primary focus from the track to the road over the years (and more recently a shift in my secondary focus from track to trail/mountain). I think part of this decision to focus on the road came from the realization that I am more suited to longer distances (more than 10K), plus it is easier to balance work and racing on the road (relative to the track) since it is hard to travel and race a lot on the track. Overall, I would say the main draw toward road racing is that I love it. The track is special as well, but I love the atmosphere of large road races and the sheer volume of runners (of different abilities) and spectators. It also feels like I’m starting a new and exciting chapter after years of the standard cycle of fall cross country and summer track. I actually had a really hard time balancing track last summer (I ran a couple 10,000s, which really took a toll on my Achilles). So this summer I’d say I’m not really balancing track and road, I’m focused on road with a bit of trail/mountain training sprinkled in instead. With the Canadian mountain running championships and Red Bull 400 World Championships coming up (in the next few weeks), hill work has become more of a staple in my training. And I think it has been really valuable in terms of fitness and becoming an overall better and more well-rounded athlete.
Are you setting your sights at all towards competing in the Marathon at any point in your career? Does that hold any interest to you, or do you prefer to continue to focus on track and mid-distances?
I do still have intentions to compete and improve at the middle/long distances (5k to half marathon) and I certainly still have goals in that range. But those goals might have to wait. I do plan on backing off my training for a year or so after I finish my PhD in order to focus on (post-doctoral) research. However, before then, I do plan on running a marathon. Essentially, while I am primarily just writing my PhD dissertation (later this summer and fall) I plan to do a marathon build. It seems like a good way to break up the writing.
*NOTE: Since this interview, Robyn ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October finishing with an impressive 2:36:47. Congrats Robyn!
Do you have any pre-race rituals at all? What does race morning look like for you?
Traveling east (from BC) to race is always a bit more difficult. For example, a race at 7:00 AM in Winnipeg means waking up at 4:00 AM (which is 2:00 AM in BC). It’s a bit painful getting up at that time, but it’s really important to be awake a few hours before the race and to get some breakfast in. Breakfast is usually toast, peanut butter, and a banana (super boring). I do some activation exercises before I start my warmup; I start a warmup about 50-60min before the race. The warmup includes ~3-5k of easy running, drills, some 1-2 min pickups (running a bit faster), and strides. I also usually retie my race shoes a few times and, when I’m finally happy with them, I knot them about 4 times. I know that’s crazy.
What was the most personally challenging race you have ever run and why?
Red Bull 400 Whistler (last summer): it’s a 400m race up a ski jump (37% incline). It hurts. And there are heats and finals (so you have to do it twice). On top of that, I already had 2 races in my legs over the past 8ish days. I had run the 5,000m at the Canadian track and field championships, and then a 5k road race because the prize was your weight in beer (apparently my race weight is 78 beers). I think what is so challenging about the RB400 is that it is so painful yet you are moving so slowly, it is really unlike any other race. And if you’ve ever been at a red bull event, you know just how much hype and energy there is. It has a way of getting you to push your body into a zone you didn’t think you had.
If you could travel back in time to the start of your running career, what would you tell yourself?
There are so many things I wish I could tell my rookie self when I started my varsity career. But here are the top 3:
1) First and foremost: always enjoy the experiences; don’t be so wrapped up in the outcomes
2) Look after your health first and foremost. Think about consistency and avoid overtraining, injuries, and make sure you are fueling appropriately
3) Be patient, your best days are still ahead of you