Today I’ll be including my training log entry for November 21, 1987, but this date deserves a story too.
In 1987, before the rise of Africa’s female distance runners (who are just as talented as the men), Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen was a distance star whose achievements towered above those of any of her contemporaries. She was the world record-holder at 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon.
Though there were other world-class runners entered in this IAAF 15K Road Race Championship for Women, Ingrid was, without a doubt, the favourite.
Was I nervous about competing against her? No, of course not. Kristiansen was in a class by herself and I knew that soon after the starting gun I probably wouldn’t see her except on the switchbacks of the three-lap course of this 15K race. What preoccupied me the most was whether I would be able to complete the race at all. My ankle was still sore. Immediately before the race, a doctor administered a local painkiller, and I also took a couple of Ibuprofens.
The race started at 2 p.m. It was a lovely day in Monte Carlo. The ocean sparkled beside the road parallel to the beach that was our race course. The temperature was ideal for distance running—cool but not freezing. Huge crowds thronged every part of the 5K loop. After all, this was a World Championship and people in Europe are appreciative fans of distance running. Prince Albert of Monaco, president of his country’s Athletics Association, was the spectator of honour (he may have fired the starting gun; I don’t remember.)
The minutes after the gun goes off are always scary when a large crowd of fast runners are together. I was soon relieved, though, that I could barely feel my ankle and could run with a normal running style. Kristiansen shot off at a frightening pace, closely followed by some very young, inexperienced, barefooted African girls and a couple of the other top-ranked competitors. I hung back, concentrating on running relaxed at my own pace.
At the 1K mark, Kristiansen was already alone. The African girls were fading badly. A small group of top runners were still close to Kristiansen; Aurora Cunha of Portugal, Ekaterina Khramenkova of Russia, Italian Maria Curatolo and perhaps one or two others. I was some distance behind this group, but with a 1K split of 3:15, which translates to a 32:30 10K or a 48:45 15K, I knew I was on the right pace. Pacing has always been one of my greatest strengths as a runner and this race would prove to be another example of that.
We had to do two hairpin turns on each 5K loop; this was the only time I noticed my sore ankle, and had to make my turns wide. Just after the completion of the first 5K loop, I caught and passed the entire “following group”; Ingrid was far ahead in the distance. I had run the first 5K perfectly on pace, at 16:15, and was now in second place.
I couldn’t relax, though. After a minute or two, Curatolo made the effort to join me, and we were soon running side by side. The pace gradually became harder and harder. A few times I tried to break her, without success. As we went through 10K in 32:30, still together, I questioned how I could possibly hold on for another 5K. The pace was now agonizing. I kept reminding myself to relax as I could feel my legs getting weaker and my breathing getting faster.
Curatolo broke first. At 12K, without increasing my pace, I built up a 50m lead on her. Desperately concentrating to hold my pace, I looked at my watch constantly to tell myself I could hang on for nine more minutes … eight … seven … Finally I could see the finish line. I had to do one more painful hairpin turn before the line. Awkwardly I negotiated the turn and sprinted with everything I had, knowing this time would be a PB and a Canadian best, and every second would matter to me. I crossed the line in 48:53, utterly exhausted and completely happy. My grimaces of pain soon turned into smiles of triumph and relief. Within minutes I was hugging Kristiansen and shaking hands with Prince Albert!
I have a CBC VHS tape of this race with the inimitable and dramatic Geoff Gowan doing the commentary. The part showing Kristiansen’s finish, and then mine, always makes me cringe and laugh at the same time. Kristiansen obliterated Grete Waitz’s previous 15K World Best (47:53) that day with a time of 47:17. On the video, she appears only slightly tired at the finish line, and is soon flashing her trademark friendly grin at all the spectators and media people.
I, on the other hand, arriving at the line over a minute and a half behind her, can barely stand up as I stagger through the finish chute holding on to the ropes. Gowan’s comment was, “And now we see an athlete who’s given absolutely everything.” He was right; but I recovered quickly!
I would like to conclude my story with some comments about Ingrid Kristiansen. I admired her enormously; not only for her incredible strength and speed, but for her friendly, generous personality. Except when she was concentrating during a race, she always seemed to have a grin on her face. She projected confidence but never arrogance, and was unfailingly gracious and modest in her victories. Also, she was unusual amongst elite runners because she always seemed perfectly relaxed, rather than uptight, before races. She exuded the sense of enjoying life, and running, with her “humour” button always turned on.
November 21, 1987
PM: World Championships 15—Monte Carlo. Came 2nd in PB 48:53! Ingrid 47:17, Maria Curatolo 49:15. I beat many excellent people! Tendinitis hurting a lot in warmup, getting worse in 2nd half of race but didn’t hurt my performance. Jogged back to hotel later. About 12½ miles total.
Note: I have decided to continue this training log on the Home Page of this blog. I hope to update the blog every day with the day’s training notes; they will all be found under the category “Olympic Training Log.”