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How Leslie Sexton went from DNF’ing to a huge PB

How Leslie Sexton took a rough race and turned it into a huge personal best three weeks later

Leslie Sexton ran a huge personal best on Saturday in Philadelphia, finishing the half in 1:11:20, which is two minutes better than ever before. The runner was hoping to qualify for the Olympics one month ago at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but didn’t end up finishing the race. (She stopped just after 15K.) Wanting to make the most of the fitness she’d acquired over the fall, Sexton entered the Road2Hope and Philadelphia Half-Marathons.

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Sexton said, “The Toronto marathon didn’t go as planned–which was to run a fast marathon there and end the season. Looking back now, I was dealing with a lot of life stress. My coach and partner was in Kingston [she was in London], we were moving, all while I was trying to make an Olympic team. I knew I was fit, but I went in with too many doubts. Mentally, it was not a good day for me. I fell apart pretty early on and I knew it wasn’t worth beating up my body to run a time that I wasn’t happy with. So I stopped at 16K.”

Sexton’s coach and partner, Steve Weiler, went over the outcome of Scotiabank with her, and the pair decided she should use the fitness that she’d built up over the fall–but at the half-marathon distance, not the full. “Hamilton was almost a practice race, as I was moving that week. The real goal was Philadelphia.” Sexton successfully ran a huge personal best and felt great. But she admits she hasn’t run a fresh half-marathon in a long time, so that could be part of it. “I was aiming for under 1:12 and I ran faster than I expected. It was a negative split. It was beyond my A-plus goal for the day.” Sexton ran the personal best despite one minor mistake–she didn’t start her watch. “There were clocks every mile along the way, so it ended up being fine, but I wasn’t able to upload my whole run to Strava. That was too bad.”

Pictured: Leslie Sexton. Photo: Brad Reiter

Looking forward, Sexton won’t run another marathon this year, but she plans to in the spring. “I think that Olympic standard is within my capability, but I don’t think standard is enough to get you to the Olympics any more. Canadian women are running really well,” she says. Rachel Cliff, Lyndsay Tessier and Dayna Pidhoresky have all hit the standard or its equivalent already.

But Sexton says she’s taking the pressure off of making the Games. “That will make the difference going forward. I’m just trying to run the best race I can on the day. I just want to run a race that I can be happy with.”

The couple’s move to Kingston is an exciting one for the local running scene. Sexton and Weiler have joined both the Queen’s University coaching staff and the Physi-Kult running club. They are assistant coaches at Queen’s and will coach both a junior development program and adult club runners.  Sexton says she’s excited to help grow the running scene in Kingston. “London Runner [the club they ran in London, Ont.] is becoming part of Physi-Kult. We’re calling them PK London and PK Kingston.”

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On Sunday I lined up for the Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon, two weeks almost to the minute after I had lined up for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I race I dropped out of less than an hour later at the 16k mark. A lot can change in two weeks. I had a lot of life stress before Toronto and I didn't handle it well. I was also putting pressure on myself to race well and qualify for the Olympics. After only 10k my mental struggles became physical and I felt like I was fighting my own body just to continue. Last Sunday was different. I was far from stress-free (I was racing in Hamilton in the midst of a move from London to Kingston that weekend), but I tried my best not to put pressure on myself to run a certain time. Sunday was just about being on the start line again, going through the routine, and racing hard without expectations. It wasn't another marathon, but 74 minutes is still a lot of time to think, to let doubts creep in, to obsess and beat myself up over past failures and talk myself out of a performance I know my body is capable of. It wasn't a perfect day; I had good patches and bad patches, but I made an effort to stay positive and push through no matter what happened or how I was feeling. There is still work to do but this was a good step forward. @sauconycanada @hamiltonmarathon

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Another notable result from Philadelphia was U Sports cross-country runner-up Anne-Marie Comeau of Quebec City. Comeau ran her marathon debut on the weekend, finishing in 2:41:09 for fourth place. She did this only two weeks after the U Sports championships, where she ran an impressive 8K on a cold and windy day.

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