On Friday evening for Canadians, early Saturday morning for the runners in Doha, Lyndsay Tessier took herself from 52nd of 68 runners to ninth in the World Championships marathon. Tessier was an unlikely bid for top 10 at the World Championships–she had never been on a Canadian team, let alone to a World Championships. She has a full-time teaching job, she only started running just under a decade ago, and she’s a masters athlete. But nevertheless, she landed herself ninth, which also achieves Olympic standard. Placing top ten at the World Championships is the equivalent of running the Olympic standard of 2:29:30.
Tessier’s race plan was, in a word, conservative. She said her main goal was to make it to the finish line without hurting herself. “Typically I don’t go into races with rigid plans. On race day my preference is to run intuitively, because I know where my fitness is, and I feel confident in Steve’s [Boyd’s] planning, and so I work within that range during the race. Doha, however, was different–I’ve never encountered conditions like that, much less tried to race in them. So Steve and I had a realistic chat and decided to go out about 15-20 seconds slower than race pace. No faster. If I was feeling alright in the last 10K, I could play with those paces a bit.”
This conservative race plan was partly born out of fear. Tessier said for the first time in her life she was not looking forward to the race. The runner’s fears were valid, as many women were unable to complete the 42.2K due to the extreme conditions. “For the first 24 hours after arriving in Doha, I was afraid I wouldn’t finish. I’m sure nerves compounded that feeling, but just walking around, the air felt oppressive. During shakeouts my ears would clog with my own sweat. I love racing marathons, but for the first time, I was not happily anticipating one.”
Tessier’s conservative plan worked perfectly to combat the nerves and the conditions. As runners dropped due to heat exhaustion (ultimately more than half the field wouldn’t finish), Tessier slowly made her way up in the group. She resisted the urge to get carried away in the first half, consumed more fluids and calories than she was initially inclined to, and ran the best race of her life. “Ultimately my race plan was to run a race that I could respect afterward–meaning running with self-discipline, patience, and a complete absence of ego.”
— alan brookes, CRS (@alnbrookes) September 27, 2019
The runner doesn’t think there was really any way to prepare for the conditions, outside of living in Qatar. “I know women who trained at altitude, women who used a sauna in their training and women who trained for long periods of time in warmer climates. I’m not sure if they were any more or less successful than those of us who didn’t, with regard to handling the conditions. I think the best preparation was to be realistic about your fitness and then to adjust pacing accordingly.”
Tessier’s biggest takeaway from the championship is the importance of a team. Having started running later in life, she didn’t experience running in high school or university on a varsity team. “All I’ve known [in the running world] is marathoning, which is largely a solo endeavour. I now realize being part of a team is invaluable and enhances running in profound ways. I learned so much from the other athletes on the team regardless of our differing disciplines. Everyone had something to offer and wisdom to impart that I grabbed onto. I completely understand the phrase “it takes a village” now. It truly does.”