The Jag: An Interview With Alex Cecill

Alex Cecill

by Dalal Tubeishat, Grade 12

Ms. Alex Cecill is one of our Senior School art teachers. This is her sixth year at SMUS teaching such classes as Grade 9 and 10 Art, AP Art History and 3D Applied Design. But Ms. Cecill isn’t just an art teacher. Going all the way back to her university days, Ms. Cecill has been a runner. Beginning as a way to stay fit and now a marathon runner, Ms. Cecill just finished her third marathon – this time in New York City!

This is her journey:

What led you to running marathons?

I started running 14 years ago as a way to get fit while attending UVic. I struggled mightily at first but the sport slowly got under my skin. My first full marathon was in Seoul in 2009 while I was teaching English there. The race was a disaster since I did not know how to train properly, but I was excited to complete the distance. Upon returning to Canada, I joined a half-marathon clinic where I met a lot of new friends and began to really enjoy racing 21.1-km half-marathons. Then trail 50-km ultra-marathons became my favourites. My second full marathon was in Victoria in 2014 where I ran a personal best of 3:27. New York was my third marathon.

When did you decide to actually run in the New York Marathon? How did you qualify?

When I began running the New York Marathon stood out in my mind as the “ultimate” race. I set it aside for years as I completed university, began teaching and pursued other running goals. In February of this year, a good friend persuaded me to enter the New York Marathon lottery online. Many apply for years with no success so when my name was drawn on my first try I took it as a sign that I should go pursue this dream while the opportunity had presented itself. I also qualified by running a sub-1:32 half-marathon in Victoria.

How did you train for the marathon?

I followed a training plan developed by my husband, a coach, beginning in July. Switching from primarily trail and mountain running to mostly roads took some adjusting but I enjoyed the challenge. I ran six days a week with one long run on the weekends and one speed workout (hills, track or tempo intervals) mid-week. I enjoyed being an assistant coach with the SMUS cross-country team in September and October, which added some extra miles and fun to my training!

Have you ever felt like gender was an obstacle in terms of racing? What was the female participation like at the actual marathon?

No, I have felt like a minority in some of the ultra-marathons I have participated in, but that is changing. In New York the participant field was 42% female.

What was your preparation like 48 hours before, and what was coursing through your mind at that point?

Two day prior I was on a plane from Victoria with my husband. My focus was on staying relaxed and enjoying our first New York experience together.

Can you describe the atmosphere at the actual marathon?

Electric! I will never forget the energy from the crowds in NYC. I got more high fives than I have ever received in my life from little kids, old people, police officers, firefighters. All complete strangers who packed the streets of all five boroughs in New York to cheer on 52,000 runners from all over the world. Brooklyn felt like a giant block party – balloons, bands, signs everywhere! I heard, “GO ALEX!” so many times there, before my duct-taped name eventually fell off my shirt. The entire day I felt so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such an incredible display of human spirit.

Running through New York City, how did it feel to run past famous landmarks – or did you even notice?

Running through Brooklyn, packed with families and amazing street art, was especially memorable for me. Then entering Central Park for the last few painful kilometres and seeing my family just before the finish was pretty special.

How do you mentally get yourself through the race? What are you thinking about?

Mental toughness is more than half the battle in distance running. I think it is important to have clear goals going into any race. Have a Plan A but also prepare yourself for Plan B or even C should things not go as planned. For New York, my first goal was to fully enjoy and appreciate being a part of such an iconic race. My second goal was a 3:20-3:30 finish. Maintaining a positive mindset as my quads started to scream around 30k and forced me to slow down was essential. I thought, “Just keep running. Soak in this experience.” That outlook allowed me to finish feeling proud and grateful.

Alex CecillTell us about your feeling when you cross the finish line. How did you feel mentally and physically after the race?

Accomplishment. Pride. Gratitude. Utter exhaustion, mentally and physically. I could barely walk. Runners are forced to keep walking for a few kilometres through Central Park where they pick up post-race food bags and ponchos to keep warm until they can meet up with their friends and families. I wobbled along until a volunteer helped me to the med tent where they stretched out my quads so that I could keep walking. Serendipitously, I bumped into a friend from Victoria while exiting the park and we chatted and hobbled slowly in our blue ponchos together.

What is your support network like? Who supports you in your running and training?

My parents are two of my biggest fans. My mom ran alongside me for a full block in Brooklyn – she was so excited. My husband, Matt, is my biggest supporter, training partner and coach.

I am also lucky to have a huge “running family” in Victoria. Through trail running I have connected with many of my closest friends. We support one another through everything – life and running successes and injury.

You achieved an amazing time! Did it fall within your expectations?

Thank you. I fell a bit short but considering the pain I felt in the last half, I was happy just to finish still running. My first goal was to have an amazing experience and that was most definitely achieved.

Where do you go from here? Do you have another marathon in mind?

I plan to rest and let this experience sink in for a while. It can be tempting to sign up for another race right away but I think it is important to recover fully – mentally and physically. I am looking forward to more trail running and cross-country skiing over the winter. Another marathon is absolutely in my future at some point.

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