This Saturday the McGill Martlets competed at the UNB/STU/Interlock Open in Fredericton, New Brunswick. McGill rarely competes in the Maritime provinces, but for some of us, the course at Odell Park was trodden territory. Sarah McCuaig and I had run the meet three years ago as rookies and Jessica Porfilio ran the CCAA XC Championships there as a CEGEP student. Much time was spent on the bus arguing over the course’s difficulty level. But more on that later.
After a long and rowdy bus ride we searched en masse for a place to eat. At this point it was about 8:30 P.M., which might as well be 11:30 P.M. in Fredericton. The first restaurant we tried refused to serve us after they learned that one (one!) of our team members was under 19. Our coach was with us and we tried telling the waitress that drinking alcohol wasn’t in our rookie’s pre-race routine, but they would have none of it. In their minds, our matching red tracksuits were part of an elaborate ruse deigned to dupe an innocent establishment into serving minors. We ended up at a Swiss Chalet, which had run out of ribs, soup, and had only nine chickens left in the kitchen.
The temperature the next morning was cold and deciding what to wear took much longer than usual. The problem with packing gloves and arm warmers is of course that they increase the number of clothing-combinations available. Our dilemma would make an excellent SAT math question:
“Mary Martlet is choosing an outfit for a cross-country race. She can choose from 3 top options (singlet, singlet + long sleeve, singlet + arm warmers), 3 pants options (shorts, ¾ tights, long tights), and 4 accessory options (headband, gloves, head band + gloves, none). How many different outfits can Mary wear?”
We picked up the team title and had fun cheering our boys on from various points of the course. One of the best parts of being a female cross country runner is watching the boys traverse the same hills you’ve just done, knowing that a) they are now suffering while you are not, and b) they’ll have to do those hills at least twice as many times as you did. But of course, we’d gladly take the extra k’s if they were offered, especially during the middle of an endless February indoor track season.
We picked up the team W with a pared-down squad but none of us was able to out-run the top two AUS competitors, UNB’s Frida Aspnas and Dal’s Holly Van Gestel. Audrey-Anne Henri made a courageous 5k debut and Alison Barwick and Jullien Flynn managed to both beat their 5k times from September’s Western International (an easier course, we think.)
As a rookie in 2009 I ran a disappointing 19:53 in Fredericton, which solidified the race course in my memory as unusually difficult. Looking back I remember: uneven grass, misleadingly steep hills, ankle-threatening rocks. Going into this race, I essentially created another competitor out of the course – a slightly soggier, but nonetheless familiar foe that I was determined to get the better of this time. I managed to do it by running the course in 18:21, but there were definitely a few quiet moments during the race where I consciously faded, knowing I was relatively safe in my position. As for the course terrain itself, the grass was manageable and hills not unlike Mount Royal’s. The ankle hazards on kilometre five were as threatening as I’d remembered and it’s a miracle our team experienced no sprains.
Reflecting on this race makes me wonder how previous same-course experiences influence the way we approach races mentally. And how much does a home-course–advantage really matter? Something to think about.
The next race on our horizon is the RSEQ championships in Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham, a course all of us have encountered at one point or another. It will be exciting to finally race together as a full team again. Our hope is that during the next two weeks, all lingering ailments and injuries will fade as fast as the sun does during practice these days, leaving us fresh, rested, and ready to roll our way to London.
Madeleine Cummings is a fourth-year member of the McGill Cross Country team. Her other passions include reading, writing, and candy corn eating.