So, we ran around on the Plains of Abraham for 10km. Up and down hills, around trees, sharp turns. People were falling, bumping into each other, getting spiked and entering into that world of exhaustion, that world of pain so unique to this sport. All to figure out who sits where, who is better than who. It can be pretty heart breaking. It can be extremely rewarding. Its cross country: where time doesn’t matter, only the size of your family jewels.
My Coach, John Lofranco, happens to be the coach of two teams right now, Concordia University and Montreal Endurance. To be a successful and competitive runner, you have to be training and competing all year round, which means not only running cross country in the fall, but also competing on the indoor track during the winter and the outdoor track during the summer. Concordia has always been very clear on not wanting to expand the program beyond cross country, so in order for the team to have that year round competition we formed our own club. Early Saturday morning both teams hoped on a nice bus, greeted the friendly bus driver, and began zoning it up for the race.
The course was new this year. I half expected it to be the same course as the one run last year in Quebec City for the 2011 CIS Championships. Having previous experience on xc courses helps a runner navigate difficult parts, knowing what to expect where, and when things will hurt. This year the 2.5k loops (run twice for the women’s 5k, and four times for the men’s 10k) was altered by changing one half of the course from a perimeter type loop around a hilly field to a zig zag course. It went back and fourth up and down and around trees like a McDonald’s line in a crowded Walmart. The tight turns, constant climbing and descending portions, and windy conditions were not at all to my advantage.
I’m a tall guy. I’m skinny too, but in the wind, I imagine myself like a sail catching the gusts and getting thrown about. My long legs and rhythm running can get thrown off with lots of tight turns. I knew this course was going to be tough. I got my jog in on the course, inspecting the turns, getting a feel for the new loop, then did my exercises to wake up the parts of my body that would help me through the more difficult moments of the race. The fast twitch muscles that I always have to bargain with. I told them cookies were on the way. The gun went off, with a crack, and 200 or so runners took off from the starting line in a stampede. The best way I can describe the feeling off the start line is simply survival. Stay on your feet, get out to the front, try not to kill anyone. From the start, the course narrowed alarmingly fast, as hundreds of spectators were slowly inching in on the course to get a glimpse of their sons. We whizzed by probably clipping a nose or two.
From there I established myself in the front, but kept myself tucked in behind. I wanted to win. Staying away from leading, and doing as little work as possible was part of my plan. From the first lap to the end of the third lap, that was what I was focused on. Keeping tucked in out of the wind and relaxing as much as I could. To us, we were running quite conservatively, but after 5k a group of 8 of had separated from the rest of the runners. To the rest of the field, we were running above their heads, so they let us go. I didn’t notice that we had begun the last lap when we did. I had been so focused and so delighted at how relaxed and easy I felt, that I had lost track of where I was in the race. With about 2k to go, I had to yell to a friend to ask him whether it was the beginning of the end. He, and one of my competitors told me it was, and a light switch went on. I surged hard. My plan to win was to make everyone hurt earlier than they wanted to, so I wouldn’t end up in a foot race with someone 100m from the line. So, from 8k to 9k I led alone, trying to run away from my competitors. It didn’t work. They caught me climbing a long hill. I expected they would, and so still following my plan, surged again once we reached the top. This last surge proved to be too much for most. Of the 8 men following me, Charles P-T of Universite Laval and Ben Raymond of Mcgill were the only two with the jewels to hang on for good. I hammered down a steep hill, trying to maintain my lead, we were only 800m from the finish. On the switch back, which was an up hill, things got ugly. My gas was gone, I lost my rhythm on a sharp turn and I could feel Charles breathing down my neck. He started to inch around me. It took another level for me to stay on his shoulder. We got to another corner, 600m to go, and Ben was suddenly right behind me and gathering to go by. I held on, but I started to dread. They were getting ready to close hard, and I had already used my ‘go past go’ cards. We hit one last sharp uphill and I lost contact. In the last 700m or so I went from leading, to third. I finished six seconds behind Charles, 3 or so behind Ben.
I did what I could, I had a plan that I thought would get me the win. In retrospect, I think I pushed too early, I think I misjudged how far I had to go. I learn. I’m happy with my result, third in the province in cross country is my best result yet. Charles has beaten me in every race we’ve gone up against each other. For those who don’t know, he is one of Canada’s fastest 1500m runners, and is a medalist in the 2011 NACAC 1500m, that’s impressive. Ben is a rookie, a first year competitor in the University circuit, but last year qualified and raced at Junior Pan Am Games over 5000m, that’s also impressive. My competitors behind me weren’t pushovers either. Joel Borgeois is a seasoned vet who has made about 13 or so Canadian World cross country teams and is an ex-Olympian. Emmanuel Boisvert always gives me a run for my money, and finished not far behind me.
Quebec along with the rest of Canada, I think, is experiencing a resurgence in running. We saw the early signs at leading up to, and at the Olympics. Canada sent a team of three male Marathoners and two women just missed the standard to go. We had two young men run in the 10,000m, where both had a strong showing. The waves and ripples of the resurgence are us, in only a few years, we’ll be those very names mentioned now and then racing overseas or vying for an Olympic Team spot.
I’m disappointed I beat all but two people. I wanted to win. But I’m happy with my effort, and that I tried all that I could, and that I did what I could to make it honest. Cross Country is a weird sport. We’re all buds. We all experience the same thing, the training, the long hours of running, the gruelling pain of the grind. Its brings us together, though. There’s a commaraderie that exists, that can extend across teams at the end of the season. We all know what it takes.
There’s no hiding in this sport.