Season’s end: a few thoughts

Here are a few thoughts after the Quebec Cross Country Championships this weekend in Chicoutimi. The weather was perfect, there were examples of how the people of Quebec love distance running, and some examples of how distance runners are great people. (Post photo is of Xavier Bertrand, who won the Midget Boys race for his 5th consecutive provincial XC title.)

I wandered out of the Auberge Le Parasol Saturday morning to find something to eat. Just across the street was a small local diner that looked promising. I walked in to find François Pap and the UQAM team seated and waiting to order, and the lone hostess/waitress/chef looking alarmed as her normally quiet diner was full of hungry runners. She gamely took their orders as I slid up to the counter to wait my turn. Then something wonderful and surprising happened. Three of the UQAM girls turned to the woman and asked if she needed any help in the kitchen! Of course, the proprietor accepted, and the three university students were in the back, slicing fruit, buttering toast and setting up plates. They brought out breakfast for their teammates. Coach Pap even got in on the action, passing around with the coffee pot, offering refills. Here are the ladies:

We got to the race site around 9am, and it was already buzzing with the usual race-day energy. I recognized the new director of Athletics Quebec, Laurent Godbout, chatting with Felix-Antoine Lapointe, head coach at Université de Laval. Listening to these guys talk fills me with great hope for our sport. Laurent is passionate about his new job, and is already working hard, shaking things up, and it’s going to be good.

Felix meanwhile does his best work on the coaching front, motivating runners like Jean-Samuel Lapointe, who won the senior and university men’s race. J-S was nowhere to be found on our top ten prediction (due to the fact that he had not raced well this fall—not because we did not believe in him!), but he was moved and decided he was going to win. And he did.

The way a coach experiences race day is different from the way the athlete experiences it. As a runner, you’ve got your performance to worry about, and also the team score, but it’s usually a pretty focused day, a day focused on you. The coach on the other hand, is caught in the bind of having several people to worry about, and being powerless to do anything to control what goes on.

Usually, a group will have a few good performances, and a few bad ones, and most people (hopefully) do about as well as you hoped. Sometimes people really surpass themselves. Lapointe’s win probably falls into that category. There was another guy who was not in the top ten who bulled his way up to 8th place, not quite conference all-star (that honour was reserved for University of Laval runners, or Olivier Lavoie!), but still likely the performance of his career, in his last conference race for Concordia.

Sofiane Guend pretty much ran his balls off, which is tough to do, considering how big they have gotten recently. When Sof first emailed me about coming to Concordia 6 years ago, I was really excited because he told me he’d run 17:30 for 5k and 4:30 for 1500m. I thought he was a girl. Turns out that was not the case. He was a quiet kid from Madison, Wisconsin, who has grown into quite the man. He’s always done the training as planned, and gotten a little better each year, but last fall he made a pretty big jump in fitness. I asked him what he was doing differently. He said he was sleeping properly. Instead of staying up late playing video games, he was getting to be by 10 and getting up at 7. He also got a job as the manager of the G-lounge, a restaurant on campus, and that helped him focus as well. This season, he consolidated those gains, kept working hard in practice, and had a nice breakthrough in Chicoutimi. Not only did he out-kick his teammate Ryan Noel-Hodge, he managed to beat former teammate and now Vert et Or rival, Simon-Malik Giroux. As teammates, and competitors, these two always brought out the best in each other.

There’s nothing like a good rivalry in racing. Sometimes though, a runner’s own worst enemy can be herself. That might have been the case with Dominique Roy for the last year. Beset by a variety of injuries that prevented her from having the confidence to race as hard as her fitness should have allowed her, Dom decided this fall, after getting healthy in the summer, to re-learn how to race, and re-learn how to hurt. At the Western International she had her first taste of real competition in a while, and it was a good experience, but with some challenges. At the Cross des Plaines, she went in with a bold plan of trying to run with the leaders as long as she could, to make herself hurt, and then deal with it. She ended up as the 4th university runner that day, behind Catherine Cormier, Jessica Porfilio and Sarah McCuaig. Heading into Chicoutimi, she figured if she could start a little more conservatively, she might be able to move up into third spot. The addition of Manon Letourneau to the field made a podium spot a bigger challenge, but instead of focusing on the external factors she could not control, Dom stuck to her race plan (conservative, then aggressive) and went after it anyway. She achieved her goal, winning a bronze medal for Concordia, against some really great runners.

It was a great day for racing. For me, as a coach, I love nothing better than to see athletes set a plan, and execute it well, regardless of where that puts them on the results sheet. It’s clear that good things are happening in Quebec distance running. Guys like Godbout and Coach Lapointe have goals, too, and are planning and executing on their end. Another name worth mentioning is Eric Janvier. This fall Eric coached the University of Montreal’s running club to a few solid results. This is not the first time UdeM has entered cross country runners. There always seems to be a lack of interest on the part of the university administration. But Eric is a positive, up-beat young guy, who won’t take no for an answer. With the addition of the Good Samaritain UQAM team this year, the RESQ cross country circuit is up to seven schools. University of Montreal would make it eight. Good things are happening. Let’s keep it going!