At 2:30 am this past Saturday morning, a robotic female voice filled the Delta London Armouries hotel, waking the McGill cross country team with a refrain that went something like: “The fire alarm has been pulled. There is no fire. You may stay in your room.” The voice had initially burrowed into our sleeping heads, embedded itself in our dreams until finally we woke with a start and realized what was(n’t) happening. No fire. We could go back to bed.
We joked that the 15 minutes of lost sleep may have cost us the few places we needed to beat Western for bronze at Saturday’s Western International cross-country race.
We – the McGill Martlets – placed a predictable fourth. For the past three years now we’ve come fourth. For the past two years we’ve beat Western on our home course and lost to them on theirs. (Unfortunately it’s them hosting CI’s this year, not us.)
We knew the top Ontario teams weren’t running all their best girls this weekend. We saw speedy smiling veterans in jeans and star recruits absent from warm-up packs. At first we envied these girls. They were resting their legs for future victories and here we were sweating in a very long line for the port-a-potties. (Is there someone in there? Why are there only three? Will there be time enough for me to go a third time? etc) Of course we wanted to race, though, and considering these absences, it could be a chance for us to gain some ground in the National rankings.
Our full team toed the line, though some of us weren’t feeling so confident. From foot injuries to lingering head and chest congestion, we knew we weren’t at our strongest.
We wanted spot on the podium but unfortunately fell short of that goal. And yet, the race was worthwhile because each one of us learned something about ourselves and about our teammates. Sarah McCuaig, queen of the Conservative Start, found herself sprinting with the best of them from the get go. Youngsters Caroline Pfister and Jess Porfilio tested each other’s speed down the backstretch.
That backstretch. Western, if anything, is an exercise in executing one’s “final kick,” the question being of course where, in the 800m home stretch, does one start kicking?
Two years ago at this race I passed a teammate with 400m to go, only to get passed back a couple hundred later.
“Madeleine, if you want to beat me, you’re going to have to pass me earlier than that!” she said. Despite training all season with the same girls, sometimes it takes a race to see how certain teammates will respond at different levels of fatigue.
What was missing for me and for the team on Saturday was a little bit of fire. We were a little timid, a little sleepy even, out there. But give us a few weeks and things will heat up. Come November we’ll be firing on all cylinders and ready to fight like we mean it in London.
Madeleine Cummings is a fourth-year member of the McGill Cross Country team. Her other passions include reading, writing, and candy corn eating.