Wednesday, 2 December 2009

P-K at Nats X-C and November Performance of the Month

This post finds us at the end of the 2009 X-C season and, indeed, the end of the Canadian running season itself. There are, of course, a few brave little winter races out there (not including on the far Left Coast, where there the racing goes on all season); but, the season that began in the cold winds of late March and continued through the heat of summer and into the crispness of fall has now ended, as it always does, in the muddy gloom of late November-- a gloom that is brightened only by the brief flash of colour that is the Canadian cross country championship season, culminating in the national championships themselves.

This year's edition of the event was brilliantly hosted by the Speed River Track Club/University of Guelph, as it had been for the previous two years, and will be again for one last go-around next year. The U of G, under the leadership of Head Coach Dave Scott Thomas (DST), has now become the undisputed center of elite Canadian distance running; so, it is symbolically appropriate that it should have been granted an unprecedented double term as host of the national X-C championships, which is really the championships of distance running itself in this country, being the only time all of the main contenders, junior and senior respectively, are assembled in a single race. But the Guelph boys have not been content with mere symbolism. DST, with the able assistance of race director Chris Moulton and a host of young athletes and running enthusiasts, has created a set of championships that will be recalled for decades to come for their top-to-bottom quality and attention to detail-- from a superb, runner and spectator friendly course, to expert announcing and on-line media coverage, to the sport's best all-ages after-party, all within walking distance of race hotels! The Guelph boys have delivered a string of championships for the ages, and have set the standard for all future editions of this event. (The only respect in which they can be considered bad hosts is that they never allow any other club near the senior mens' team title!)

As for the P-K group, we had what could be called a good day-- good, but not great.

In the team category, leading the way were the men's 40-49 group, which defended its title in this division, albeit by a scant 37 seconds, following a correction in the results, which originally showed the Toronto Olympic Club in 5th place, some 7mins behind. The win was nice, but the margin of victory was unacceptably small, considering the quality of male over-40 athletes in the group. It is hoped that this will be remedied next year, and made amends for by victories in the men's 50-59 and women's 40-49 categories. The challenge is on!

Next came the junior boys team, which finished 2nd in a very deep field of 20 teams-- a performance intrinsically superior to that of the masters men. As it happened, none of the boys had his best day individually, with no one managing to crack the top 15. As a group, however, they were deep and strong, with none giving up under pressure. All team members are Kingston-based, marking the first time a team from the city has medaled in a national X-C championship. And, with most of the team returning next year, and several younger reinforcements in the wings, they look well positioned to repeat, or perhaps even improve upon, their performance next year.

Among individuals, Mike Gill continued his remarkable run of improvement with a win in the 30-35 division of the masters event, and a very strong 2nd place overall in the race. Running a tactically brilliant race, Mike managed to destroy all of the runners who beat him two weeks ago at the Provincial Championships. With a year's more training, he will move up to the Open Men's race, where I hope he will be a scorer for a medal-winning P-K senior men's team! Mike's run, meanwhile, earns him his a second nomination for November Performance of the Month.

Meanwhile, Dylan Wykes ran perhaps his gutsiest national X-C ever, with a 6th place in the Senior Men's race. The worst finish by Dylan in the past 3 championships, this result nevertheless represented a significant triumph over some recent adversity. Before he was able to make up the conditioning he lost during his recovery from the World Championship Marathon in Berlin, he was felled by the flu, which put him out completely for 7 days. Then, before he could recover his shape from the flu, he was off to Japan for the Chiba International Ekiden, where he ran poorly, by his standards. He raced nationals X-C less than a week after returning from Japan. This performance earns Dylan a nomination for November performance of the month. It would have been very easy for Dylan to have settled for a much worse finish position, or to have pulled out of this race entirely; instead, he ran as he always does in this event-- as though he might win it. And he will be a stronger athlete in the future for his efforts.

November P-K Performance of the Month:

With Dylan and Mike's results added to the mix, the list of impressive November performances is now a long one (see the November 17 post for the other nominees).
And the winner for November Performance of the Month is... Michael Gill's National X-C run. As I mentioned, Mike has had a run of improvement such as I've rarely seen, and this result was by far his best. And what readers will not know is that, a year ago, Mike weighed some 50 pounds more than he does right now, and, that he is still training at far from capacity as he negotiates some chronic lower leg problems. More than this, however, is the poise and concentration he has shown in executing his races. He competes as though he has been doing it for years without interruption, which is far from the reality. (For a close look at his race execution on Saturday, have a look at the Flotrack broadcast of the masters race.)

Mike's run is now added to the list of nominees for P-K Performance of the year, the owner of which will receive a small Mizuno prize package, courtesy of Physi-Kult Running and Mizuno Canada. The performance of the year will be announced as soon as I have compiled a list of monthly winners for January through September. And here, I will need the assistance of group members, so that no worthy result is overlooked. Please send your suggestions to me, with the month in which they were done, at steve@physi-kultrunning.com. And don't be shy about nominating one of your own performances if you think it deserving. (I'll be nominating my own Canadian 45-49 record run from Ottawa for the month of May, just to show that ALL P-K performances are eligible!).

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