Tuesday, 23 November 2010

P-K 2010 Nats X-C Preview; and Thanks for the Memories, Guelph.

A stylistic break from the customary fare in this blog for the last many posts, but long-time readers will be familiar with my fondness for X-C-- running's antidote for November; and, I have been caught up in the spirit of this year's event in particular, which will be the last in what is sure to be the most memorable run of championships in the history of the sport in Canada. (They should simply give this event over in perpetuity to the Guelph boys, of which more below). So, a little preview of the club contingent, including its goals and prospects, as well as a fond farewell to Guelph and the now storied Arboretum course.

With three time individual medallist D. Wykes off in Vancouver, preparing for the Cal International Marathon on Dec 4, and senior elites Emily Tallen and Mary Davies sitting this one out to rebuild from fall injuries (foot and hip respectively), the focus in the open events shifts to 30-something Nats senior rookies Mike Gill and Chris Mercier.

Mike is, of course, the winner of last year's P-K performance of the year award for a freakish run of improvement that culminated in his 2nd place finish in the 2009 masters' event. A year later and considerably faster, Mike is now set to take his spot alongside the big (or at least young and fast) boys in the Senior Men's event. His preparations reinforced by two successful X-C 10ks, including a 7th place finish at the provincial championships two weeks ago, Mike is looking once again like potential POY nominee. His training has been consistently faster than anything he has ever done, and the longer distance suits his preferred style of attack. A patient and observant racer, and one who never backs down when the opportunity to move through a field presents itself, Mike looks positioned to raise eyebrows and provoke the query "who is that guy?" again this year, except on a bigger stage. There is no question that the order is much taller this year, but Mike looks ready for a crack at the top 25, and perhaps a little higher, if enough of his younger and more impetuous competitors play into his hands

Christian Mercier, meanwhile, is merely looking to cap off a spectacular season of racing-- one that saw him run huge P.B.s at 5k, 15k, HM and Mar-- with a first ever appearance in our national dirt-dash. Chris has spend the weeks since his September POM-winning run in the Berlin-- a 5min personal best of 2:24-- recovering and trying to master the art of balancing and pacing on grass and trail. Although the return of winter to Quebec City this week has relegated him to the pavement for his final couple of workouts, his preparations-- including one winning X-C race effort 10 days ago-- have been sufficient for him to enter the competitive mix on Saturday. I expect he and Mike will be seeing a lot of one another between 2:14 and 2:47 p.m. on Saturday afternoon!

Shifting to the junior races, the club is team-less in the girls event, with injuries keeping potential players Clara Langley and Taylor Sills on the sidelines. Nevertheless, Cleo Boyd, Leah McGraw, and Lauren Taylor will take their place alongside 250 other brave souls, with Cleo hoping to finish her best ever season of X-C running with a top 20 performance, and Leah and Lauren aiming to run for X-C personal bests on the fast and accurate Guelph course.

Meanwhile, in the boys race, the team competition is a big focus of the action for the P-K group. Coming off their 2nd place finish last year, the team is deeper and faster still this time around, and has its sights on a major upset of the almost overwhelmingly strong defending champs, the Windsor Legion squad. But first, the boys will have to outscore a formidable side from Durham, last year's very close 3rd place team. So evenly matched is the P-K team that attempting to predict an exact order of finish is futile. Among the likely front men are:

1.Rob Asselstine, owner of the fastest 5k personal best with his close 5th place finish at the National Junior Track Championship. After coming into the season in brilliant training form, Rob struggled in training and in races till just this week, when he notched a personal best over 3k in the Dome. A naturally stronger distance runner, an on-form Rob is a definite top 10 threat.

2.Alex Hinton, last year's top man, who is returning to form following a break from a spectacular 2010 Tri season, which featured a 16th place finish at the World Junior Championships.

3.Evan Andrin, who has ass-busted his way to a breakout season with the Western Mustangs, and hopes bring the same form that produced his recent 33rd place finish at the CIS championships to bear against this field of younger, less experienced athletes.

4.Charly Allan, who, in between minor injuries, also managed to put in volume sufficient to raise his X-C game to new levels this season. Charly struggled at the recent CIS championships, but finished one spot behind Evan at the OUs-- which were, ominously, also held on the Arboretum course. Expect Charly, ever the proud competitor, to concede nothing to his teammates when it comes to finishing order.

5.Jeff Archer, who, as his teammates well know, could easily lead this team, were he to find the form that saw him finish 10th at OFSAA and 5th at the AO youth championships last fall. While he made his Queen's U championship side, Jeff has struggled to realize his full potential this season. Were the 2009 Jeff to suddenly reveal himself on Saturday, this team could well realize its dream of unseating Windsor.

5.Dylan O'Sullivan, who has struggled on-and-off with an diabolical series of minor injury setbacks, but who, like Jeff, could easily find himself running alongside the others on Saturday, were he to hit a groove. Dylan's shape has been improving by leaps and bounds since his modest return to racing barely a month ago (with his recent 11th place at the AOs junior race marking a significant leap forward). A feisty racer with a knack for moving rapidly through exhausted fields of faster-starting pretenders, look for Dylan to make the most of whatever shape he possesses on the day.

After these five members of last year's silver medal team come four younger athletes with the potential to keep the P-K boys in the hunt for national honours for a few more years to come. Leading this group is Blair Morgan, who looks to complete an outstanding 2010 X-C season that saw him qualify for OFSAA as an individual. After somewhat sub-par performances at OFSAA and AOs, Blair returned to form last Saturday with a personal best over 3000m. After Blair is the renascent Kyle McKellar, who is coming off a hard-fought 26th place finish in a very deep and fast AOs youth boys' event. Rounding out the group are Cam Levac, who has been very strong in training this season, in spite of coming off nearly a year of injury, and Hunter Andrin, who, like his older brother before him, continues to earn his longer distance chops (Hunter, who will attend Queen's next fall, will be a valuable member of that team, should he follow in Evan's footsteps as a later-blooming X-C runner.)

The P-K masters men's contingent will also be in search of team victories, although the upsets will come if they (we) fail to win (at least in the 40-49 division, where we are two time defending champions, and are fielding perhaps our strongest side ever). The 50-59 team also stands a good chance of winning, but faces a stern challenge from a surprisingly improved Newmarket Huskies group.

The 40-49 team includes: yours truly, a two time individual champ, who is very fit, if perhaps somewhat short of tune-up races (like, none at all, and no results worth mentioning since late May); Rich Minichiello, who is coming off a spectacular season that saw him vault to the fore of Canadian masters distance running; Roddy Loeppky, who has also had a banner year, winning provincial masters indoor titles at 1500 and 3000m, and a national title at 5000m (to go along with a road 5k best of 16:11); and rapidly improving local group member Rob Miller, who will be running his first ever National X-C championship. Meanwhile, the race for the individual honours will be the most interesting in many years, with a four-strong contingent of crack B.C. athletes (Paddy McCluskey, Craig Odermatt, Kevin O'Connor, and Colin Dignum) lining up against Minichiello and Boyd from P-K and defending champ Bruce Raymer from Ontario. Favourite status must go to the younger Minichiello and Raymer (with the nod to Minichiello, on account of his finishing speed), but the B.C. boys are up to their ears in championship X-C experience, and I hope to show at least a little of the form that earned me runaway titles in 06 and 08 (and did I mention that getting older sucks!?).

The men's 50-59 team is hoping to complete the old-guy team sweep by beating a vastly improved New Market Huskies group, who bested them at OAs two weeks ago. To turn the tables, Bob McGraw will have to be his usual steady self, Clive Morgan will have to be able to get his shoes off, and thus knock 20-30 seconds from his time, Rich Raflaub will have to regain some of the form he lost during his nearly two years of injury down time (chronic plantar fasciitis), and senior team member Wayne Chee will have to produce a fitting finale to his strong season of road racing. None of these things is at all unreasonable, so hopes are running high within this group.

Finally, and disappointingly, the P-K masters women will be without at team for this final Ontario edition of the Nats master X-C championship. One minor thing has led to another, keeping this team from coming together to form what would surely be a winning side (we have horses to spare in this category). Left to face the field alone are on-line athletes Christine Ross and Marie Elliot-- both formidable competitors, who will be hard to keep out of the top 3 in their respective categories.

And a very fond adieu to Guelph, the Speed River organizing committee, and the Arboretum course (whose distinctive features-- DST Junction, the Hill, the Orchard-- will form the details of 10,000 stories rehashed between old friends and competitors for decades to come). The end of the superb "Guelph Series" of championships comes at a watershed moment for the sport globally and nationally. After this year, the IAAF will move its 100+ year old championship to a biannual format, rendering our own championships less meaningful in non-national team selection years. Add to this AC's obvious lack of interest in this entire branch of the sport (what, really, is in it for them and their bottom line?)and the future looks decidedly less bright for this event. While there are arguments from a national sport development point of view for moving this championship around the country on an annual or bi-annual basis, there are yet stronger ones for making Guelph and the Arboretum course a permanent venue for the X-C nationals. While not a national training centre, Guelph/Speed River is now the undisputed heart of Canadian distance running; Chris Moulton and crew now manage the whole hosting thing as effortlessly as the Speed River boys pile up championships; the course is permanent, and as close to perfect as we can get in this country; and, steps could easily be taken to share the wealth and ease the financial burden of yearly travel for non-Ontario racers. (The relative health of the economy of Ontario will surely reduce the numbers of Ontario athletes willing and able to make the trip to B.C. next year, which will hurt the quality of the championship much more than would keeping it in Guelph.) The moment to seriously consider giving the event to Guelph in perpetuity has likely now come and gone (knowing Moults and DST, they were probably making the case two years ago!); but, it is still possible to make it the permanent Ontario site. As much as I'd love to see Canada's best take to the Fort Henry course here in old K-Town on some November afternoon, I think the sport would be best served by not attempting to fix that which is emphatically not broken. Credit must be given where it is due. Back to Guelph in 2013!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, Guelph always puts on a great event.
Good luck to you and your team this weekend.

24 November 2010 at 14:58  

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