MXC: Running with the Vikes, Part One

With the late-summer sunshine seeping through a group of towering Pacific willow trees around Elk/Beaver Lake regional park, as I stood beside a group of a dozen or so runners in the middle of the dog days of August I couldn’t help but think of what we could accomplish this fall.

Most believe running is an individual sport. Sure, you’re the only one on the track, and there’s nobody else to blame but yourself if you don’t perform up to expectations. It’s also not like other team sports such as hockey or basketball, where you physically pass a puck or ball between teammates.

Cross country running, however, I believe is the definition of team sport. For those unfamiliar with the rules of cross country, essentially the team scoring is similar to the rules of golf in how the lowest point score wins. Every runner collects points for their team based on where they finish in the overall race standings, and the team with the lowest total point score wins.

So, even if your last place runner is going to finish somewhere in the 60s or 70s of a race, if they pass another team’s last place runner on the way to the finish line, it could make all the difference in team placing. That’s why every runner matters, and it’s inspiring to see those athletes who may have had a miserable day on the course give it all they’ve got down the finish chute to help lower the team score.

As for us, being a young team, last season’s seventh place finish at U SPORTS Nationals on our home course at Beacon Hill was an encouraging step in the right direction. But we are setting our sights higher this season. With another year under our belt, and returning all but one runner to the team, that year of experience I believe will help us as we gear towards Nationals later this fall in Kingston.

After a month of hard training, including our annual training camp trip to Sooke, this past weekend both the Vikes men and women finally opened their season and competed south of the border against some fierce NCAA D1 competition down in California.

The weekend started with a late-afternoon flight to Vancouver, a couple hours layover, then a two-hour journey south to San Francisco. For many members on the team, it was their first trip to California, and although the night sky had already blanketed the Bay Area, a good majority of runners couldn’t help but stare out the window looking for a glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge.

Once we arrived at San Francisco international, our continued airport struggles seemed to follow us from last year. After being stranded at the Calgary airport for seven hours last Spring, this time we had trouble navigating San Francisco’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

The confusing switchbacks, subways, and different train routes made it almost impossible to find our rental cars. The delay meant we didn’t arrive in Palo Alto until close to midnight. (Spoiler alert, on our way back to Victoria our flight out of San Francisco was delayed by three hours, thus continuing our airport dilemma streak. However, it was nothing that a Netflix binge couldn’t solve.)

On Friday, we made our way to the campus of Stanford University for a pre-race shakeout run, including completing drills on the famous Stanford track.

When race day arrived, our head coach reminded us of the game plan and to not get caught up with the other runners going hot off the gun. The plan was to hold a consistent, slightly conservative, pace for the first four kilometres before opening it up the last four km, in hopes of negative splitting and passing runners from other teams that started out too quick.

Once the gun was off, as our coach told us, a good portion of the runners in the 200-large field started like they were shot out of a cannon. The Vikes, however, followed and executed the game plan to a T.

I was encouraged to see fellow Vike Alex Nemethy by my side with two laps to go when we decided to make our move. We both finished with a faster second half of the race, and finished side by side at the line. The rest of our teammates came in thirty seconds behind us, almost exactly one after another. 

In a stacked race of NCAA D1 powerhouses, including Stanford and UCLA, and D2 force Adams State, we finished 10th overall. A great first race to build on for the rest of the season.

For races like this, I believe the team bonding aspect is almost as important as how the team finishes in the actual race. Now into my third year running for the Vikes, a lot of these team members are starting to feel like my family, and the bonds created from trips like this create lifelong memories that I will cherish forever.

I was thrilled with my individual performance, and after a trying summer with many personal dilemmas, words can’t describe how excited I am for this team going forward.

For now, you’ll probably see a lot of us running in ridiculously short shorts along the campus trails, and I hope to see you out there for our home cross country meet October 13 at Beacon Hill Park!

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