Often the forgotten event in the Canadian racing calendar, the Canadian Cross Country Championships will be run in Abbotsford, British Columbia this Saturday, November 30.
It is no secret that cross country is my favourite discipline of the athletics, as it provides the opportunity for the best of Canadian road runners, track runners, and trail runners to compete against each other in the mud and over the rolling, grassy hills. In my opinion, cross country is great equalizer among the disciplines of our sport.
Although cross country has had its share of struggles over the last couple years, it is always exciting to see who takes to the line at the end of November, looking for a national title. This year, the fields are small, but strong and feature multiple Olympians from across a variety of distances.
This is the first year the Championships will be in Abbotsford, or at least the first time in a while. The previous four renditions were hosted on the challenging Fort Henry course in Kingston, Ontario. Being in Abbotsford (and since I live in Ottawa), I have zero knowledge about the course, but course organizers have posted a number of pictures on the race website. From this information, it appears the largest hill comes in the early stages for the loop, followed by a significant downhill, and then some flat running to finish every loop.
From what I can find, there is no prize money on offer for the event (sad), but there will be medals for the top three individuals and the top three teams in each category. Organizers have also added a para race this year, which is a much needed and important addition.
The schedule for the day will go like so (all times in Pacific Time):
You can watch all the races live for free on AthleticsCanada.tv, but on-demand streaming will cost a monthly fee.
Finally, the weather for the race (keep in mind, this is 7 days out) looks, interesting. At the moment, they are predicting a high of 3-4 celsius with a mix of snow and rain – perfect for those who love the mud, less than perfect for those who do not. Leading up to the race however, the weather should be on-side for those who like the dry as they should have a few days of good conditions.
As I mentioned before, the fields for both the open men and open women for these championships are pretty deep.
On the women’s side, defending champion Genevieve Lalonde is returning to the race. The Olympian won her the national title last year after putting in a big surge in the second half of the race and destroying the competition. In 2019, Lalonde has had a good year. Not only has she lowered her own Canadian record in the 3,000M Steeplechase, but she also qualified for the Diamond League final and the World Championship final in the discipline. Lalonde did race a lot this year and the only question mark has to be whether she has recovered from a long track season.
The ever dangerous Natasha Wodak is also taking to the start line this year. Wodak is one of the biggest supporters of Canadian cross country as signified by her appearance at the event almost every year. Last year, Wodak finished 2nd in the race. This season for Wodak has been up and down. The ups include a dominating victory at the Canadian 10K Championships and Gold in the 10,000 at the Pan American Games. The downs include a tough race at the World Championship 10,000 where Wodak admitted she didn’t have the answers. Wodak represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Victoria Coates is a runner to watch for this year’s championship. Although she does not have the fastest track speed, Coates is a fighter. Last year, Coates finished in 6th place, but finished in 2nd in 2017. Although the Saucony sponsored athlete has had an injury plagued 2019 campaign , she recently posted an impressive 1:12 half marathon in Indianapolis and should be ready to go for the Championships. Coates represented Canada at World Cross in Kampala, 2017.
Like our defending champion, Regan Yee is a steeplechaser – the 33rd best steepler in the world, to be precise. Yee has had a good year. For the first time, she qualified for the World Championships in the Steeplechase after winning the Harry Jerome Classic in the distance and finishing 5th at the Pan American games. Her 3000SC personal best is 9:35 (set this year) and 5,000 personal best is 15:31. The talent is certainly there for Yee to compete for a medal at this championship, the question will be how she handles the ten kilometre distance as according to the IAAF, she has never raced further than 5,000.
Sarah Inglis is a Scottish athlete who trains and lives in Canada for the majority of the year. Like Natasha Wodak, Inglis has raced in virtually every Canadian cross country championship that I can remember. Earlier this year, Inglis set the Canadian all-comers record over five kilometres on the road, 15:29. Inglis also ran to a 9th place finish in on the Fort Henry course last year. Since Inglis is a Scottish athlete she is not eligible for the Canadian title, but will be factored into the team race.
Sasha Gollish has had an up and down 2019. The former Canadian cross country champion was looking good to challenge for the victory last year before a fall early in the race knocked her out. Gollish struck back in January with a stellar debut 42.2K at the Houston marathon. Since, Gollish has battled some injuries, but did manage to start in Doha for the marathon before the heat took its toll. Gollish should be well rested, provided she has recovered from the heat, and she is always dangerous over the country.
The full women’s start list is available here.
On the men’s side, Lucas Bruchet is the two-time defending Canadian cross country champion. Bruchet is truly the master of this discipline in Canada. The Rio Olympian’s two victories at the championships have been textbook: go hard, stay hard, finish hard. In the previous two editions, only one athlete (CPT in 2017 and Mike Tate in 2018) have dared to even go with Bruchet. Unfortunately, Bruchet had to miss the World Cross Country Championships this spring with an injury, but after a solid track season, look for Bruchet to go for his third title. For Bruchet, the muddier, the better.
Mike Tate stormed back onto the Canadian running scene last year with two amazing performances: 2nd place at these very Championships and a solid placing at the Boxing Day 10 miler, beating Reid Coolsaet. Tate, who went to Southern Utah University and competed in the NCAAs is training with Speed River full time, but there is no doubt that cross country is his best surface. Tate ran to an impressive 6th place at the World University Games this summer for the 5000M. He also represented Canada at the World Cross Country Championships this spring.
Ben Preisner has had a heck of a 2019. So far this year he has: finished top Canadian at the World Cross Country Championships, graduated with an engineering degree from Tulsa, won the Vancouver half marathon, won the Toronto Waterfront half marathon and finished 2nd at the Eastside 10K. As a result, he also finished 2nd in the Canadian Running Series. Presiner finished 6th at the Championships last year, but came in under the radar – expect a big jump up this year.
John Gay made his debut at the World Athletics Championships this year in the Steeplechase. With Regan Yee and Gen Lalonde he is one of many steeplechasers who realize they have an advantage in cross country. I would surmise that getting the world standard for the Steeple would have been a successful year for Gay, but you can be certain that he is looking to improve on his 8th place finish from last time around. Gay also represented Canada at the World Cross Country Championships this spring.
Rob Watson is the veteran of the field. The 2:13 marathoner is lacing them up and representing Mile2Marathon as they go for the team prize. Although Bruchet will be the team ringer, Watson cannot be underestimated. Watson has raced quite a lot this year, including a recent win at the Lululemon 10K in San Diego. He also brings some mild trail experience after his 3rd place at the Chuckanut 50K. Watson is a former Canadian Champion over the 10K and the marathon and has finished as high as 2nd at the Canadian cross country championships.
Chris Balestrini is one of the few guys who competed in the Canadian Marathon Championships and who is running this championship. Balestrini is a serial racer however, so should not have an issue recovering for this one. Balestrini has raced in fifteen IAAF certified races this year, including two marathons and has run 1:05 countless times for the half. He will look to improve on his 26th place finish on the Fort Henry course last year.
Leonard Chesoo is the true wild card for this race. Chesoo is a Kenyan who is now living in Alberta and won the Edmonton 10K earlier this year, beating out the likes of Esselink, Levins and Coolsaet. After his victory, CBC Sports did a significant bio on the 24 year-old which you can read here. Chesoo won the 10K in a time of 29:28 which is listed as his personal best and a course record. Chesoo is currently not a Canadian citizen so will not be eligible for the Canadian title.
Other notables men’s competitors include: Connor Black (2018 USPORTS Champion), Theo Hunt, Phil Parrot-Migas, Tony Tomsich, and Mitch Ubene. The full start list is available, here.
My Predictions – Women’s Race
- Genevieve Lalonde – will defend, but will be forced to use speed and strength to beat Natasha Wodak in a close race.
- Natasha Wodak – will finish second in a sprint finish, capping off a great year.
- Victoria Coates – will continue to prove why XC is her best discipline.
Dark Horse: Regan Yee – her youth and breakout season could help her way to a podium finish.
My Predictions – Men’s Race
- Lucas Bruchet – will go out hard, use the mud and win handily.
- Ben Preisner – will finish his season strong and finish second.
- Mike Tate – will get edged by Preisner in a sprint finish. Don’t be surprised if Tate really brings it.
Dark horse: Leonard Chesoo. No one is really sure what Chesoo will do on race day, but one can only expect that he will go with the leaders, work hard and compete.
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Stay tuned for the post-race takeaways and enjoy the racing!