It’s been three months since I packed my car and moved across the country to Guelph. At first, it felt very strange living out here. The sense of community that developed over the past years was now gone, friends and family were too distant to visit, and not having a job to care about left me feeling isolated from a world I once knew. Thankfully, each day presented itself with a new opportunity to start from scratch and a well rounded life has begun to unfold.
Life in Guelph is simple compared to Calgary. I’ve committed to the bicycle as my main source of transportation while my vehicle is only used to drive to Michigan, 99% of my meals have been cooked at the house, New Balance and iRun Magazine allowed me to be a part of their projects, and I’ve been hired by the local private golf course for the spring/summer/fall. This is a setup that will allowed me to increase training volume while maintaining daily expenses.
The new training group (Speed River) has made the transition easier by welcoming me like a new family member. Eric Gillis has played a big role in getting me settled. We’ve run/worked out frequently and his experience has really allowed me to stay relaxed as a youngster in the sport. It’s also really cool running with an athlete that has represented Canada at 3 Olympic Games. You know, the most impressive thing about Gilly is not his 10th place marathon finish at the Rio Olympics, rather his ability to smash workouts in the high cushioned New Balance 1080’s. Aside from the group itself, the city of Guelph is littered with trails to explore. Every morning is a good morning knowing that Preservation Park and Possum is an option to explore.
In recent months, Evan Esselink and I have been hard at work preparing for the NACAC and World Cross Country Championships. Our first race was in Boca Raton for the NACAC race on March 4th. The women ran really well as the junior and senior teams both secured a gold medal, while the junior boys placed third and the senior men placed second. A couple highlights from our Florida trip was running along A1A Beachfront Avenue with Evan and hanging out at the beach as a team. We also had a wild Uber driver that will never be forgotten.
Last week we were in Kampala, Uganda for the World Cross Country Championship. To be on this team, athletes had to place top 10 at the Canadian National XC Championship in November. Having qualified, this gave me an opportunity to test my abilities against the world’s best. The trip was eye-opening from beginning to end.
We landed in Entebbe at 3AM local time on March 23rd and arrived in Kampala at 7:30AM. For our entire trip, breakfast, lunch, and dinner was provided for us at the hotel. The race course was located 700m up the road, so we weren’t forced to travel very far. On our second day, part of the team travelled to a local hospital to donate medical supplies, then the entire team travelled to the Uganda National Mosque in the afternoon. The Mosque is the largest in eastern Africa, holding 15,000 worshippers at a time and 1,100 more in the gallery. Some of us proceeded to visit a local market while a few of us opted out so we could run. On our third day, 10 of our team members visited a local orphanage to donate clothing. The rest of the day was dedicated to rest as we would be racing on day four. To pass time, we played card games, nothing too crazy.
For those unfamiliar with Kampala, the climate is vastly different than here in Canada, especially in the cool winter months with limited sun exposure. The average temperature for March sits at 28.7 degrees with a relative humidity of 73%. The UV rays are very powerful as Kampala sits very close to the equator and factoring in the 1,200m of elevation, conditions for running really hard are not ideal. Within a 25 hour time period, we traded ’15 minutes of exposure outside could result in frost bite’ for ’15 minutes of exposure outside could result in heat stroke’.
Our race took place at 5PM local time on the 26th. Beforehand, I was hoping to lead the team by being the top Canadian finisher.
The gun sounded and we were off like a dog chasing a rabbit. The first loop (2K) was quick for everyone. The obstacles (2 downhill/uphill combos, 4 logs to hurdle, a trench, a manmade hill) made it difficult to find a rhythm, while the sun and heat exhausted me right from the start. Evan and I had ice in our hats to keep our body temperatures down, but that only lasted a lap. The second lap felt worst and the third lap felt like hell. At the start of the fourth lap, Sami was leading us, Rory was a couple seconds ahead, I was really considering dropping out as I could barely feel my extremities, and Evan was a few seconds behind me. That was our order until the fifth lap came around. Towards the end of lap four, a Japanese athlete and a French athlete passed me, grabbing my attention and giving me purpose to get my shit together. The last lap was not faster, nor was it slower than the previous four, but it was enough to beat those two athletes, catch Rory with a KM left and catching Sami within 300m to the finish. When I passed Sami, he was fading from the heat. For a second, I tried to wrap my arm around his so we could finish together, but he never responded and I took off to prevent any lost positions as a team. I managed to place 71st overall in 31:43.
Overall, the Uganda experience was unforgettable. African’s treat distance running like Canadians treat Canadian Olympic hockey games; the crowd at the race was absolutely electric. Seeing how the Africans live, commute, interact has changed my perspective on Canadian life. The experience has also allowed me to value how good life is here, while keeping me interested in visiting Africa again, particularly Kenya. For athletics, the Boca Raton and Kampala races has allowed me to stack up my abilities next to the best in the world, while gaining the experience required to be successful in future races. In both races, our junior teams ran their guts out which I’m so proud of them for doing so and am excited to see them progress in the future. Thank you, Athletics Canada, for funding this XC team and continuing to support XC. I think that the competitive side of Canadian athletics will benefit from race experiences like these.