I have a quiet moment to close the book on Gatineau - let's see how far I can get in four songs with a post-race report....this one will be a little more "PTC-centric", and specific to the junior mens race (....and typically long-winded).
Similar to every other race we've been to this year (Lubbock, PATCO, Birds Hill, Coteau du Lac), the weather played a significant role in the race. Environmental factors often impact races, but this seems to be a particularly cold, wet and windy summer. With perfect summer days on Friday and Sunday, Saturday (race day) was punctuated by heavy rains and thunder storms which rolled over the area throughout the day. To their credit, the race organizers and officials kept everything on schedule despite delaying two race starts through the day due to lightening. The race crew worked like a well-oiled machine, and they put on a great race.
The junior races this year have felt a bit like family reunions; the coaches and athletes all get along really well, and I've had the pleasure of getting to know some families from other provinces over the course of the season. I'm sometimes surprised when I hear that coaches and athletes in other sports don't experience the same sense of community. We do joint workouts, support each other's athletes, send athletes to each other's programs, travel together, and trade schedules, macros and ideas. How else are we supposed to take on the world? We have a great sport, full of fantastic people; I always leave the races energized about the state of our junior programs and future possibilities. We just need more junior races and cheaper flights, or maybe we should just all agree to get together in the middle of the country for a 3 week training camp next summer; we could hammer out a sprint race every Friday night, and a relay every Saturday.
Back to the race.
We've had our fair share of training in the rain this year in Ontario, so the wet weather wasn't a major concern. Athletes just needed to keep the rubber on the road, and the payoff would be a fast run course in cool conditions. That was easier said than done through the turnaround on the bike; I watched at least 15 age-group athletes slide out on the same corner in the morning races, so we knew we'd have to be careful.
With this race being closer to home, and the Can Games Team selections complete, I ended up with a smaller group to take through the pre-race routine than normal; Alexander, Connor, Ian and Tyler. This was the first time I didn't have female athletes in the race. The starts for the junior women and junior men were only 45mins apart, so that made for some scrambling for some of the other coaches who had athletes in both races. I had the luxury of only focussing on one race. For my part, I didn't see any of the junior womens' race until the 1st lap of the run, but from all reports it was a dynamic race.
The guys warmed up during a period of heavy rainfall. I had lugged four trainers over from the parking lot (edit: with help from Alberta coach Angie Anderson), so our bike warm-up was in a sheltered area on trainers. We made some pre-race adjustments for some of the guys, which we'll probably use again at future races, and the warm-up was generally uneventful and smooth. The guys were marshaled and off in short order. Connor, Tyler, Matt Sharpe and Cole Stewart were out of the water first, and quickly got organized on the bike. Alexander had a good swim in the main chase group (which eventually included Vierula, Christin, Okany, Wilson, Thomas, Roles, Drad, and Howlett), with Ian not far behind. There were a few disappointments on the bike, including Bird's Hill medallist Mark Okany who flatted early in the ride after a strong swim. Riley MacCharles went down hard while leading the 3rd pack through the turnaround (check out Joel Howlett's video of the crash on facebook); David Mackie was 2nd wheel and managed to stay up, but Ian Donald had to hit the brakes and followed Riley onto the deck. Ian got back up and hammered back into the pack, but Riley's day was done. Derek Quick had some bad luck too, flatting on the last lap and running the bike 2.5k back to T2 (with his helmet on, to make sure he didn't get DQ'd).
Meanwhile, the front group of 4 held the chase pack to 20 seconds through three of four laps before Cole went down on the same corner that Riley had crashed on earlier. To his credit, Cole calmly got up, hopped on this bike, realized his chain was off, got back off his bike, put his chain back on, hopped back on again and got into the chase pack - all in 20 seconds. Grace under fire. I later learned that Cole had fallen on the same side that he had crashed on a few days earlier, so he was pretty sore, but stayed focussed. Even more impressive, Cole and Aaron Thomas managed to put 10 seconds into the lead group of 3 on the last lap of the bike.
Into T2, there were roughly 15 men who hit the dismount line within 15 seconds of each other, including most of the favourites. I started a stopwatch to see how much time would go by before Tristan Woodfine and Ian rolled into T2 - it would turn out to be about 1:30 from the back of the chase pack. Meanwhile, out on the run course, there was a great battle shaping up. Connor faded a bit through the first lap, fighting a stitch and falling as far back as sixth, but keeping his focus. Marc-Antoine Christin, Jason Wilson and Alexander Hinton were moving well, but Sharpie, Tyler and Cole weren't giving up any ground. Ian and Tristan were running hard in pursuit. On to the second lap, Connor redoubled his efforts and started moving back to the front of the field, eventually moving into first with ~1k to go. With a final surge, Connor put some space between himself and second, coming home for his second junior national title. Matt Vierula, Jason Wilson and Marc-Antoine ran hard through the second lap, refusing to fade against the hard charging runners behind. Matt seemed to run better as the race went on, backing up his 2008 National Championship with a silver medal, followed by Jason Wilson, and Marc-Antoine for bronze (and 4th overall). Alexander Hinton served notice that he'll be a force in the junior series next year with a strong 5th place finish (4th Canadian), followed closely by first year junior Tristan Woodfine who hammered out a race-best 15:12 on the run. Tyler Bredschneider ran strong for 10th place (9th Canadian) - a very impressive performance giving a recent running injury that really made training a challenge. Ian came in 13th (12th Canadian), posting the 2nd best run split of the day (16:15) after a crash and a hard effort to bridge back up to the pack.
When it was all said and done, only 0:64" separated 1st and 10th, with Ontario athletes in 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 9th (among Canadians). The top 7 guys all ran under 16:50. It was probably one of the fastest/deepest top 10 at Junior Nats for the men.
My four songs are long over, so it's time to wrap this up.
Congrats to all coaches and athletes, from all provinces, on their performances. There were many strong races, some great examples of perseverance under difficult conditions, and some plain old bad luck. Everyone can take something positive from their efforts on the day, and I know the junior series races will be even better in 2010.
Check out Mark Bates' photo album of Nationals - amazing pictures.
For those families, coaches and athletes going to Canada Games, I look forward to the last family reunion of the season in Summerside.