GRPC is hosting the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Cross-Country Running National Championships at Muskoseepi Park this Saturday afternoon.
The Wolves have a total of a dozen competitors—six men and six women—competing with approximately 225 runners in the two-race event. Wolves runner Brittany Duvall is racing in her fourth consecutive national final event. The college also hosted the event a dozen years ago in 2007.
Familiarity is the key to success, says Wolves cross-country Head Coach Bill Corcoran.
“We’ve been running on the course this week and last week and we’ve been running on it with snow,” Corcoran said of the Wolves team. “So, it’s going to be tough for everybody but I like to think we’re going to be prepared, than the average team from Ontario and Quebec.”
Corcoran is an ultra pragmatic guy when it comes to predicting races at this level. He doesn’t expect a “Miracle on Ice” or anything like that. He just wants his runners to compete and achieve some personal best times.
“Our women are ranked number eight and, if we held our ranking, I think we’d be really happy,” Corcoran said, while noting the men’s team in ranked in the top-15 nationally. “I’d be thrilled if (the men) held our ranking but, realistically, looking at the field, 12th to 11th would be about right.”
Even the runners appear to be realistic about someone on the Wolves pulling off a miracle and medaling in one of the events.
“(We all want) to get all good times, personal best times,” Duvall said. “I think that’s what everyone wants to do, have a really good race because it is at home and we want to represent Grande Prairie really well.”
The men’s team consists of Hayden Hollowell, Chris Nelissen, Jordan Lundstrom, Taylor Hudak, Adam Wangler and Tairas Fournier. The women’s team consists of Anna van der Giessen, Taryn Kokesch, Kailey Bratland, Brittany Duvall, Krista Frey and Lydia Steinke.
The women’s course runs six kilometres long and will being at noon, while the men’s race is a distance of eight km and kicks off an hour later at 1 p.m. There is also a community race—five km for women and 10 km for men—scheduled for 9 a.m., also at Muskoseepi Park on Saturday. The race begins and ends in the vicinity of Borstad Hill.
“For a course through a park, it is quite challenging,” Corcoran said. “There are three good uphills but then you realize that’s a good uphill every two kilometres, so you multiple that by four, which the guys are doing. (It’s) a tough but fair course. There are areas that are flat, where you can go really fast, but there’s also three ups and downs and a couple of good turns to challenge people and break their rhythm.”
Snow is forecast for Saturday, along with day-time temperatures of around a high of -12 C.
Corcoran says the runners will mostly wear one layer on the legs and a form fitting, long sleeved t-shirt, along with the obligatory hats and gloves. Duvall noted the cold doesn’t bother her, saying the chill suits her body better.
“I love the cold,” Duvall said. “We go out and do runs in minus 40. I find it easier on my lungs because breathing in hot air, I feel, I almost can’t get enough air because it’s so dry.”
The coach also noted the snow will be an obvious factor in the race.
“The bigger issue is traction,” Corcoran said. “You will need to run in spikes on this course, which we normally run with on the grass. The difference is you run on longer spikes. In normal cross country, you run with seven-to-nine mm spikes but (for this race) we’ve got 12-15 mm spikes to run in the snow or ice. It takes a little getting used to because they’re longer and (people aren’t) used to them.”
End of the road
For Wolves runner Brittany Duvall, this coming weekend will be a test of emotions.
The resident of Eaglesham will represent the GPRC Wolves at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association cross-country nationals at Muskoseepi Park on Saturday. This is her fourth time competing in the nationals.
After four years of racing with the Wolves, the Bachelor of Kinesiology student will be hanging up the competitive running spikes.
“(It’s a) really neat way (for her) to go out,” Wolves coach Bill Corcoran said. “This might be the last race she runs. Let’s make it a good (one) at the nationals in front of her friends and family.”
“It’s bitter sweet (and) I’m excited for the race,” Duvall added. “I’m not so excited it’s my last race. I know, for health reasons, it has to be until I get better. Then I want to run non-competitively.”
Duvall needs hip surgery going forward—hopefully, next year she noted—but the last few years she’s had injury problems but love keeps her going. The 21-year-old noted she needs labrum repair.
“The love for the sport,” Duvall said when asked why she endures pain, though to be fair, this year has been better for her due to message therapy.
“She’s struggled in college where it’s one injury after another but the fact that she’s still in there, still plugging away and able to make our top-six is a tribute to her tenacity,” Corcoran said. “I wish I had more like her. The fantastic thing about Brittany is that she’s a example of what we’re all about, what our program is all about.”
The coach got a bit reflective when talking about one of his athletes.
“It’s been neat to see her go from a gangly, young 14-year-old to a mature young women,” Corcoran said, noting Duvall ran with the Peace Country Wolves club, starting in 2011. Corcoran is a also a coach with the running club. “(She’s a) really great supporter of the club, the team and the program. This is the culmination of eight years in her life.”