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Shared experience of championship runners is pure gold
2021-01-21

Sports folks are learning to take the good with the bad.

There is absolutely no denying that removing the element of competition from the standard fare of pretty much every single athlete in the country was going to present its fair share of challenges, straining the motivation and engagement of hundreds of thousands of kids from coast to coast.

To compound that with the fact that even trying to maintain a reasonable training regimen has been multiple times more difficult than a typical non-pandemic season has forced athletes and coaches alike to search for new and creative ways to keep their eyes on the prize.

If there is perhaps a silver lining, it might lie in the fact that busy schedules, usually a given for those who would self-identify with the paragraphs above, are far more the exception than the norm.

People have more time on their hands.

Track North Athletic Club head coach Darren Jermyn, who gathered ultra accomplished runners and one-time locals Andrew Ellerton, Ross Proudfoot, Kaitlyn (Tallman) Toohey and Kerry MacKelvie (Lisa Labrecque was unable to attend the first zoominar) for the first of three on-line sessions late last week, summarized the benefits of the current environment nicely.

"Everybody has free time - nobody had trouble making time for that session," he noted.

And what a session it was.

Over the course of a couple of hours, the quartet, who have posted results that rank with the very best in their peer group in their particular distance of choice, shared candid thoughts on a variety of aspects of training, from mileage to intensity, from elevation to recovery.

"Our current athletes were just over the moon, knowing that they could pick the brain of those athletes," added Jermyn. "And, I'll be honest, it was something I wanted for myself."

"I've learned a ton coaching over 20 years, but it's always good to re-hash things, to get different perspectives."

The very genesis to this endeavour is rooted in a fall campaign that served to surprise the long-time Track North coaching tandem of Jermyn and Dick Moss.

"Even though we were training through the pandemic, we actually had some pretty decent success," said Jermyn. "We got quite fit and I realized that by not having an indoor track season to key on, we might lose a bit of focus going into the next cross-country season, which was still a long time away."

"We thought about focusing on an event distance that would contribute to some faster work in the winter and spring, but would also be a good build up for the cross-country season in 2021," Jermyn added.

"The cross-country team at Laurentian is looking to be quite deep again, particularly on the men's side, and we have some elite women as well."

In terms of session specifics, an unofficial 20-second PB in the 5km posted by 2020 Athletic Ontario (Central Region) Cross Country champion Keon Wallingford, rabbited on the Laurentian track by teammmate Alexander Fishbein-Ouimet provided a bit of a light bulb moment for the organizer.

"Watching the team approach to that PB, it got me thinking that instead of just having athletes feeling like they are training on their own, which they are doing a lot right now, what if we had a team approach where multiple coaches got together and athletes could help pull each other through," said Jermyn.

"We were looking for a way to help keep everybody focused, coaches included. We are used to interacting with our athletes."

If there was a relevation of sorts to the project, it was the caliber of athlete that Jermyn and company could avail themselves to. "When you look back and you realize who we had in our club and the level at which they have run at, it's impressive."

In 2011, Confederation Secondary graduate Andrew Ellerton covered the 800m in a time of 1:45.04, a clocking that still ranks as the fourth fastest time ever posted by a Canadian at that distance.

Proudfoot is a three-time national cross-country champion. MacKelvie, a former CIAU gold medal winner, took home silver at the National Masters XC Championships in 2019.

Labrecque is a Big Ten champion from her time with the Michigan Wolverines, and later represented Canada at the World XC Championships. Toohey was part of an NCAA XC banner winning team while running with the Villanova Wildcats.

When all is said and done, the goal of the project is to elevate 90% of current club members to a personal best time in the 5km, a goal, that if reached, could then lead the group to featuring as many as six runners who would crack the Canadian Top-50 list (per sex) in the past five years.

In order to attain that status, men would have to cover 5000m in a time of 14:44, while the ladies could cross the line in 17:41 or faster. "We have about eight athletes that could crack some really fast times," said Jermyn.

"And if you have several athletes running that fast, that will breed more success."

With one session in the books, Jermyn was pleased to note an immediate and positive impact from the knowledge that was shared.

"We sometimes have a mentality that there is a right way to train," he said. "One of my biggest takeaways was that our athletes know that there are a lot of variations, that you can train differently than the athlete beside you."

"We sometimes have to individualize plans."

"I think another think that stood out was the different methods that each of the athletes used to stay healthy," Jermyn continued. "I was a little concerned that there might be a huge emphasis on distance."

"I was so pleased to hear Ross and Andrew say that their best performances occured when they were healthy. Taking a rest day, taking a little more time for recovery is not a bad thing."

"The runner's mentality is not always the rational one," he added with a laugh. "It's often more about getting the run in rather than listening to my body."

As much as anything, Jermyn was pleased to add different voices to the conversation.

"Dick and I can talk about training for eight hours on a bus trip, there and back, but we rarely sit down with five other coaches and pick their brains. To hear their experience was gold."

And mining that gold may have just been made a tad easier by virtue of a COVID-19 virus that has completely slowed down the world of sports.

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