Chargers Cross Country Program Finds Success in COVID-Impacted Season

Chargers Cross Country Program Finds Success in COVID-Impacted Season

The Crandall Chargers Country Country program concluded its competitive season earlier this month, finding success in what has shaped up to be a strange year for sport. Alongside all other varsity sports, the ACAA cancelled the cross country season as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But it was not a no-season year for the Chargers. Minding adjustments to conform with New Brunswick public health guidelines, athletes in the program continued regularly-scheduled training, took part in an out-of-province training camp, and competed in three virtual competitions: the Moncton-based Legs for Literacy, Halifax's Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon, and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.         

Enjoying the success that New Brunswick has seen in managing the pandemic, the Chargers were able to offer regularly scheduled training sessions during the summer, which led into the beginning of the cross country season in early-September. On the third weekend of the month, nine athletes and the program's coaching staff took to Prince Edward Island to take part in the first annual Chargers XC Training Camp. Based out of a large cottage in Brackley Beach, the three-day training camp was comprised of intensive training sessions, team bonding exercises, and presentations on the topics of nutrition, training outcomes, and peaking to perform. Rookie athlete Laine Bennett of Moncton described the training camp as the highlight of the season.       

"The training camp was a great opportunity to spend more time with the team and get to know everyone better," said Bennett. "I realized that I can perform better than I thought, especially when the whole team is there to push each other to do better."

The first virtual competition of the season was Legs for Literacy, which took place on October 24th. The annual road race is one of the province's largest running events and serves as a major fundraiser for literacy initiatives in Southeastern New Brunswick. Leading the way for the men's team was graduate student Marvik Ruiz Alvarado of Los Mochis, Mexico, who ran to a blistering time of 17:33 in the 5km. Second-year student and men's team captain Alex Hisey crossed the line in 18:24, followed close behind by third-year student Aaron Reimer in 18:35, and second-year student Nick Fletcher in 19:08. All three athletes call Moncton their hometown. Second-year student Justin Reimer of Moncton ran to a time of 22:15, Logan Nickerson of Barrington, N.S. to 26:10, and Charles Taylor of Edmonton, A.B. to 27:25. Rounding out the men's team was Shubham Mavani of Surat, India with a time of 36:49. The sole women's entry in the 5km was Bennett, who ran to a time of 21:45. Crandall's lone entry in the 10km event was fourth-year student and women's team captain Kennedy Steeves of St. Stephen, who ran to a time of 46:32.          

One week later, on the morning of Halloween, six Chargers raced the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in frigid temperatures. A quartet of Hisey, Steeves, A. Reimer, and Bennett raced the marathon relay event – each athlete covering 10.55km in successive order to reach a combined distance of 42.2km – and recorded a cumulative time 3:17:10. Fletcher raced to a 10km time of 39:29, and Taylor to a time of 26:47 in the 5km.  

Finally, in early-November the Chargers competed in one of North America's largest running events, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. In the 5km, Bennett recorded a time of 21:50, followed by Mavani in 31:44. Hisey led a group of six men in the 10km, finishing with a time of 39:34, followed by Fletcher and A. Reimer in times of 41:43 and 43:18, respectively. Taylor completed the course in 49:22, followed by J. Reimer in 50:10, and Nickerson in 53:23. Racing her first half marathon, Steeves ran to an impressive mark of 1:42:59.           

"To me the value of a virtual race is its ability to bring to light the challenge that every long distance runner starts with, the challenge of beating yourself," said men's team captain Alex Hisey. "Though competitors may encourage us to achieve a better time, having nothing to race against except for the clock allows us to remember the goal we set at the beginning of our athletic pursuit: getting better."       

When the ACAA announced the cancellation of the cross country schedule in late May, Head Coach Brandon LeBlanc immediately began designing a plan to ensure that there would still be a season. Individual abilities and virtual racing would become the focus of the 2020 cross country season.

"In a standard cross country season, our women will race 6km, our men will race 8km, and these distances will be run on rough terrain – all that is predetermined and out of my control," said LeBlanc. "What this year offered us is the unique opportunity to push the norms aside, design our own boundaries, and focus on the individual strengths of each athlete."     

Asked about the highlight of the season, women's team captain Kennedy Steeves pointed to the flexibility that a non-ACAA competition year offered.        

"The uniqueness of this year meant that we were able to focus on very individualized training and goals, which I think has been monumental for many of us athletes," said Steeves. "I think one of my favourite things about this season was how my teammates and I were able to pursue our own different goals, and then watch each other develop and achieve them."     

"While the pandemic made for a very strange season, at the end of the day training is training and like all years this season will serve as a stepping stone towards the next," added LeBlanc.         

In each of the virtual events, the Chargers placed highly among those who uploaded their results. At Legs for Literacy, the Chargers placed 6 of the top 7 spots in the 5km distance, including the overall top performances in the male and female categories (Alvarado and Bennett, respectively). Demonstrating the growing depth of the program was the marathon relay quartet of Hisey, Steeves, A. Reimer, and Bennett, which were fastest team at the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon. At the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Steeves took the program to new lengths in completing a half marathon, over three-and-a-half times the distance that women race in the ACAA.     

Full results to Legs for Literacy can be found here; to the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon here; and to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon here.        

Asked about final thoughts on this year's cross country season, LeBlanc expressed gratitude for the way that the season unfolded. "Given the circumstances of the world right now, we were very fortunate to be able to string together the season that we did, and we're very grateful that the University was supportive of us every step of the way."