Over the hill & far away

To preview tomorrow’s OUA cross-country finals, the Journal goes looking for hills and thrills at Fort Henry

In tomorrow’s OUA championship race the women will run two, 2.5 km circuits at Fort Henry Hill and the men will run four.
In tomorrow’s OUA championship race the women will run two, 2.5 km circuits at Fort Henry Hill and the men will run four.

Tomorrow the Queen’s cross-country team will compete at the Ontario University Athletics championships on their home course on Fort Henry Hill at the Royal Military College.

Because the Gaels are hosting the event, I thought I would offer my professional opinion on the calibre of the course by running it myself.

The following is an account of my experiences atop windswept Fort Henry Hill.

Before I begin, let me just say that I am not now nor have I ever made pretence of being a runner.
The last time I ran five consecutive kilometers was four years ago. Wednesday morning, armed
with my trusty running shoes, the Journal’s tireless photo editor and a pair of spandex pants, I set out towards the RMC.

Things began in the usual fashion: I jogged in circles and did some stretching while trying to get a feel for the terrain. The course is made of grass and dirt and, though the wind was blowing at speeds fast enough to knock over even the fittest of editors, the sun was shining.

As soon as I felt emotionally prepared to begin I set myself up on the starting line.

The course itself is a 2.5-kilometre loop and the women in tomorrow’s race will complete two circuits.
Headphones in place, I settled into a comfortable rhythm after several hundred metres. I started at a reasonable pace, not wanting to burn out before I finished my first trip around. Whoever put the word
‘hill’ in the name of this place wasn’t kidding. I felt like I was running 20 strides up for every three strides down but at the finish line I miraculously found myself at the same level upon which I had begun. I spoke to Queen’s runner Leslie Sexton after I finished my run, but she didn’t seem to share my view. “You get a bit of the rolling stuff but there aren’t really many big hills.”

I guess we’ll just agree to disagree. My first challenge came when I rounded a bend and was faced with several large mud puddles blocking the entire width of the course. Suddenly, I had a choice to
make: do I go around the pit, keeping my feet dry but inevitably adding at least several seconds to my race time? Or do I run though the mini-swamp and maintain my speed but suffer wet feet for the rest of my run (probably about 4.5 kilometres)?

Trooper that I am, I grit my teeth and slogged through the mud. In retrospect I probably should have kept my teeth behind my lips so as to avoid the spray of dirty water sent up by my trusty running shoes. Anyway, I braved the mud and several gargantuan hills and I was more than halfway through my first loop. “Yes!” I thought to myself, feeling pretty good. “That trip to the gym last month is really
paying off!” Then I realized I was skipping a whole leg of the circuit. Not to be discouraged, I quickly
cut across—I mean, I carefully retraced my steps—to the right path and carried on. Apart from the fact that my legs felt like lead, I finished the first loop without further incident. Sexton said she finds the course more boring than challenging.

“I don’t find it particularly difficult; it’s just that we train on it all the time.”

By the time I was halfway through my second loop I was getting pretty tired but I kept on. I was feeling good about my decision to run the course and I knew that the end was (figuratively) in sight. (It was, in reality, hidden behind a hill.) Then it started to rain. But I figured that since I had
made it this far there was no way a little rain was going to keepme from reaching my goal. So onward—and upward—I pushed. After 5,000 metres, 33 minutes and five seconds, I was breathingheavily, sweating more than any girl ever pants to admit, and (sort of) sprinting across the finish line. As relief flooded into me and lactic acid flooded out, I thought about the athletes who would
be following in my footsteps the next afternoon. While I have never felt anything but respect and admiration for runners, I was at that moment feeling nothing less than reverence toward them.

The women’s winning time at the Queen’s Open was 18:37. So, after being pelted with rain and sprayed with mud, I still may not be able to call myself a cross-country runner but at least I can say I got a taste of that good old Fort Henry dirt. Literally.

The races will take place tomorrow with the women running at 1 p.m. and the men running at 1:45 p.m.

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