How many schools in the CCAA can claim that their Cross Country team, or any sports team for that matter, made it to Nationals in its inaugural season? I’d wager few to none, but a new addition to that list of few can be made this year because the STMU Lightning did it. The Lightning competed in the Cross Country National Championships on November 7th and 8th at Confederation Park. To say it was the experience of a lifetime would be an understatement. It was the experience of a generation and an experience that none of us will soon forget.

It started to become clear to me that this was actually happening at about 2:30 on November 7th when we were taking our tour of the course. We were starting to visualize how we were going to run this race; where it was going to be challenging and where it was going to be less stressful. After our tour we got a group photo at the location of the race finish line.

That evening we then attended the opening ceremonies banquet in Heritage Hall at SAIT polytechnic which was the host school for this year’s Nationals. We had a delicious pasta dinner and were treated with some great entertainment provided by SAIT’s violinist group. After the fun festivities we went home and got some much needed rest because tomorrow was show time!

It was a brisk 12° day with mild cloud cover; another perfect day for running. One thing our team has most certainly been blessed with is great running weather. The good weather we’ve had at every single race this year has definitely been a factor in our consistent and steady improvement. I arrived at Confederation Park at 10:30 on November 8th and walked it again, noting all the hazards on the ground and thinking about how I was going to run this race. After stretching, jogging on the course twice more and completing our routine warm up; my team and I were ready to take on our very first showing in the CCAA Nationals.

BANG! It had started. The gun went off and all around us it was bedlam like Rogers Arena when Team Canada won hockey gold in 2010. I ran hard but conservatively as Coach Adams had told me to so many times over the last several weeks. It was a challenging course with several small hills, a few long but gradual ones and one really big one. I soon realized that they all seem to add up in the long run but with each uphill there is a downhill and I made a note of capitalizing on each and every one. Coach Adams told us not to hold back on the down hills and I’m glad I didn’t. I let gravity do the work on my body and as a result I felt like I was flying down each hill. There were several aggravating bottle necks throughout the course but I wouldn’t let them get me down. I just kept running my race. The four laps of the 2 km course were getting pretty arduous but we all pushed on and finished the race. It was our first time competing at the national level and we may have come in last place overall but our team put in a gallant effort. This was our individual results:

108 and runners participated in the race
Runner Time Pace/km Overall place
Christopher White Gloria 31:26 3:56 80
Matthew Mundy 32:34 4:04 89
Lucas Empey 33:01 4:08 94
Jake Stanley 38:34 4:49 108

After the race it was time to celebrate so we went home and got ready for the closing ceremonies and banquet. The banquet took place at Heritage Hall again and the food was excellent. Roast beef, salmon, chicken, mashed potatoes and a variety of salads. During the presentation of the awards, it was quite inspiring to bear witness to the accomplishments that had been reached by each of the runners. Humber College from Toronto, Ontario won the nationals in the men’s race and the small Grande Prairie regional college won the nationals in the women’s race.

At the banquet I learned why I love Cross Country so much. In high school I preferred to compete alone. That’s not why I originally started competing in Cross Country, but it is a reason why I stuck to it. At the banquet though I learned that unlike my experiences in basketball or football, the camaraderie of this sport does not just span the team that you’re competing with; it spans the nation that your running in. Sadly, I was not there to witness and participate in this but I did hear at the banquet that when Jake was running to the finish line he was being excitedly cheered on by dozens of strangers that he had never met that were from all over the country. So, whenever you’re running at the National level in Cross Country race, you may be running alone on your own steam but you’re not competing alone. The entire country’s got your back.