On Nov. 20, cross-country runners from across Canada gathered at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City for the U Sports championship. Representing the Martlets was fourth-year Maia Watson and graduate student Chloe Fleurent-Gregoire. The Redbirds, led by second-year Matthew Beaudet, represented McGill as a team at nationals for the first time in five years.
The day started out with the women’s race at 12 p.m. The course, eight kilometres in total, consisted of four laps of a very technical and hilly two-kilometre course. Jessy Lacourse of Laval and Lauren McNeil of UBC Okanagan established themselves as the clear leaders early on in the race, creating a significant gap between them and the next runners. While McNeil led for the majority of the race, Lacourse had a stronger kick and passed McNeil in the last 500 metres of the race to claim the national title. Fleurent-Gregoire was the first McGill finisher, coming in 34th out of 128 runners with a time of 30:33, just over two minutes behind first place.
Although Fleurent-Gregoire did not achieve her goal of coming in the top 30, it was extremely close and she was pleased with her performance overall. Having her teammates cheering from back home was reassuring, though she missed their presence at the race.
“I have been to nationals as a whole team before and that is a special experience,” Fleurent-Gregoire said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Obviously, I had my teammate Maia with me, which was nice, but it’s not the same as having your whole team. [I] knew they were watching and it inspired Maia and I to race hard for them. I hope that I am inspiring them to hopefully come to nationals as a team in the next few years.”
Watson finished almost exactly two minutes after Fleurent-Gregoire, placing 94th with a time of 32:35. This was only the second eight-kilometre race of the season for both Martlets, with the only other equidistant race being the RSEQ Championships.
The men’s competition kicked off at 1 p.m., with a large pack of tightly clumped runners taking the lead. As the race went on, the rest of the pack spread out, but the group of runners at the front, which included McGill’s Beaudet, remained neck-and-neck. The front runners battled it out until the very end, when Guelph’s Mitchell Ubene outkicked Laval’s Thomas Fafard, winning the race by one second.
Beaudet finished strong to come in seventh with a time of 24:47. While his time was just slightly slower than his provincial time, the conditions and the competition made the national race more challenging.
“It was very difficult, a lot muddier than provincials and the field was a lot more competitive and dense,” Beaudet said. “I knew that I had to stay with two runners from Laval, Thomas Fafard [and Jean Simon] Desgagnés, as they were going to be leading or right near the front. So the plan was to stick with them for most of it and do what I can in the last kilometre.”
With a strong showing at his first Nationals to cap off an impressive season, Beaudet was named national rookie of the year and made First Team All-Canadian.
The Redbirds boasted other strong performances as well. The next four McGill runners finished fairly close together, with third-year Henry Wellenstein leading the charge. Wellenstein ended strong, creating some distance between himself and the rest of his teammates and ending with a time of 25:52, a 41-second improvement from his time at the RSEQ Championships.
First-years Tom Secheyron, William Davalan, and Jack Stanley rounded out the top five Redbird finishers—Davalan and Stanley finished only six and a half seconds, or five places, apart. With such a young team, the Redbirds cross-country squad have a bright future and could pose a real threat to powerhouses like the University of Laval or the University of Guelph in the years to come.