Members of the Lakeland College Rustlers cross country team train at Vermilion Provincial Park on Monday. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO
The Lakeland College Rustlers cross country team is entering one of the most important weekends of their season.
The Rustlers will compete in their second Grand Prix event of the September to October Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) campaign at Red Deer College this Saturday.
The meet will serve as a primer for the ACAC championships, which will also be held in Red Deer one month from now, as well as provide the athletes a first opportunity to reach their personal goals.
Jackie Bender, coach of the Rustlers, said the team did very well in their first meet at Edmonton’s Concordia University on Sept. 9, but the open run event did serve as a bit of an eye-opener for their young group of eight first-year runners and sole returnee.
She said the open run Grand Prix events feature a large gathering of competitive and recreational runners from inside and outside the ACAC, making for quite an intimidating experience for those athletes unused to that level of competition.
“To go and get a time and to finish the race for some of them is a good accomplishment, but obviously we’ve got bigger goals,” said Bender.
“Everyone has set their personal benchmark with that first race, and now we’re setting individual goals based on where they’re at and what they need to do to improve from that point on.”
Bender said the athletes have been completing a six-day training schedule including two team and four individual runs each week during the month of the September, in an effort to get ready for the busy last half of the season.
She said the exercise program involves a mixture of intervals, hill work, resistance training, long runs and race pace runs, with the end goal being to improve their endurance and performance.
“We have the potential this year to have a top 10 runner (at provincials) with the times that I’m seeing at practices,” she said.
“That would mean that they would go to nationals. So, that’s definitely within the sights for a few of these athletes and that’s what some of them are really working hard towards.”
Keagan Rewuski, a first-year member of the Rustlers cross country team, said things didn’t go quite so well for him at the first Grand Prix event, but it did provide a good glimpse of what competing at the collegiate level is like.
He said the meet had double the number of participants that he’d see when running as a member of the Dewberry School, team and the competition was a lot fiercer.
“I was lucky I finished,” said Rewuski. “I was hurting. It was eight kilometres. It wasn’t too bad in terms of hills or terrain or anything. It was just a bad run on my part.”
Bender said all nine members of the Rustlers will compete in the ACAC championships at Red Deer College on Oct. 28, and the race this weekend should help them gain a good time, considering it is the same course.
She said the cross country season lasts less than eight weeks from the first meet to provincials, so the runners have to step up to the challenge to make their goals.
“These athletes are working really hard, and any gain is a commendable gain,” said Bender.
“It’s a short season and everybody is starting at their own pace and then we encourage individual development from there. We are a team, but the results are their own.”