HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Derek Strachan entered the boys’ junior 5,000-metre race at the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association cross-country running championships last week with plenty of questions.
The last time he spent a fall day running through the woods and mud was two years ago as a Grade 8 student. When he entered Glebe Collegiate Institute last year, the cross-country running season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he lined up at the start for his race Thursday at the Hornets Nest, the vast majority of the field was unknown to him. He was making his NCSSAA city championship debut, like the others around him.
Strachan had won the NCSSAA East Conference title two weeks earlier, but he was uncertain how strong the runners would be from the West Conference.
The Hornets Nest course involved a big toboggan hill and several areas that would be wet and treacherous, after two days of rain. He walked the course before the race to see the worst parts, but racing the course with other competitive runners surrounding him would be a different matter.
But less than 19 minutes after the start gun sent 97 runners twisting, turning and toppling to the finish line, Strachan answered all his questions. You could tell by the winning smile on his face.
Strachan set the pace for the majority of the race and won in 18 minutes, 56.34 seconds. Glebe teammate Kiefer Melinz Dupuis stayed in his shadow and finished second in 19:06.63, which duplicated their East Conference championship result.
St. Mother Teresa’s William Sanders, who won the West Conference race, made a dramatic sprint down the finish chute and passed Lisgar’s Theo Krnjevic in his final step to secure third place. Sanders was timed in 19:16.54, while Krnjevic settled for fourth place in 19:16.78.
“This race was a lot harder,” Strachan said about the wet, slippery course conditions for the NCSSAA city championships compared to the East Conference championships two weeks earlier. “The race was more competitive, muddy and wet.
“One and a half kilometres out, I opened up a gap and I took a chance. I went for it and held everyone off.”
Strachan doesn’t consider himself a strong uphill runner, but when he completed that gruelling exercise to the top after being second entering the toboggan hill, he started to pull away from the field.
“It (running solo) was hard. I had to stay technically aware (of his running form) and look around more,” he added.
Strachan was cheered to the finish line by his older brother Jeremy, who went on to place 12th in the boys’ senior 6,000-metre race in 24:14.80. Jeremy, who gave Derek some pre-race advice, positioned himself about 200 metres from the end to give Derek a positive boost coming home.
Later in the day, Derek Strachan learned he was a double champion as he sparked Glebe to the boys’ junior team title with all four of their scoring runners placing in the top eight for 18 points. Woodroffe was second at 58 placement points, while St. Mother Teresa took third with 83 points.
“I was happy to win, but more relieved,” Strachan said minutes after his victory. “I won my conference, but I didn’t know about the other conference. It was good to know I could compete with them.
“I did a lot of training for this season. I tried to think of what I did wrong in my last race (East Conference championship). This time, I was more aware of my form and the mud.”
Strachan, an accomplished Nakkertok Nordic cross-country skier with numerous age-group medals to his credit, has the perfect lean and light build for running, which he considers his top sport.
“I like to run. You can do it anywhere. Anyone can do it. Everyone has access to it,” he said.
The Glebe team of Strachan, Melinz Dupuis, Cameron Cino (seventh in 20:46.03) and Ari Good (eighth in 20:59.35) were runaway winners of the boys’ junior team title.
Woodroffe’s four runners finished in the top 30 for second place overall – Kadar Mohamud (fifth in 20:24.70), Leo Langlois (10th in 21:13.01), Ben Schwarz (14th in 21:22.39) and William Wright (29th in 22:59.83).
The St. Mother Teresa squad of Sanders, Logan Grant (12th in 21:17.61), Lucas Tyman (32nd in 23:16.71) and Jonathan Kao (36th in 23:47.50) captured third.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.