HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
If you were to ask Kerri LaBrecque about her running career, she would proudly tell you she’s an endurance racer, anything between five kilometres and the 42.195-kilometre marathon suits her just fine.
But there’s also an adventurous side to the mother of two young daughters as well. While she trains hard for the above road races and usually does quite well in the end, LaBrecque is using this fall to venture into unexplored territories.
Making a quick decision in early October and doing a lot of research, LaBrecque, 37, decided to enter her first mountain trail race in Massif du Sud Regional Park, Que. And at the end of this month, she plans to enter her first cross-country running race, when the Athletics Canada national championships are staged Nov. 27 at Wesley Clover Parks in Ottawa.
In between those two races, and to give herself a taste of what’s familiar, she ran The Great Big Cookie Run five-kilometre race Sunday for the first time. She covered the Ottawa course in 17 minutes, 55 seconds, which was only 14 seconds off her personal best-time for the road, and placed her first in the women’s race and eighth overall.
LaBrecque has loved running trails ever since her young family built a chalet in Mont Ste. Marie, Que. Her training runs last anywhere from one to three hours.
The training led to racing and she entered a pair of 14-kilometre MEC Ottawa Trail races in 2018 and 2019. The results were totally different. In 2018, the elite group got lost and she placed 73rd overall and was the 14th woman. In 2019, she was the first woman and 33rd overall in 1:19:29.6.
When LaBrecque learned about the Canadian vertical uphill mountain running championships from Ottawa friend Sjaan Gerth, she couldn’t wait to approach the start line. She researched the race and terrain as best she could and added some training, which came on the heels of a recent brutal marathon.
“When I found out about this race… it very much intrigued me,” LaBrecque said in a phone interview. “I did a marathon one month before and it didn’t go well. I needed a redemption race.”
LaBrecque ran the Marathon du P’tit Train du Nord on Oct. 3 from Val David to St. Jérome, Que., but a lengthy downhill stretch destroyed her quads. She fought to the finish and was elated as the 18th woman in 3:07:32. Her best time is 2:52 from the 2013 Ottawa Marathon.
That redemption race also was designated as the Canadian trail running championships in Massif du Sud Regional Park. But since it was such a unique race and not for everyone, there were only 26 men and 13 women willing to attack the mountain trails.
LaBrecque recorded a major rebound in performance on one of the three Notre Dame Mountain summits, which are part of the Appalachian Mountain range. She finished second in the women’s race and earned $250.
A member of the Ottawa Running Room Athletic Club, LaBrecque covered the 7.05-kilometre course in 45:36.9. The course had one steep 14-per-cent grade, where she gained ground with continuous running, another section where she lost time because she was briefly bewildered as she couldn’t find the pink marking flags, and a muddy ending, which denied her a quick finish.
Sarah Bergeron Larouche of St-Ferreol-Les-Neiges won the race in 44:06.2. Bergeron Larouche and LaBrecque also qualified to represent Canada at the world mountain and trail running championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at a date to be determined in February, 2022.
Tina McInnes of Ottawa was 11th in the women’s race in 55:48.4, while Haley Cruse of Kemptville stopped in 12th in 57:54.1. Gerth finished fifth in the men’s race in 36:58.6.
“It was a great result, but I couldn’t believe it,” LaBrecque added. “I was happy and people kept saying that I finished second, but I couldn’t believe it until I saw the results. I needed validation.
“I didn’t know what position I was in, when I finished. I asked Sjaan three times and he told me I was second. I didn’t know I was in the top three. I knew someone was behind me and in front of me.”
Having never seen the course before the national championship race, LaBrecque learned many lessons about how to run a more efficient race, if she wanted to race it again.
“I kept it in my head that these (hills) are my strong point. I stayed confident,” she said.
“I had nothing to lose. I like challenges. It’s good to get yourself out of the comfort zone. Because I did a marathon build-up, I was OK (entering the race). But this was new territory. It’s good to try a new thing.”
LaBrecque will wait until she gets full details about the world championships before making a decision about whether she will represent Canada in an overseas race during a pandemic. She has never been named to a national or provincial team in the past.
“Yes, I would do it again,” LaBrecque said about a second Canadian vertical uphill mountain running championship. “I can’t get enough of running uphills. I love it. I love pushing the limits.
“I’ve always had very short legs and was the youngest child, so I had to keep up with everyone. There’s a bit of an engine in me to do it.”
And now, the Athletics Canada national cross-country running championships are on the horizon. No mountains, but plenty of obstacles and uneven ground. Maybe even snow.
Another adventurous step as LaBrecque strides out of her comfort zone.
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.
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