By Hailey Salvian
I won my first cross-country meet when I was in fifth grade. I don’t remember how long it was or how fast I ran it, but if you asked me then, it would be the last race I’d ever run.
I didn’t understand what the point of the race was, I was cold, tired and for some reason nobody wanted to talk to me. I was so lonely and bored that I ran to the front to talk to the man who led the runners through the course.
I was never a runner. In fact, I hated running. I was a multi-sport athlete in high school, so I saw running as optional or punishment. My 10-year-old self thought I retired that day — yet here I am again, on Ryerson’s first-ever cross-country team and this time, things are different.
In June, Ryerson announced it’s starting a cross-country team this fall that’ll be coached by Tim Uuksulainen, who formerly coached at Nipissing University.
I wish I could say this announcement was a dream come true, but that’s not my story. I’m not sure when exactly I fell in love with running, but I do know how it happened.
Toronto is a hot bed for running clubs and I was lucky enough to find a group that welcomed me with open arms and helped me realize my potential as a runner. A new passion, great friends and good timing led to my spot on this team.
Each of my teammates took a different path to joining this team. While some stumbled upon it, others waited years for this.
Mark Park, a fourth-year student, tried for three years to represent Ryerson as an individual runner.
“[The athletic department] made me jump through hoops before they would let me run,” Park said. “They made me prove I was capable of running and wouldn’t embarrass them at the meets.”
He failed three times. When he went to give it a fourth go, he learned there would be an official team.
Shortly after the initial announcement, Uuksulainen set up interested runners with a three-month off-season training schedule to make sure we arrived with a solid base, but remained somewhat rested and uninjured.
We had to run 50 to 80 kilometres per week, with a mix of speed runs to build endurance, slower recovery runs and distance runs to build strength.
In the months leading up to the season, there was a huge feeling of disconnect for me. I was training for a team without having met the coach or my teammates. I emailed Tim my results and improvements, and would see replies from others on the email threads, but I couldn’t put a face to a name.
I did the majority of my training with my run club, so although I was running for Ryerson, my loyalty was with my friends.
Once the team was set, we began training for real: six to seven days a week, with the same alternating types of workouts. Fast runs, long runs, recovery runs every day with the team. It was off-putting at first, being uprooted from my regular group and dropped into a new team with all new faces.
That was the hardest transition for me; I struggled to let go of the people who made me love what I was doing. I was afraid that if I did, then running wouldn’t be fun for me anymore.
That all changed at the starting line of our first race. I still owe a lot to my running club friends, but I love my team and the feeling of competing for my school is indescribable.
While I love being a part of this team, I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been road blocks. As a first-year team, we have what the athletics department calls “club status.”
This means Ryerson will pay for our OUA membership, allowing us to compete, but we must take the bulk of the funding upon ourselves. Until we start to perform like Ryerson’s successful teams, we will not get the same support from the department.
Scheduling training sessions has also proved difficult, as our class schedules weren’t made with training in mind like the other teams’ are. These are minor issues, though, and Tim said that as we improve, it’ll get easier.
Varsity cross-country takes running to a whole different level. Some people see running as a way to stay fit, but it’s much more than that.
It’s just as much a team sport as basketball or hockey. Each team gets 10 male and 10 female runners with the top five individual times combining for the teams point total.
The individual ranking gets a certain amount of points and the school with the lowest point total wins the meet. With this structure, we’re not just running for ourselves, we’re running for the team.
So far we’ve raced twice, first at the Western Invitational and most recently at the Don Mills Open in Waterloo, which is also where the OUA Championships will be held. We have done well considering we’re a first-year team, finishing ninth out of 12 and sixth out of 11, beating out schools that have had teams for years.
It has been incredibly humbling to take the starting line next to such tough competition. There are 17 teams in the OUA and six of them are in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) top 10. The top women are posting 5-kilometre times at 17 minutes and the men are doing 10 kilometres in 32 minutes.
We’re not in an easy division to say the least, but I truly believe we can get to where these teams are. In addition to his vast coaching experience, Tim has been running since 1969 and co-founded the Longboat Road Runners (a Toronto-based run club) in 1981.
His experience is reflected in our performance. Almost every runner on the team has improved their times each race, despite the fact that the courses have only become more difficult.
Tim said that “success occurs when preparation and opportunity meet.” To me, this symbolizes our team; each runner has put in the work and finally has the opportunity to compete. With the OUA Championships fast approaching on Oct. 31, these next few weeks are the perfect time to make our mark and show everyone that Ryerson cross-country is here to stay.