Anything extra below a personal best time and executing her game plan is a bonus for Vernon runner Robyn Poulin.
She collected two bonuses at the Canadian Cross-Country Running Championships Saturday, Nov. 30, at Clearbrook Park in Abbotsford, finishing third overall in the masters eight-kilometre race and winning her 35-39 age group.
Poulin, a wife and mother of three kids aged seven, five and three, who trains five days a week with the Vernon Amateur Athletic Association (VAAA), covered the frozen ground course (race started at 9:15 a.m. in 1-degree temperature) in 29 minutes, 37 seconds. She finished behind Maria Zambrano of Calgary’s Phoenix Striders (29:21) and Jen Millar of the UNBC team from Prince George (29:30).
“I was very happy with my results,” said Poulin, 37. “Getting third place overall was definitely a bonus and a welcome. I went in with the goal of a sub-30minute eight K which I had tried for at the provincial cross country race a month earlier in Saanich, but after walking the course there I had to adjust my expectation as the course was a hilly one. The BC National course had a rough steep incline as well but I felt more prepared for it mentally.”
The trio was close in the first lap, and in the second lap the lead jostled between the three leaders. Poulin took advantage of the hill and the hay bales (runners had to jump over them) to push into the lead for half-a-kilometre, but Zambrano took back the lead and held it for the rest of the race. Millar and Poulin went back-and-forth with Millar overcoming the Vernon runner on the last lap.
“Jen and I both worked hard together to close the gap between Maria and us during the last 500 metres, all finishing strong in the last 100 metres,” said Poulin, a hygienist and office manager for her husband’s law firm.
The frozen ground allowed Poulin to maximize her running stride as she does on a track without sinking into soft grass or mud.
“The cold air did start to affect me on the third lap when the water in my eyes felt as though it was slowly starting to freeze,” said Poulin. “Perhaps I will opt for wearing more race clothes next time, although I didn’t feel as though it was affecting my legs at all.”
Poulin has been running “since I can remember.” She raced in elementary school, has won gold, silver and bronze in the 400 metres in the provincial championships over the past three years under coaching from Wally Strang, a former Olympic coach who she met at the Okanagan College track as he was giving out pointers to people running around.
“After watching me run for a while Wally suggested I try track out,” said Poulin. “He has been perfecting my running form for three years now.”
In those three years, Poulin has won gold, silver and bronze medals at the B.C. Athletics Track and Field jamboree each year since 2017. She currently holds the BC Masters outdoor record for the 400 metres, 57.84 seconds.
Poulin also receives coaching at VAAA from John Machuga, and tags along in training sessions with the UBC Okanagan cross-country team.
“Both opportunities have been really helpful to keep me pushing through workouts I would otherwise have to do on my own,” she said.
Kelowna’s David Guss, who trains with the VAAA, proved a worthy adversary to those more than 20 years younger than him placing 12th overall in the 8km Men’s Masters event. Not to be outdone, Machuga, a long-time Vernon track coach, donned the racing spikes and ran to a 19th position in the Master’s race.
Several other VAAA runners took part at the nationals.
Annika Ariano, a member of the University of Guelph Gryphons track team), cracked the top-10 in the U20 girls 6km race, finishing 10th (field of 54) in 21:34 to earn a spot on the U20 National cross-country team that will race in February at the Pan Am Championships.
“The course was great although the steep hill was a leg burner,” said Ariano. “The hay bales we had to jump over at the 1.8km mark of the 2km loop added some strategic challenges but contributed an important technical element to the race.”
Ariano’s twin sister Natalya was 35th in 23:22. She was running for the University of Victoria club. The pair helped Team BC finish fourth in the team points event.
In the U16 boys 4km race, Carter Leahy was 28th (field of 60) in 14:07; Matthew Acob was 48th (14:52.695), edging out clubmate Ashton Takhar at the wire (14:52.741).
Brody Wright was 60th (field of 129) in 20:28 and Jack Screen 63rd (20:31) in the U18 boys race.
“I was glad for the opportunity to race at this level in my home province,” said Wright. “The level of competition really pushed me to raise the bar and race to my full potential.”
Not only did the VAAA track club participate at an athlete level, coach David Ariano was on the coaching lineup for the BC provincial squad. He was in charge of the Masters Women’s team who placed first overall with three BC runners in the top five positions and BC’s senior men team who came fourth overall in the provincial division.
“The event was an incredible experience for me being in charge of some of the top runners in the country and learning from some of the most decorated and experienced coaches in Canada,” said Ariano.”
The PanAm XC Championships, where runners from North, Central and South America will battle, is to be held in Langford, BC on Feb. 29, 2020. Abbotsford will again host Nationals in November of 2020.