Gen Lalonde, denied chance at cross-country nationals 3-peat, to run her own race

For Gen Lalonde, part of the allure of cross-country running is the unexpected, which can’t be said about the 3,000-metre steeplechase, her signature event.

“I know there is going to be 35 barriers and some of them aren’t going to have water,” she said. “I generally know what the pace is going to be, but in cross-country I have no idea. It can be anyone’s day.”

Lalonde, the two-time defending senior women’s champion, was hoping Saturday would be her day for a third consecutive year at the Canadian championships but the event — scheduled for Clearbrook Park in Abbotsford, B.C. — was cancelled in August because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, she is planning her own version of cross-country this weekend — running a solo 10-kilometre time trial.

It will be the Moncton, N.B., native’s latest attempt to mimic a “normal” year since the Canadian record holder didn’t enter a steeplechase race through the summer.

“I did an 8K time trial a few weeks ago that would have coincided with the [B.C.] provincial championships,” said Lalonde, who moved to Victoria from Guelph, Ont., in January and married elite Canadian triathlete John Rasmussen in September.

“It gives me goals to [strive for] since I haven’t raced since February and simulates the pre-race jitters [for] when I step on the line for real.”

Lining up for a tough race in Abbotsford on Saturday and watching the distance running community come together to celebrate the sport is something the French on-air host at Radio Victoria says she will miss.

“The national cross-country championships is about running, having fun and trying your best,” said the women’s 10K champion at the 2020 Pan American Cross-Country Cup in Victoria. “You never know how the race is going to go, so part of the fun is being ready for anything.”

WATCH | Gen Lalonde runs to steeplechase Pan Am gold:

Genevieve Lalonde won the gold medal in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase, setting a Pan American Games record in the process. 0:29

Looking back, the path to victory each of the past two years couldn’t have been more different.

‘Rewarding to come out with victory’

“In Kingston [Ont.], my goal was to run with Natasha Wodak, as long as I could,” Lalonde said of her 2018 race plan on the famed Fort Henry course. “I knew she had been dominant on the cross-country scene and is a gritty runner. She’s really strong, consistent and knows her pacing, so I knew if I ran with her, I would have a good chance to medal.

“I started to break from the [lead] group and knew I had gained the momentum and was having so much fun. Joel [Bourgeois], my coach [behind the scenes], was coaching [at] the University of Laval at the time and running around the course.

“I remember him saying, ‘Way to go’ and I remember smiling and waving,” continued the 2016 Olympian. “I knew I still had work to do — I think I had two kilometres to go — but I knew in that moment I had put in a lot of work and it was so rewarding to come out with a victory.

“Last year in Abbotsford was very, very different. After only a month of training after I took time off after a long track season, I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know how hard a 10K could feel. It was consistent pounding and [eventual second-place finisher] Sarah Inglis was relentless. Maria [Bernard-Galea] was right behind us and it was back and forth.

“All three of us were surging and with one kilometre to go, [my primary coach] Hilary [Stellingwerff, from the University of Victoria] looked at me and she was like, ‘Just make it to the finish.’ I didn’t know if I would. I was able to [pull out] the win but it was definitely the hardest run I’ve ever done.”

Uncertain when and where her next race will happen, the 2019 Pan Am steeplechase gold medallist has tried to mix things up in her training recently — running trails and hurdle drills on the track and long, muddy hills — to keep things fun and prepare her for all race conditions.

“My focus right now is on consistent base mileage,” said Lalonde, adding if she was to compete indoors in January and February it wouldn’t extend beyond one or two races. “In the coming months, I’ll gradually transition from running more on the road and trails to the track.

“The focus will be on there being an Olympics [next] summer and being ready, happy and healthy come then. Crossing the finish line in Tokyo is where we want to be.”

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