The Tillsonburg Gemini cross country program’s secret weapon is a secret no longer.
“I like that,” said Gemini co-coach Katrina Massey, who ran varsity cross country at Brock University.
London Fanshawe, the opening race of the TVRAA season, was Gemini Devin Nicholson’s cross country coming out party. Heading into the 6,370-metre senior boys race as a comparative unknown, co-coach Lloyd Renken said Nicholson made his move after roughly three kilometres.
“He ran with the pack about halfway then broke away and never looked back,” said Renken. At the finish line, Nicholson had roughly a 75-metre lead, Renken added, “and looked particularly comfortable.”
It can be misleading to compare cross country times, given courses have their own unique terrain characteristics, including for example, a wide variety between length and difficulty of hills. But Nicholson’s finishing time of 29.29 through that distance was impressive on any course, said Renken.
“No question – he’s kicking butt.”
“He’s doing great,” Massey added. “He surprised a lot of people at the last meet.”
Nicholson admittedly may even have surprised himself a bit.
“I was expecting at least top 15,” said the 17-year-old Grade 12 Glendale student. “But I’ve trained all summer for it.”
Running has become Nicholson’s passion. Combined with that, his training regimen allowed him to take flight after the first loop.
“That’s when I started to separate myself,” he recalled. “I knew I wasn’t going to let anybody catch me after that.”
Having opened the high school season with a comparative bang might put added pressure on some, but Nicholson says he isn’t feeling it.
“Not really, I put more pressure on myself than I feel from outside sources.”
One race admittedly provides a small sample, but his dominant performance reinforces Nicholson’s goal of reaching OFSAA.
“That’s as far as I’m allowed to go in high school running.”
Nicholson’s race results led the Gemini through week one of the cross country season, but the coaches (a trio that includes co-coach Rick Kibalenko) are pleased to head up a Tillsonburg high school team which on paper, has 20-plus athletes, if a few less on race day.
“It’s not bad,” said Renken of a squad which has enough senior girls (five) and senior boys (eight) to enter team (minimum four runners) competition.
The Gemini began workouts on the second day of school, heading out every day since at 2:30 p.m.
“We try to really vary it up between easy, moderate and hard workouts,” said Renken.
“They all work hard,” Massey credited. “Everyone is really positive, we really encourage each other. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about this team, no one sits around, they are always cheering each other on.
“They are very enthusiastic.”
Thursdays are typically race days, which qualify as a ‘hard’ workout says Renken. Tuesdays are also slated for a ‘hard’ run with Wednesday and Friday’s ‘easy’ and Monday ‘moderate.’
“And they are expected to run one easy to moderate leg on their own on the weekend.”
There is a race per week in the cross country season, leading up to TVRAA championships Wednesday, October 16 (Tri-County) and Thursday, October 24 (London); WOSSAA (October 24) and OFSAA (November 2 at Laurentian University in Sudbury).
“It would be nice to qualify someone for OFSAA, that’s the ultimate goal,” said Renken. “But we’re also trying to qualify as many kids for WOSSAA as we can because I find if they get there, something clicks and they want to do more.”
Quantifiable finishes aside, Massey is also looking at the broader picture, setting individual ‘quality of running life’ improvement as her ultimate team goal.
“It would be nice to see everyone improve their PB (personal best), have fun running and increase their fitness level,” she concluded.