Marauders on track after strong summer

Connor Darlington (Photo: McMaster Athletics)

Connor Darlington (Photo: McMaster Athletics)

Two young Marauders provided encouraging signs for the future as their summer track seasons drew to a close earlier this month. McMaster rookie Connor Darlington topped the podium at the 5,000-metre distance during this summer’s Canada Games, while fellow first-year Maddy McDonald took home a silver medal in the recent 3,000m event at the Pan American Junior Athletics Championships in Medellin, Colombia.

Darlington seized the best result for a Marauder in one of the last events of the Canada Games. The rookie runner outpaced the field en route to a gold medal in the 5,000m on the track, adding a third podium finish to the tally for McMaster athletes on Aug. 16.

The Whitby, ON, native entered his decisive race as the frontrunner, having the fastest seed time of anyone in the Canada Games field. It’s no surprise then, that Darlington was confident of a podium finish.

“Going into the race, I knew that I had a very good shot at the podium,” he said. “I felt that finishing in the top three was definitely the goal that I should set for myself. I wanted to win – I’m sure everyone did – but I felt confident in my training and my abilities going into the race, especially having the fastest seed time.”

Darlington’s result came on the heels of bronze medal-winning performances by swimmer Mohamed Eldah in the 100m butterfly event on Aug. 7 and triathlete Conor Gillespie-Friesen six days later.

The 5,000m event was held at the end of the Canada Games’ track and field schedule, with Darlington racing well past 8 p.m. But the Marauder rookie believes that the timing of the event improved conditions on the track.

“The rain had stopped, which made it alright for the race.” he explained. “The conditions late at night are ideal, actually. Later, the wind usually dies down, so aside from it being a little bit dark outside the track, I managed to get into the zone under the lights.”

He certainly did find himself “in the zone.” Darlington took a full two seconds off of his leading seed time en route to a gold medal, and admitted that standing atop the podium in Sherbrooke was a special moment. It brought a summer of training to fruition after a season in which he raced very selectively.

“It’s not every day that you go into a big race like that,” he said. “It felt euphoric to be up there. It felt like all of the training had amounted to something special. Being there with the guys, Matt and Emanuel, who finished second and third, it felt great for all of us.”

The challenge ahead for Darlington is to reacclimatize himself to the particulars of the cross country season, namely a doubled race length of 10km and running on the uneven ground of the trails. But the young Marauder finds himself in an enviable position, having competed at the longest distance possible on the track and made his transition to the trails that much easier.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty seamless transition for me,” he said. “Getting ready to double a race is going to take some adaptation. But I’ve usually done an 800-to-1,500m on the track, and going from there to 10km is a lot worse. I’m just going to have to run longer workouts and move onto the grass, but I’m mapping those transitions out right now.”

He is driven to do better on the trails this year, after what he deemed a disappointing rookie campaign. Darlington admitted that, entering Canadian Interuniversity Sport fold for the first time in 2012, he was under-prepared for that level of competition. But with a full year of training behind him, and the encouragement of his recent result, he is taking aim at the highest echelon of the country’s runners.

“Last year, I didn’t have the cross country season that I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t have the training to justify something better though. So this is good, going into cross country season feeling strong. I’m hoping to come in the top ten at the CIS meet. When I get closer, I can maybe narrow that goal a bit. I think I have the training now to do it.”

Manny McDonald (Photo: McMaster Athletics)

Manny McDonald (Photo: McMaster Athletics)

Meanwhile, McDonald’s showing in Colombia brings a successful summer on the track to a satisfying conclusion. The Marauder rookie had qualified for the Pan American event by claiming a silver medal and smashing her own personal best by nearly nine seconds in the 3,000m race at the Canadian Junior Track and Field Championships.

She returns to the trails where she enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, en route to a 13th-placed finish at the CIS Cross Country Championships and recognition as a Second Team All-Canadian. McDonald translated that varsity form into strong performances at the Canadian National Cross Country Championships – where she finished third in the junior race – and ultimately at the World Cross Country Championships, placing 47th overall and second among Canadians in the junior field.