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Stunning performance results in 3,000-metres record for Branna MacDougall

May 17, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

People who watched the junior girls 3,000 metres Friday afternoon, Steve Boyd suggested, probably had no idea what they just witnessed.

Several minutes after the event was done — to call it a race would be a misnomer — Boyd still had a look of wonder on a face that has seen a lot of fine athletes compete in a lot of big races.

“That might be one of the best things anyone’s ever done at KASSAA,” Boyd said after Branna MacDougall of Regiopolis Notre Dame posted a meet record time of 9 minutes 53.8 seconds, shattering the modern county record for a junior girl by more than 40 seconds and the all-time junior girls record — 10:08.6, set in 1996 by Emily Tallen — by almost 15 seconds.

“It might be the best thing anyone’s done,” Boyd continued, with emphasis on the absolute. “There may be four girls I can think of who ever, in Kingston, in any grade, at any meet, broke 10 minutes in 3k and she did 9:53. A Grade 10 (student) goes out and does it for the hell of it, on a cold, windy day. It’s ridiculous.”

MacDougall’s performance was the talk of Caraco Field on the final day of the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association track and field championships Friday.

In her Grade 13 year, Tallen, a two-time provincial high school champion and a four-time OFSAA medalist in the 3,000 metres, ran sub-10 minutes three times, but never did she get down to 9:53. Stephanie Hulse, in winning OFSAA silver, did 9:58 in her last high school race.

With two years of high school to go, MacDougall is faster than them all.

“I had my watch going so I knew what kind of pace times I was doing,” she said. “Even when I wasn’t looking down I knew. I just felt so strong that I knew I was going pretty fast.”

Before her coach so much as said a word, MacDougall said it was apparent she’d done well.

“He’s not one for over-praising anyone,” she said, “but you can tell when you’ve done a good race and you can tell when he’s happy. He told me it was a good race and I could tell he thought it was good.”

As remarkable as the feat may be, it hasn’t changed the plan for MacDougall to drop the 3,000 metres from her repertoire before the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championships next month.

“Because that’s not racing,” said Boyd, MacDougall’s coach with the Physi-Kult group, with a nod to the fact that she finished Friday’s competition almost a minute and 34 seconds — that’s more than a lap in a seven-and-a-half-lap race — ahead of the next-closest competitor.

The reason for dropping the 3,000, Boyd explained, is to concentrate on 800 and 1,500 metres, events where she will face tougher competition and have to learn the tactics and strategies associated with more closely bunched fields.

“When she learns how to run the 8 and 15 in close quarters, she’ll have those skills for distance running later on, when there’s close quarters in 3s, 5s and 10 (thousand metres),” Boyd said. “We’ll work on her racing skills and when she’s allowed to run (the 3,000), she’s going to be totally dominant. There’s another 20 seconds there, easily.”

It’s a long-term approach that not all young athletes who are asked to turn their back on a probable OFSAA medal would eagerly embrace, but MacDougall says she’s fine with it.

“When he talks about it, it makes perfect sense to do the 800,” she said. “You get so much more racing experience. In the 3,000, it’s a spread-out race and I’d probably be on my own until OFSAA, but in the 800 it’s a group of girls and it’s so mental. You have to constantly be planning — when to make my move, when are they going to make their move? It’s a hard race. I’ll learn how to race better.

“I want to be a long-term runner, not just a high school runner. I want to go to university and run there. I want to be improving after high school.”

MacDougall looks forward to contesting the 3,000 metres fulltime next season, and though she says she prefers track to cross-country running, in the fall she’s looking forward to moving up to senior division, where the harrier course is five kilometres long.

MacDougall is a natural distance runner, Boyd said, one who has benefited from having Heather Jaros and Nicole Armstrong, two other elite runners, as training partners.

“They’ve been going at each other for months now and Branna’s just gotten stronger and stronger,” Boyd said. “She was chasing them for a while and now in the longer workouts she leads them, so we knew something was up. I didn’t think she’d run that fast but we knew she was very fit.

“She’s grown. She’s bigger and stronger this year. She’s maturing and she’s a smart kid. She learns from her mistakes, and wants (to be successful) more than any of the girls that we’ve had. She’s got all the tools.”

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