The UTM cross country team participated in the OCAA Championships at Seneca College in Toronto on Saturday, October 29. The team had a strong seventh place finish, running amongst other outstanding colleges within the OCAA.

Haseeb Malik had the highest finish in the men’s division, crossing the finish line in 18th place with a time of 29 minutes and 24 seconds. Kale Heino finished in 23rd place, running with a total time of 29 minutes and 53 seconds. In the women’s six kilometre division race, UTM’s Andrea Ortiz, Gloria Lim, and Katie Hill all finished in the top 50.

It was a battle until the finish line for Malik, who had two other runners, Alfred Pujadas from Centennial College and Jason LaPorta from Mohawk College, running next to him for nearly the entire final stretch. Following behind Malik and Heino was UTM’s Hamza Ali, who ran a time of 31 minutes and 26 seconds. To put the times into perspective, Seth Marcaccio finished first in the men’s division, with a time of 26 minutes and 55 seconds.

The entire eight kilometre race was exhausting for the runners who had to battle the tough course, which had plenty of hills and slippery terrain. “Kale and I, and a lot of other athletes on our team, ran until our last breaths. We were exhausted, and lay on the ground as soon as we crossed the finish line,” says Malik.

Runners don’t only battle the physical attributes of the course or their body ailments, but they also have to persevere through the mental doubt that creeps into mind once the exhaustion comes into effect.

“Last time we ran this course, I had to drop out of the race, as I had an intense amount of pain in my leg, and was better off not injuring myself before coming back here for provincials,” says Malik. Because he had to take some time off to recover, coming into this race, Malik felt prepared in the sense that his fitness level was ready. Taking a few days off running reduced the intensity of his workouts, but helped him gain tremendous ground on his ability to run.

The goal for the team was to finish in fifth place, but they ended up in seventh place. Malik’s goal was to finish in the top 15, but due to the struggles brought on by his injury, he managed an 18th place finish—good enough to get him into the CCAA championship event taking place November 11-12 in Sault Saint Marie. Heino’s 23rd place finish was also good enough to get him into the championship event.

Even though only Heino and Malik move on going forward in this season, the team still trains together. For the next two weeks, the eliminated athletes find solace in helping the two student athletes compete and get ready for the biggest race of their lives. “We will still go on runs together and keep our bodies conditioned, almost like we have no off-season,” says Haseeb.

Malik believes that the biggest contributing factor to the team’s success this year—at one point claiming ninth spot in the overall standings—is the relationship each and every individual has with one another on the team. “Cross country is more of a team sport than people think; you have to give credit where credit is due. We all work together to make sure everyone gets the right help with training, recovery, and motivation,” says Malik.

It’s the second year in a row that Malik and Heino have made it to the national event. “Making it to nationals two years in a row with Kale is an awesome feeling for both me, my coaches, and my teammates. I’m glad that logging in all those miles of running has paid off,” says Malik.

There are no overwhelming expectations for Malik and Heino at the national event in November. “My expectations are just to end the season on a good note. Now that I’m going to the CCAA nationals and representing UTM with Kale, we have to go out there and do the best we can on the course,” says Malik.