For the past six years there has been discussion surrounding the distances run by Canadian collegiate athletes in cross-country. In 2012, the women ran 5K and the men ran 10K. In 2013, the women made the jump to 6K. By 2017, the women were running 8K, with the men holding steady at 10. On August 2, the U Sports Chief Sport Officer announced that going forward, the men would run 10K and the women would continue competing at a distance 2K shorter.

Photo: Canadian Running

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There are several arguments that have surrounded this issue:

Women and men should run the same distance

Most runners, coaches and staff alike, have agreed that men and women should run the same distance in U Sports cross-country, as this is the practice at the senior national championships, World Championships and FISU Games. This is also the practice in every track event, trail event and road running event. For most involved in the sport, the argument was no longer about whether collegiate runners should run the same distances, it was about what that distance should be.

Chase pack at U Sports XC 2018. Photo: Maxine Gravina

That distance should be 8K

One group of people believes that distance should be 8K, for both men and women. This group of people consists primarily of coaches and athletes who come from middle distance-based programs (800m-1,500m runners). For these purebred middle-distance folk, they consider running anything over 8K as detrimental to their training. Bumping the distance over 8K would arguably thin out the already small (compared to the NCAA) cross-country fields.

Lucia Stafford is a member of one of those middle distance-based programs. She was on the team from the University of Toronto that won the 2017 U Sports Cross-Country Championships. Stafford says, “I think men and women should be running the same distance, for sure. And I think 8K makes the most sense, because it’s a logical progression. Runners compete over 6K in their last year of high school, so to move up 2K when they enter university makes sense.” As a 1,500m runner, Stafford joked, “Honestly, I would love it to be 4K, but I know that’s not realistic.”

Laval women. Photo: Maxine Gravina

But if we only run 8K, it’s not growing distance running in Canada

The U Sports distance junkies were hoping for 10K all around, which makes sense based on senior national and international standards. The pro-10 advocates argue that if Canadians were interested in growing distance running, they’d need to be promoting it at the collegiate level. It’s bad enough that the longest track option for collegiate runners is the 3,000m (runners have the option of running the indoor 5,000m in the NCAA), why limit the cross-country distances as well?

Steve Boyd is the head cross-country coach at Queen’s University and has been a longtime proponent for men and women to both run 10K. He says it makes sense because cross-country is intended to be a long-distance event and therefore should be as long as the longest international track event, which is the 10,000m. “There was almost unanimity among coaches that the distance should be equal and in the end I think most people would’ve been satisfied with equal events regardless of the decided distance,” he told us. Boyd points to the fact that many coaches believe that the distance chosen should be equal for both genders. He hopes that come November (when the championship runs), coaches can sit down and re-evaluate the decision.

Victoria Coates and Claire Sumner at the World Cross-Country championship in Uganda

RELATED: The cross-country distance debate: Allie Ostrander wants the women to move to 10K

Where the U Sports decision could have come from

It’s possible that the U Sports decision was made based on completion time of the events. If you look at 2018 results from the championship, the women’s race was won in 27:48 and the men’s race in 31:13, only 3:30 minutes apart. This means that the men and women are running for roughly the same amount of time. But in no other aspects of running do men and women base their distances on time differences, so it’s an unexpected call to make.

Also, 3 minutes and 30 seconds is roughly the amount of time it would take to run an additional kilometre for the women, meaning that based on time, equal distance would be roughly 9K for the women and 10K for the men. It’s important to note that in the NCAA, women run 6K and men run 10K, so Canada isn’t the only country with a discrepancy in distance. U Sports is expected to comment in the coming days.

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