After three years of running with the pack, Luc Bruchet is happy to be zipping along in the fast lane.
The 21-year-old Elgin Park grad, who now runs for UBC, is enjoying a breakthrough season on the cross-country running trails, highlighted by a third-place finish at the NAIA Championships last Saturday in Vancouver, Washington.
"I made a few adjustments to my training this year and it's definitely paid off big time for me," Bruchet said. "I think it's safe to say that this fall I'm competing at a new fitness level. I've never been this fit or this fast before. I tweaked my training philosophy this fall, but the biggest thing is I've been able to stay healthy and put in consistent mileage for 11 weeks. It's really paid off for me."
Bruchet made changes on two fronts that have helped him lower his times this season. Even though, like most runners, he has a lean physique, he decided to drop a few pounds to become even leaner.
The second change involved his endurance. The length of his training runs did not change, but the UBC coaches completing the miles at a much quicker pace.
"It definitely took a while to get used to for the first few weeks," he said. "By Thursday or Friday of each week I would be really tired, but after the fifth or sixth week it got easier as my body got used to it."
His coaches warned him the changes might not make a dramatic improvement in the short term so when Bruchet's first couple of races of the season ended well short of his expectations, he was ready for it. As the season went on, however, Bruchet noticed a big difference not only in his times, but also his fitness.
It all came together for him last weekend at the NAIA Nationals where he set a personal best time of 24 minutes, eight seconds for the eight-kilometre race.
Bruchet placed 17th as a freshman, but in the last two years, he finished in the mid-30s. Bruchet was encouraged by his results in the races leading up to the NAIAs and thought he had a shot to finish as high as fifth despite a strong field of runners.
Once the race began, however, his goals changed with each kilometre of the course.
"I tried to situate myself with the top group of runners and then see how it played out," he said. "Early in the race I wondered when the leaders were going to drop me, but eventually it got to the point where I realized that other guys were dropping but I wasn't going to.
"The lead guys kept putting on little surges or quick moves and I wasn't able to respond right away. I kept my pace up and when they slowed down again, I eventually caught up. I was determined to hang on as long as possible and it turned out well."
The eventual winner pulled away in final 600 metres and Bruchet narrowly missed out on second place.
Bilal Shamsi of Guildford Park was 57th for UBC while Semiahmoo grad Jack Williams was 72nd. UBC's women's team won the NAIA title while the men finished sixth overall.
Bruchet hopes last weekend's success in Washington State is just the beginning. This weekend he will be in the other Vancouver where he will attempt to earn a spot on the Canadian National Team at the Canadian Cross-country Championships at Jericho Park.
The top five runners in the men's race will make up the Canadian team so Saturday's race promises to have the best athletes in the country competing.
Bruchet said such a tough field would normally be intimidating but, given his recent results, he reasons a top five finish is not an impossibility.
"Knowing that I ran so fast on a muddy course is really exciting," he said. "It's definitely a confidence booster but this next race is going to hard. The World Cross Country Championships are this year so there are a couple of Olympians who will be there trying to make the team. I think I have a legitimate shot of qualifying by running with the top runners of the second tier in the race. If I have a good race, I have a chance to make the Canadian team but I'm going to have to run my best race ever."
Fortunately for Bruchet, the nationals are taking place in his own backyard. The UBC team trains regularly at Jericho Park so Bruchet and his teammates are familiar with every twist, turn, slope and mud puddle of the route.
"The course is three miles from where I sleep at night," he said. "I run on that course two or three times a week and we've been training there on weekends for the past month.
"Being able to run at home always helps. Not having to eat in restaurants, sleeping in my own bed and having friends and family there to cheer me on makes it easier.
I always run a little better when I have people there to support me. I'll just go out and run my best and see what happens."