Thoughts on the Ottawa nationals XC course

P.S. As to the question of “dangerousness” I do actually think there were some unnecessarily dangerous elements to this layout, starting with the waterfilled ditch 130m in, which was apparently unexpectedly deep on the left side. And if the back trail and larger ice-covered “pond” crossing had made the final cut I think we could legitimately have said that this course is dangerous-- perhaps not lethally, but then what athlete wants to lose a couple of weeks or more of training for absolutely no justifiable reason? And what athlete wants to win a race simply because his/her competitor fell or blew out an ankle?

1 Like

Some aspects of the venue/ day seemed good. Good parking, shuttle buses, start/ finish areas. Reasonable areas to warm up and cool down (paths etc). I found the course reasonably spectator friendly.

The ‘water feature’ at the start was definitely a challenge-- in the morning was able to jump it every time. Not sure how it held up. I don’t think it was dangerous though. People in the afternoon just seemed to step through it without issue.

The most dangerous thing I found on the course was the thin sheet of ice build up on the gravel paths which was there in the morning but was reported to have cleared by the afternoon. I did not see anyone go down on it but you had to be very ginger with your footing. I don’t think that is particularly ‘on’ the LOC and more of a reflection of the course conditions.

Otherwise, I did not particularly ‘like’ the course. The wind made it very very tough on the start stretch. This was predictable with the ‘open field’ concept but the conditions of the day magnified the problem.

I would have loved to do the 3k loop twice rather than only once. It was the only part that was of interest with a bit of a hill and sheltered in the woods. It is unclear to me why an 8k race could not do 1k-3k-3k-1k. I really did not like the 1k and 1.5k loops-- relatively flat, featureless, open and windy.

Finally, the left turn into the finishing stretch was terribly designed. You had to descend and take a sharp left on an off camber section that (for us in the morning at least) was a mix of mud and ice. They could easily have made it a more gentle corner. It was a corner that belongs on a CX course, not an XC course!

Overall it was reasonably well run with some room for improvement re: course design that will hopefully happen next year.

Take everything I say with a grain of salt since it was my first XC race since ~2005/6!


Thanks, Matt. And re: the ditch, I should have specified that it was really only the first crossing that could be considered unsafe. Watching 200-odd U18s barreling at that thing 20-odd seconds into the race was very disconcerting. I can’t imagine what it would have like to have this thing appear suddenly under foot while buried in a pack of sprinting competitors (so easy to go down, and then what?).

At least two senior guys faceplanted the opening ditch so yeah, probably not a good call.

1 Like

I wasn’t actually there, so take my opinions for the nothing they’re worth. But I’d hate for the takeaways from this year’s championships to be that courses need to be more manicured and bland. To me, the platonic ideal of a track race is that the results would be basically the same if the race was held on any other day, on any other track in the world. For XC, it’s the opposite: a race where the results haven’t been materially influenced by the specific local conditions and how each runner handled them has missed an important element of the sport. That doesn’t mean all courses have to be gratuitously hard, but I’m happy to see water crossings, serious mud, long and steep ascents and descents, and so on.

BTW, great to discover this forum!


I agree. To be honest I was expecting the course to be way worse. Outside of the ditches being 100m in I didn’t think it was that bad.

However, if it hadn’t frozen overnight the 3k loop would have taken a lot of casualties. Tight turns in deep mud featuring tree roots, that’s not what you want. Racing in Friday’s conditions would have been bad.

I think the Plains of Abraham course is a pretty good model of what an optimal XC course can be like. Difficult, but the course isn’t going to injure you (outside of the semi-danger gauntlet). The muddy and technical sections were wide enough to not risk ending the race for people. And yeah I think there is a balance between groomed and lumpy terrain that can be met. I’d say this Ottawa course probably veered a bit too far into lumpy territory, but this is obviously pretty subjective.

Full agreement in principle, Hutch. There should be good variety in XC layouts, in keeping with the unique local geographies of the places they are held (but also in keeping with XC tradition, which stipulates a degree of undulation and some technical challenges). But, I’d return to my point above that XC courses should be well thought out and not simply thrown down in a place that’s convenient to organizers. The course at an XC championships should be the FIRST consideration-- and I wonder if that was the case in this instance.

And further to the “danger” discussion: An athlete of ours posted (on IG) a really harrowing up-close video of the U18 girls crossing the aforementioned ditch for the first time. A couple of girls stumbled badly and two went down completely, with one just missing getting her hand stepped on by what was probably a shoe full up 12mm + spikes. Luckily, all were towards the back and far left of the main pack. I don’t even want to think about what might have happened had someone gone down in the middle/front of the pack. If they host on this course again, it’ll just be a matter of B.S. luck that someone doesn’t get badly hurt (and maybe someone did this time and we just haven’t heard yet).

And I’d concur with Evan’s assertion that the course would have been much different-- and arguably worse/more dangerous-- had the event been held 24hrs earlier. I’ve just always questioned the decision to hold this championship that far north, regardless of the course. It was only our lake-generated micro-climate that made the thing feasible here in K-Town-- and even then we came dangerously close to staging in the middle of a Nov snow storm.

And I’m glad you discovered this forum too. No running social medium would be complete without you! And do let us know if there’s anything you’d like to post. We can’t pay in dollars but you’ll get unlimited love!

Alex - I agree - one would think and hope that there would be a certain challenge coming from the actually terrain, geography and footing of a cross country course, otherwise, it’s a track meet or road race on grass or smooth dirt!

The infamous ditch at the start did seem to be something that may not have been best located in the first 200m of the race.

@Oldster made the right call that the Steeple Chasers would prevail - with this type of course. They went 1-2 in the women’s race and 1st in the men’s race! Watching closely the top women and men as they made there way around the course, you could tell that, it required constant changes in pace, turn-over and a continual battle with balance throughout the race - just like in the Steeplechase on the track!

For those who did race, there is a feedback survey:

1 Like

Hutch, having run the course I agree with your perspective here.

I think the water crossing was a problem only because it was so soon after the start and the stampede/ blind/ crowded entry complicated things. If it had been elsewhere on the course I don’t think it should have been considered dangerous. I recall much more treacherous stream crossings at the old ‘Boyd conservation area’ course in Toronto that was used in the 80s/90s (and maybe still is)?

Steve, I am not sure I can support the assertion that running on Friday would have been dangerous. Muddy? Yes. Slow? Yes. Slippery? Yes. However, runners need to know how to adjust to courses and conditions. Bringing back my more recent racing life in MTB/ CX (biking) courses offer all sorts of technical and terrain challenges (within UCI parameters/ rules). Some of the stuff we have to navigate in biking shoes in mud whilst riding/ carrying the bike is comparable to the ‘muddy Friday version’ (and then some including off camber and other good challenged). It is up to the rider to adjust their approach to these obstacles and race within a ‘safe zone’ for them. To say that a few roots/ mud bogs in the woods would be ‘dangerous’ is, ‘sensational’ (in my opinion). Maybe this generation of runners is so used to manicured golf course type of courses that they no longer have the skills to adjust their approach to courses?

1 Like

Maybe courses have been dialled back a bit (I wouldn’t know, never ran your 80s/90s courses), but to say tree roots buried under mud is not dangerous is inaccurate in my opinion (and the amount of spray paint on the course definitely indicated more than “a few” unless we ran completely different courses).

I’ve raced on many muddy courses that didn’t have that problem. Still requires adjustments, but also actually allows you to see what you are dealing with so that you can make said adjustments.

I adjusted pretty well to the course Saturday and ran better than expected because of it, but I would still rather not beat guys because they got dummied by a dangerous course feature.

I also want to add that I have mad respect for the high-profile athletes who do decide to come out to these races. Lalonde, Charles, Gay, Bruchet. Not really any financial incentive but they still grind through the muck with everyone else. Definitely don’t want to lose the “spirit” of the sport, which requires terrain that doesn’t just make it a road race on grass. Probably better to get the course ready a little more than a couple weeks in advance though.


“I also want to add that I have mad respect for the high-profile athletes who do decide to come out to these races. Lalonde, Charles, Gay, Bruchet”

Yup! 2022 World Athletics Cross Country Championships postponed. 2022 PanAM and NACAC Cross Country Championships - totally uncertain. No money or carding standards or points on the line. Traveling on their own dimes! It was all about pride. Or in CPT’s case an admitted test-drive of the fall base fitness! Which passed I’m guessing, with flying colours! :slight_smile:


Forgive me, but I’ll take Evan’s and Matt’s posts as an excuse for some “olden days” reminiscing. Here’s a pic from one of the oldest XC courses in the world, still in regular use. This water crossing is a few hundred metres into the race. The first time I ran it I lost my number because it was so deep. Risky? Sure, so you slow down.

I definitely realize that “Look at some of the crazy courses I used to run on” isn’t a particularly compelling argument. I just think that the frame of reference we have these days for what constitutes “extreme” has drifted a lot from where the sport used to be, I suspect in large part because of the rise of golf course races in the U.S. In Europe, you might find yourself literally climbing over farm fences in the middle of a race. I remember watching WXC in Belfast in 1999, where there were long sections running along the side of a hill in seriously muddy conditions, watching guys slide out sideways and down the hill. It was awesome! Is that closer to what we would now consider “trail running”? Maybe. Outside the school systems, which is more popular these days?


You tell 'em Hutch! Cue “Glory Days” by Springsteen…


Having run the master’s race in the morning, the only aspect that borders on “dangerous” or at least of questionable safety were the wide ditch crossings where one would have to stride out straight into rather deep water hoping that the ground underneath was solid and level enough to avoid some possible injury. I made it though each time completely fine but felt that I was lucky. The roots and rocks on the back part of the course were relatively easy to see and navigate around, even in a small crowd. As pointed out earlier, not dangerous but a slow and lumpy surface found in everyday fields - not exactly showcase championship material.

1 Like

I guess we have different points of view on danger and what is acceptable for cross country courses. Roots and rocks on a trail in the woods are de facto part of cross country in my mind. I didn’t see a single area on the course where the roots or rocks would qualify as dangerous.

Maybe it is my meticulous personality, or maybe it is my recent history racing bikes where knowledge of the courses technical sections is paramount. However, I expect to have to assess a course, anticipate the difficult technical sections and adjust my approach accordingly when racing XC-- something I would not really do for track (obviously) or even road racing.

When I warmed up on the course it was clear that the most important challenge was going to be the first water crossing and the best approach to it was going to be to try to jump it on the most narrow right side. With that knowledge I decided that I would abandon my typical approach of starting conservatively, and get out hard taking the ‘hole shot’ for the right side of the course. This allowed me to get a clear view of/ line for the first crossing. After the start, it was not crowded so it was not an issue.

There seems to be somewhat of a divide here based on the younger athletes expecting to run a course with no obstacles/ no need to adjust. I propose that this approach is not ideal and if you run courses ‘blind’ then yes, they will be dangerous. I would never ride a MTB or CX course blind-- it would be dangerous. Similarly, I would not approach a XC course blind since knowing how to approach obstacles and technical sections is a competitive advantage.

Nino Schurter, the best XC mountain bike rider of all time says that for the World Champs and Olympic race courses he knows the location of every single rock and root. I don’t think XC runners have to be as obsessive. However, a little more pre-race preparation and knowledge of technical obstacles and sections would be beneficial. Perhaps coaches need to start incorporating this more into their approach? I have no idea if they don’t already; however, based on some of the responses here it seems like that is an area for improvement.

It isn’t the roots and rocks themselves that were dangerous, it is when they are put in combo with hairpin turns on a section with a high risk of being muddy in Ottawa at the end of November (and indeed the day before would have been).

Saying the younger athletes expect a course with no obstacles is absolutely reducing my argument to something it’s not. I just don’t see the point in designing a course that could take people out when it is perfectly feasible to design a course that doesn’t do that but is still going to challenge people in the spirit of XC (see Plains of Abraham, Kingston, etc.). The Plains especially is a much more difficult course than Ottawa was, and Kingston arguably is too (Ottawa’s was as flat as they come). They just aren’t silly.


Agree with Evan. That course did have a significant chance of being dangerous. The fact that it froze overnight reduced that risk. The initial plan (if we believe that there actually was one) was to have the course set up much like Kingston. Three loops: 1.5k, 2k and 2.5k. much easier to achieve the required distances than what was actually in place. The organisers were unable to complete the connecting trail through the woods to form the 2k and connect to the 2.5k loop. If they had managed to complete that section we would have seen the senior races being 4 x 2.5k. While this would have removed the issues of the lead men lapping anyone it would have resulted in the lead packs in the senior races (and possibly others) entering that back section at a little over 1k into their race. There is no way a pack could navigate that back section with the roots and rocks without incident. If it was slippery as it was on Friday that would have been extremely treacherous. I think the fact that they modified the loops to string out the athletes before they ran that section speaks to their awareness of this issue. As for knowing the course beforehand, that’s kind of impossible as they only announced their final layout a week prior to the race. They wasted so much time trying to create the connecting trail in the forest, time that would have been much better spent preparing the rest of the course. So many things could have been improved.

I agree with Evan’s take re: challenging vs dangerous. There were at least 3 senior men (2 potential top 10 contenders among them) who were taken out of contention/DNFd due to various aspects of the course. Maximus Thiesen did end up in the emergency room after taking a spill in the ditch 200m in and Kevin Coffey got pretty banged up as well in the same fall.

I could imagine that some of the top dogs who show up to XC between peak seasons (people like CPT, Bruchet, Gay, Lalonde, etc.) may forego the race in favor of keeping their bodies intact on a course like this, whereas I wouldn’t see people backing off a tough but fair course (something like the 2019 Aarhus World XC course comes to mind in addition to the Plains and Kingston).

1 Like