Preparing oneself to contend for a Northern Ontario championship can be a difficult hill to climb - literally.
Sean Vardy is hoping one hill in particular proves irksome for out-of-town runners in Friday's Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) Cross-Country Championships at Kinsmen Park.
They call it 'the sand hill' and it tries to bite runners roughly 1.5 kilometres from the finish line.
"It goes around a corner, so it looks like it's over when you're only halfway through with it," said Vardy, a member of the St. Mary's Knights, who finished second in the Senior Boys Division's 7k race in the Oct. 17 city finals. "But you get around the corner and you still have 100 or so metres left. It's the toughest hill on the course, the longest and steepest."
Two visiting runners, twin brothers Matt and Nick Walters of North Bay's West Ferris Trojans, and Sir James Dunn's Dom Graf, a four-time city champion, provide outstanding competition in the senior race.
It marks Friday's final event and is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. The day opens with the midget girls race at 10 a.m.
The 17-year-old Vardy, who ran a 25:41.80 in the city meet, is gunning for a top-three finish at NOSSA.
He realizes how good Graf, who grabbed the city title in 24:50.41, and the Walters brothers are, but remains confident in his ability. "I'm in good shape, I've trained hard and running at home is an advantage," Vardy said. "The hills we have are tough and I'm used to running on them." The Grade 12 student said his strategy will be to stick with the leaders.
"I need to hold on as long as I can," Vardy added. "I don't sprint very fast, so I'll need to make a move with 1 or 2 kilometres remaining."
"It all boils down to who wants it," said Pat Vardy, Sean's father, who teams with Sherri Smith as co-coaches of the St. Mary's team. "Our course for seniors and juniors comes down to the sand hill. You can't let it beat you. If he (Sean) can overcome the sand hill, he can be right in the mix."
Led by their junior team, St. Mary's won the boys aggregate crown last week. Pat Vardy said he expects the juniors to again be strong at NOSSA.
"We should have two of the top runners in midget as well," he said. "I think if our seniors do well, we'll have a good chance to take the aggregate championship."