Connor Black after finishing third at 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships in Abbotsford, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Athletics Illustrated.

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Connor Black of Guelph, Ontario, finished as top Canadian at the 2020 Pan Am Cross Country Cup on Saturday, Feb. 29. Canadian running fans can expect more from him this spring as he further navigates the 5,000-metre and 10,000-metre distances as a post-collegiate athlete.

At Pan Ams, the international field included NCAA champion and Kenyan-American Anthony Rotich, who virtually tied Brazilian Johnatas De Oliviera Cruz – Cruz was credited with the win. Black finished fifth overall.

Black ran the race smartly, starting relaxed and picking off opponents one-by-one as the five-lap, 10K course rolled by under their feet. The course offered a challenging 2K loop that gave almost no relief in the grade changes. At 1800m into the loop, a long hill begins and offers 30m of elevation gain over the final 100m – run five times for the senior athletes.

It is on this hill that all successful runners simply bided their time and ran relaxed and it was on the short opportunities where there was down or flat areas that the moves were made – for Black it was a tactically well-run competition.

“The big hill, the hills throughout, and the steep downhills were all factored into my decision to go out conservative and have gas left to take as many bodies as I could on the backend,” shared Black.

It was on the backend on the out fringe area beside the rich green fairway of hole #18 that he found room to pass competitors that included athletes from 14 Pan-American countries.
Asked how the 2020 Pan Am Cross Country Cup competition ranked among his other well-run cross-country races including winning the 2018 USport Championships in Kingston, ON, or finishing second the year prior to Quebec’s Yves Sikuwabo in Victoria, BC at the USport championships or his third-place finish in Abbotsford at the 2019 national club competition (ACXC), he said, “If I were to rank my cross-country competitions based on personal satisfaction and execution it would go:

1. USports Gold, 2. ACXC Bronze, 3. Pan Am Cup, fifth.

USport gold was something I wanted since the time I stepped on campus as a freshman, and being hurt leading into it made it seem that much more uncertain – so, to achieve it was very special. Bronze at ACXC proved my ability to roll with the big dogs in Canada.”

The Forest, ON native (near Sarnia), had visualized winning the USport title for five years. Although cross-country is a strength event for him, ultimately, his outdoor track season is where the athlete is measured against others as well as speed – it’s about the clock.

“My Spring race schedule is yet to be determined at the moment. I sit down with my coach, Dave Mills, this week to map out what is next,” said the 24-year-old. “I’ll be focussing on the 5000m, with a couple 10’s sprinkled in I would guess. For now, I am on a transition week and I’ll get back to the “heavy lifting” next week.”

His 5,000m best is 14:22.83, while his 10,000m best is currently 30:06.05 set in 2019 and 2017, respectively.

Based on his performance at Pan Ams, expect Black to threaten 13-minutes in the 5,000m and low 29-minute 10,000m this spring.