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University of Victoria Vikes athlete Laura Mitic recently competed in the Canadian Interuniversity Cross Country Championships (CIS) in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The Claremont High School grad helped the Vikes to a fourth-place finish by leading her team and finishing eighth overall in a time of 18:42, one-minute from gold.

Because of this performance, she made second-team All-Canadian status and helped the Vikes to a silver position in the Canada West Conference Championships. Although the calendar is short an actual separate, Canada West Conference Championship event, the winner is named from the national championships.

Christopher Kelsall: Congratulations on your very good placement not only with your individual performance but also as a team at the CIS Championships in Sherbrooke.

Laura Mitic: Thanks! My team had a lot of fun in Sherbrooke and on the whole, were pretty content with our results.

CK: Do you enjoy cross-country as much as track?

LM: I flip-flop back and forth between whether I prefer cross or track. I guess it depends on which one is in-season. I’ve always felt best on the trails, running in the mud and trekking up the hills, so I guess I might be a cross-country girl at heart. I love a good cross-country race where we are all battling it out and where you know that your whole team is working together on a gruelling course. However, stepping onto a track at the beginning of the season and turning your training focus to speed and power is a pretty incredible feeling. It’s always refreshing after a cross season to feel like you’ve just changed sports completely. And my track spikes are lighter than my cross spikes – which makes me feel even happier (laughing).

CK: What are your track goals for the 2011 season?

LM: I have yet to set my goals for this season. I guess school and exams are what is taking up most of my thoughts right now. Previously at this time, my goal would be getting over an injury in time for indoor track. But this year, I am completely injury free (hooray!), am happy with my cross season and am finally feeling like I can put in an indoor season I can be proud of.

As usual, not to sound corny, I want this season to be fun. It’s easy for a runner to get caught up in the stats and the training and forget to have fun and embrace the sport. When it all comes down to it you need to be enjoying it, or there is no point. I try to have at least one run a week where I just allow my legs to wander wherever they want to – no set distance, no set times and no set route. I always end up with a grin on my face, feeling adventurous and content.

CK: What is the difference in your training — or is there a difference — this year in coming out of cross injury free?

LM: Apart from getting into orthotics, something that I resisted for a long time, I’ve been working with my coach on my form and on my core strength. I just started treating my body better: ice baths after tough workouts and stretching (my calves especially since shin splints and a stress fracture were my major injuries.)

I’m seriously motivated to stay injury-free now since I’ve spent so much time on the stationary bike and water running in the pool when I was injured. This taught me just how much I love running and how willing I now am to put in the extra time to stay without an injury.

CK: How long do those wanders get?

LM: Depending on how I’m feeling …I would say anywhere from a nice 30-min pick me up to two hours…depending on how many cute dogs I stop to pet on the way and whether or not I get lost…

CK: What is your favourite anaerobic workout?

LM: I have a strange admiration for hill workouts, especially when done with my team. Hills show no mercy and I love the feeling of reaching the top. Of course, then you have to run down and do it again…but it’s very satisfying to finish a workout on a tough hill.

Laura the musician

CK: I see you are into folk, country and rock music and that you play several different instruments. Any performance relationship you can connect between playing the fiddle and racing cross?

LM: Let’s see…I think the main similarity between my two passions (running and music) is just the importance of keeping your head screwed on tight. It’s like when you are in a get-set pose on the starting line, you can’t be doubting yourself and when you are in the middle of the race, you can’t be putting yourself down. It’s the same as stepping on a stage – you just go for it. What practicing you have done comes down to that moment and there’s nothing you can do but give it your all…and no second-guessing or you turn into your own worst enemy.

CK: I understand you are a fan of Randy Bachman – who isn’t? He is a great storyteller on top of being an excellent songwriter and guitarist. Ever have a chance to meet him?

LM: I have never met Randy Bachman, no. I totally appreciate his music contributions – especially to the Canadian music scene that I hope to one day be involved with. I am a fan of BTO, the Guess Who and many bands from that era. My Mom has called me an old soul for my music taste ha-ha. My iPod has music from many decades (except for the 80s ha-ha). Personalizing a running play-list is so much fun!

CK: What are some examples from your eclectic tastes that are on your play-list as we speak?

LM: Oh boy…anywhere from classics by Hendrix, the Doobie Brothers, Eric Clapton, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens…etc…to more modern stuff by Alexi Murdoch, Iron and Wine, Xavier Rudd, Dan Auerbach, and local acts, Current Swell and Jon and Roy. The best of Rock and Roll between these two eras is thrown in the mix as well. I have some random stuff like the Righteous Brothers and David Wilcox on there and stuff from the East Coast such as music by Lenny Gallant, Stan Rogers and Nathan Wiley as well as some classic fiddle tunes.

I could ramble on about my favourite music for a long long time…

CK: Xavier Rudd? Have you seen him at the curling centre? He is brilliant. There is something spooky sounding about the didgeridoo. The fact he plays it and the drums at the same time is amazing.

LM: I have! I saw him there two years ago, I couldn’t make it this year but I hope he comes back again soon because it was one of the best concerts I’ve been too. I agree, the didgeridoo is so haunting and at the same time, incredibly uplifting and energetic. The audience was completely stolen by his performance. It was great.

CK: Do you get a chance to perform in a band now? What sort of music would we hear you play currently?

LM: I write my own music on the violin, piano and guitar and am in the process of adding musicians to add to a new band that I’m forming with a buddy of mine. We just performed together for the first time at the Bear Mountain 10k after-party. We both write our own music, which falls into a combination of folk, rock, blues and jazz.

As well, I fiddle in a country band in town – the Tumblin’ Dice. I’m the youngest member of the band; the guys are all extremely talented and it has been very humbling as well as an amazing learning experience.

CK: Tumblin’ Dice – taken from the Rolling Stones song of the same name?

LM: I believe it was…I was not in charge of naming the band but I heard this mentioned.  Regardless, it worked because it is a pretty country-sounding name.

CK: According to your MySpace account you play ukulele, drums, accordion, piano, violin, sing, guitar (bass and 6-string), piccolo, flute and anything else that makes sounds.

LM: (Laughing) I can get a little excited when I get a new instrument in my hands. While I do currently own all of those instruments and pick them up for fun, the violin, guitar and piano are my main instruments.

Back to running

CK: It appears you grew up in Victoria – a pretty motivating running environment. How did running find you?

LM: I was born in Halifax and spent much of my summers on the East Coast, but yes, I grew up in Victoria.

Running found me in Grade 3. I decided on my own to sign up for the Cordova Bay Elementary School Cross-Country team and ran home to tell my parents. The first race, my Mom was absolutely startled to see me coming up the hill and into the race chute in first place. I was a small little kid, and my baggy jersey hung all the way to my knees (laughing).  I joined the track team that same year in the Spring and after winning my first 800m (the longest distance) my Mom treated me to big pink Freezie – which didn’t stay down long!  I competed in every cross and track season until Grade 12, joining VicTrack in Grade 10, and then went on to the UVic Vikes when I was 17.

Victoria has been the perfect environment for my running. I love seeing how active our community is – it’s really quite beautiful. One of my favourite places to run is at Beaver and Elk lakes, and it always makes me smile to see how many cheerful people are out on the trails.