© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

Victoria’s Katelyn Ayers is a runner, yes, but is also known as a lacrosse player from back in her days growing up in Orillia, Ontario. She grew up on a cattle farm, then studied at the University of Guelph, leaving the Gryphons with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture.

“My family didn’t follow televised sports very much. We were always outside working or playing on the farm. Lacrosse was how I “trained,” running up and down the field as a midfielder. When I do visit home, I train on flat country roads, and in town, there are some nice trails along Lake Couchiching.”

The Anglicized name, Lake Couchiching, is from the Ojibwe word “gojijiing” meaning “inlet.” Couchiching connects to the Great Lake Simcoe by a narrow channel. The lake offers a popular recreational area.

The now 28-year-old found her way out west in Victoria and is now being coached by two-time Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff, who happens to be the head coach of the University of Victoria Vikes.

For 2023, Ayers has set new personal bests with a 5000m clocking of 15:50.71 set in Portland, OR at Griswold Stadium on May 6. Then she did it again in the 10K with a 33:38 in Ottawa at the Ottawa 10K National Championships where she placed fourth and just 46 seconds behind winner Natasha Wodak.

With her new level of fitness demonstrated in May, she looks to run well at the Canadian Track and Field Championships taking place in Langley, BC July 27 – 30.

The interview

Christopher Kelsall: Is Orillia a good sports town? Did you find growing up there was conducive in running development? I guess the Barrie Colts were the closest Ontario Hockey League team, did you follow them as a kid?

Kate Ayers: My family didn’t follow televised sports very much. We were always outside working or playing on the farm. I didn’t start running competitively until I was at the University of Guelph, so I really didn’t train for running while I lived in Orillia. Lacrosse was how I “trained,” running up and down the field as a midfielder. When I do visit home, I train on flat country roads, and in town there are some nice trails along Lake Couchiching.  

CK: Over the past decade, you have raced over a range of distances, from 400m to 5000m, and in road 8 and 10K events. Considering you set a new 5000m personal best this year at 15:50.71, will you focus on the 5000m?

KA: I can’t say with certainty that the 5,000m will be the sole focus of this season. I haven’t been healthy enough in recent years to nail down a single distance and so we are still exploring which event(s) best play to my strengths and that I enjoy training for and racing.

Kate Ayers enjoying the trails. Photo Credit: Cody Murray

CK: How has the program gone for you so far with coach Hilary Stellingwerff?

KA: Yes, I train with Hilary Stellingwerff and am surrounded by a very experienced and knowledgeable IST, which I am incredibly grateful to have access to in Victoria. I love the personal programming that Hilary writes and she integrates a human-athlete lens into training (yes, I am an athlete but also have other life things going on like work, family, a partner, etc. that can influence training) She is also all about long-term development, which I really appreciate.

CK: As a former lacrosse player, do you sometimes wish you could run with a lacrosse stick in the 800m?

KA: I haven’t raced an 800 in a very long time, but I wouldn’t say no to an opportunity to run around with a lacrosse stick again.

CK: Apparently, we have something in common: cows. You grew up on a Holstein farm, yes? Do you think it is sacrilege to cross-breed Holstein with Hereford? What did we call them, black-whiteface?

KA: I grew up on a cow-calf and cash crop farm. No milking cows. Both those breeds are high performing on their own, and I don’t think anyone would be looking to mix them!

CK: In regards to your Australian visit this past winter, you ran in the Bathurst World Cross Country Championships for Canada, how was that experience?

KA: It was amazing to be able to experience Australia with my fiance and have Hilary there for the race.
Full race recap here.

CK: How would you compare Bathurst to Aarhus in 2019?

I would say the Aarhus course was marginally harder but we didn’t have the heat to contend with in Denmark. Bathurst was very hot and that really played a role in how we prepped and planned our race strategy.

CK: You are competing in the Victoria Track Classic, will you be racing in some of the other tour meets going on across Canada?

KA: The plan (at the time of the writing) is to race Pacific Distance Carnival, Harry Jerome, VTC, and Nationals in Langley, BC (Greater Vancouver).

CK: Which distances will you be racing in each of these meets?

PDC – 10,000m HJ – 5000m VTC – 1500m, Nationals – 5000m.

What is your goal for nationals?

KA: Nationals, like all races, are unpredictable but these races tend to be more tactical. I’m motivated to run a fast time but we’ll see how tactics work out amongst the field. I’d like to position myself for a shot at a podium spot. 

My goal for this season is to run sub-15:30 for the 5000. I would be stoked to run under the Pan American Games standard of 15:26.