The Grand Prix d’Athlétisme de Montréal takes place Saturday, February 18 at Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard. Over the next few weeks we are profiling some of the top athletes competing in the event. The event is being held in conjunction with the Hershey Canadian Indoor Youth and Junior Championships (Youth & Junior athletes can register here). The Hershey Indoor Championships will feature some of the best young talent in Canada, while the Grand Prix is headlined by International and Canadian Olympic athletes. Admission is completely free. For more information visit http://www.indoors.athletics.ca/.
Annie Leblanc of Repentigny, Que., will race in the women’s 1600-metres pursuit. A talented middle distance runner, Leblanc was a multiple time All-American at the University of Oregon.
AC: You’re transitioning from university to the pros, what have the last six months been like?
AL: Very stressful. The transition has been harder than anticipated. After graduating, I knew I wanted to take a year away from school. I also knew I wanted to keep running. Missing the Olympics by very little was devastating, but also one of the most motivating events of my career. For now, I’m putting off medical school to train. I don’t think I can run my best, while being 100% invested in medical school. However, I did not know where I would train or with whom. I had offers to join training groups on the west coast, but not being an American resident was making those options not financially possible. I did not have the college career I wanted, which made me lean towards going back to my roots and train in Canada. My high school coach reached out to me showing interest in training me again. Our past successes together, our relationship, being home close to my family, minimizing expenses by living at home, and being able to work made me pick going back to Montreal. It just felt right.
AC: The University of Oregon is one of the most historic university track and field programs in the US. What was you experience like there as a student-athlete?
AL: I loved the Oregon and Eugene community. It’s called TrackTown USA for a reason. People love, understand and support track. I’ve never felt so welcomed in a foreign country. I developed some pretty amazing, long lasting friendships and connections. My school program was great and I liked it. I was beyond impressed and grateful by the amount of support student-athletes received. We had our own study centre, tutors, managers, etc. Your needs are instantly fulfilled. We are so spoiled at Oregon.
Training in groups was challenging at times. The track culture is also very different; track is a business. You are there to produce points and win championships. I respect the means they undertake to get there, but I also disagree with some of it. It does not fit with every personality. It also took me approximately two years to find the right training group. Going from the distance group, to the short sprint group, to a middle-distance group, etc. It took us a lot of time to figure out what type of training was best for me. I could run cross country, the 4x400-metres relay, the 800-metres, the 1500-metres, the distance medley relay, etc. This big range of events made my case a little difficult to figure out and I think it set me back performance wise. My self-confidence, my passion for the sport, and my desire/fire to compete took a huge hit. I am still working on myself.
AC: Instead of taking part in a standard race, you'll take part in a 1600-metres pursuit in Montreal. What about the pursuit format are you looking forward to most?
AL: Being completely honest, I am not familiar with this race format. I will approach this event as a regular mile race, and hope for the best hahaha.
AC: How has your training been going this past fall and now winter? We’ve seen on social media that you’ve been at a camp with Melissa Bishop. How did that come about and how are you enjoying sessions with her?
AL: This fall was a struggle. Learning to train with José (her coach José Sant) again took some time. Once I adjusted to José’s training, I had to transition to Dennis' training (Melissa Bishop’s coach Dennis Fairall). They work together and have the same philosophy, but there are subtle differences. I also changed my lifting routine completely. I now work with coach Mike Miller, an expert in the field. The fall was also a struggle because of the weather (I had to adapt to training in the cold again), training alone, my work schedule, traffic, sponsors, etc. It was a lot of drastic changes. I am in a totally different routine now with more things to handle by myself. This winter was smoother. I had already adjusted to this busy combo of work and training. Training indoors is also a new thing for me as I had not trained indoors in four years. Melissa and I are now teammates and training partners. I absolutely love it. I do not think I could have possibly asked for a better training partner, mentor, and teacher. It is pretty awesome to train with a person you look up to. She is patient, genuine, generous, kind, hardworking, and I could keep going. We are very similar runners, and need to be trained very much alike. This is where the idea of training together came from. We push each other in a good way; we help each other in practice, no racing, just fun hard work.
AC: What role does the indoor season play as you prepare for the outdoor season?
AL: Indoor season is just for fun. It is great to train and test where you're at once in a while.
AC: What specific elements of your event are you focusing on?
AL: This winter and year, we are working on fixing some biomechanical weaknesses. Working on my form. We also identified some weaknesses in my races. We adjusted my workout intervals in consequence. And there is always some mental work to do like how to become more mentally prepared and other skills.
AC: You’ve competed a lot and run some fast times in Montreal. Do you have any memories of a Montreal competition that you'd like to share?
AL: I would say that I have good memories of competing at the McGill Team Challenge. I love the track there. The atmosphere is always nice and the stands are decently full. I remember running a 600-metres as a youth. I ran a Quebec record there with my parents in the stands, my coach yelling splits and telling me to move faster. It always feels good to compete at home.
AC: What are your goals for 2017?
AL: I would like to achieve the 800-metres IAAF World Championship standard.