April 30, 2015
By Howard Tsumura, the Province
VANCOUVER — The ironing board has long since been retired, but UBC’s Justin Kent continues to find ways to add new wrinkles to a training regimen that has made him a Canadian Olympic hopeful in the steeplechase.
When we first brought you the story of Kent, back in 2010, he was a middle-distance running standout employing a very distinct method of training as he finished up his senior year of high school at Kwantlen Park Secondary.
Needing to score points for his school at the Surrey City Championships that season, his father Scott, the team’s coach, encouraged him to enter the gruelling, hurdle-filled race, despite the fact that he had no prior experience navigating its unforgiving obstacles.
Kent did well enough that he won the city title, and later finished second at the provincials. So at the urging of his father, he subsequently began building hip-flexor strength for the event by mimicking the motions required in the sport at the foot of the family’s ironing board, which just happened to match the 36-inch height of the hurdles.
Five years later, as a senior standout for the Thunderbirds, Kent is set to close his decorated collegiate career by attempting to repeat as the 3,000-metre steeplechase king when the ‘Birds flock to the NAIA national championship meet later this month in Alabama.
“I have been living out at UBC, so I don’t have that ironing board anymore,” Kent laughed earlier this week, “but my landlord has these two sawhorses that are the same height and so I do all my exercise on those. It was a great training tip from my dad. I still call him after all my workouts. He’s like my shrink.”
So much so that when Kent says the more-standard 1,500- and 3,000-metre races are more to his liking, and that his technique in the steeplechase is “atrocious” his dad, also a former UBC runner who trained under the legendary Doug Clement, is quick to offer positive reinforcement.
“Doug Clement said it best,” offered Scott Kent. “He said that in order for you to be a world-class steeplechaser, you have to be a world-class miler.”
To that end, the younger Kent has also thrived in the metric mile, turning in a personal-best 3:43.18 in the 1,500 metres over the summer at the Victoria International meet.
So why the harsh self-assessment of his steeplechase technique? He still steps on the hurdles as he clears them, instead of soaring over them.
“He doesn’t think he’s a steeplechaser because of it,” said his dad, “but if you look at steeplechasers world-wide, their form can be bad. All you are trying to do is waste the least amount of energy possible, and it might look unorthodox, but Justin is 6-foot-3 so he doesn’t have to break stride to do it. He’s winning races and not hurdling yet. As soon as he does, he’s going to drop 10 seconds off his time.”
Kent’s progress in his speciality event has seen an encouraging climb over the past 12 months. He won the NAIA national title last May by 10 seconds, finishing at 8:52.92. Over the summer, he set a personal best of 8:48.08 at the Portland Track Festival and also finished fifth in 8:49.82 at the Canadian national championships in Moncton. Currently, he is ranked No. 1 overall in Canada, based on an 8:48.18 a few weeks ago in California at the Mt. SAC Relays.
“Yeah, a teammate told me I would gain a second every lap if I hurdled properly,” Kent admitted. “I want to see how far I can take my sport, to be able to work part-time, run, and see if I can take a stab at national teams and the Olympics.”
With a beat-up ironing board and pair of old sawhorses, anything is possible.
PAYTON JORDAN INVITATIONAL
Two of the B.C. university world’s most dynamic female athletes have made the cut and will race on Saturday at Stanford University’s prestigious Payton Jordan Invitational.
Lindsey Butterworth, the North Vancouver native and Simon Fraser Clan middle distance senior, has been accepted as part of the 800-metre field, while fourth-year Calgary native Maria Bernard will compete in the 3,000-metre steeplechase.
Both athletes have enjoyed incredible success this season.
Butterworth, the former Handsworth Secondary grad, is ranked No. 1 in NCAA Div. 2 in the 800-metres (2:05.86) and No. 2 in the 1,500 metres (4:18.34).
Bernard clocked the 10th fastest time in the world this season in her event when the NAIA standout won her race at the recent Mt. SAC Relays in California, clocking a 9:53.71 that is nine seconds shy of the 2016 Rio Olympics standard of 9:45.
“It’s such a prestigious meet,” said SFU head coach Brit Townsend. “In general, the preference normally goes to (NCAA) Div. 1 competitors, even if they have not been as fast.”