Canadian MacDougall set for debut run at 'stacked' cross-country worlds

​A top-30 finish isn't the usual target for a consistent medal contender like Canadian runner Brogan MacDougall.

But the 42nd world cross-country championships in Kampala, Uganda on Sunday (CBCSports.ca, 7 a.m. ET) often forces non-African athletes to lower their expectations.

Kenya and Ethiopia have won each of the 25 women's under-20 titles — Kenya 15 to Ethiopia's 10 — and those countries, as well as the host Ugandans, are expected to field seven runners in the six-kilometre race, so to crack the top 30 "would be an outstanding achievement," according to MacDougall's coach Steve Boyd.

"It will be absolutely stacked," he told the Whig-Standard in Kingston recently. "There are other countries in the region that are extremely good as well."

NACAC champion

Boyd noted MacDougall, 16, has been training well and is in "excellent form and outstanding shape" ahead of her debut on the world stage. She works out with the cross-country squad at Queen's University and often trains with the men to have partners of her speed.

Three weeks ago, the Kingston, Ont., native ran to victory in the U20 bracket at the NACAC cross-country championships in Boca Raton, Fla., posting a time of 16 minutes 39.28 seconds on a flat and windy course.

MacDougall qualified for worlds by placing second in the U20 6K at the Canadian cross-country championships in her hometown in November. Twenty-six other Canadians gained a world berth with a top-10 finish in Kingston.

At last year's OFSAA (high school) track and field championships in Windsor, Ont., the Grade 11 student broke a 29-year-old meet record with a time of 9:29.63 in the 3,000 event. Later that year, MacDougall clocked 16:30 over five kilometres at the national road race championships to finish fifth against women more than 10 years older than her.

Ethiopia swept the U20 podium at worlds two years ago in Guiyang, China, led by Letesenbet Gidey, who prevailed by 20 seconds at the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships in February.

Canadian teammates Sasha Gollish and Kieran Lumb, who also won at NACACs — an abbreviation for North American, Central American and Caribbean nations — will join MacDougall in Uganda.

Gollish dominated the eight-km race in Boca Raton in 26:48.89 and was second at the 2016 Pan American Cross Country Championships.

The 35-year-old Toronto native has been a competitive runner, duathlete, triathlete, ultimate frisbee player and cyclist. She is also completing a PhD in civil engineering at the University of Toronto.

Agnes Tirop of Kenya won two years ago and is bidding to become the first back-to-back senior women's champion since Tirunesh Dibaba in 2005-06 before the event shifted to a biennial schedule.

Rigorous training regimen

Lumb, 18, is a first-year engineering student at the University of British Columbia who booked his ticket for Uganda by finishing sixth at the cross-country nationals. He also won the U20 men's division at NACACs following a protest after he led the 6.5-km competition in the closing stages before a race official sent him in the wrong direction.

The Vancouver native underwent a rigorous training regimen before departing for Uganda that saw Lumb run in an artificial humidity chamber to get acclimated to the conditions in Kampala.

Kenya's Geoffrey Kamworor, a two-time World Half Marathon champion, will attempt to win consecutive senior men's titles for the first time since Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele's reign from 2002 to 2006. But he has raced only three times in the past 12 months, including an 11th-place finish at the Rio Olympics.

Kampala will host 557 runners from 59 countries on Sunday: the U20 men (eight km) and women, senior men and women (10 km apiece) and a new mixed relay (eight km per team) but Canada doesn't have an entry.

The course, located at Kololo Independence Grounds, hosted the 2014 African Cross-Country Championships and Ugandan Cross-Country Championships in January.

The two-kilometre loop is mostly covered in grass and includes a man-made hill, ditch, short and sharp climbs and descents, two sections with log barriers and a mud pit to make it more challenging.