While Mark Patton of Fergus had plenty of success running cross country and track and field for both Centre Wellington District High School and the University of Guelph while he was a student at each, he still gets his biggest kick out of helping teammates succeed.
“That was awesome,” he said at last month’s Gryphon Last Chance meet after helping Kyle Madden of the Gryphons reach the U Sports national qualifying standard in the men’s 1,000 metres. Madden and Patton were Gryphon teammates during Patton’s final three years with the university squad and often competed against one another in high school.
"I've known Kyle for a long time now and this was potentially going to be his last ever Gryphon race and I think we made sure it wasn't his last Gryphon race. Honestly, 10 metres to go when I saw him cross the finishing line, I almost put my hands in the air to celebrate. It just gave me so much joy.”
Patton acted as a rabbit in that race, leading most of the laps with Madden tucked in behind conserving as much energy as possible. At the start of the final lap, Madden moved ahead while Patton continued to the finishing line, his main job for the race completed.
Looking back on his time running cross country and competing in middle-distance races on the track in university and high school, Patton said it was the races where he got to help teammates that stand out the most.
“It has to be races like this where it's not about me,” the 25-year-old said. “My second year (at university), we paced one of my teammates at OUAs so he could come top-two and go to nationals. That was awesome. To see him come second, I did the same thing. I almost celebrated before I finished that race as well. It's moments like this, helping Kyle qualify for nationals. Awesome. I think about cross-country races where the team does it. Outstanding. It's not a lot of individual stuff (I remember), honestly.”
And there are plenty of individual achievements.
In cross-country he was an OUA all-star four consecutive years and a U Sports all-Canadian. In track and field, he was an OUA all-star and an OFSAA high school champion. He was also an athlete of the year at high school.
An economist with the federal government working for Statistics Canada, Patton is also a member of the Royal City Athletics Club.
“I work from home and I'm very fortunate that they're very flexible with my training and competing,” he said. “As long as I get everything done, they're happy to help me and I help them.”
Patton is on a bit of a comeback trail after being sidelined by injuries.
“I never willingly stopped running after university, but I had a year and a half probably with injuries so there was a long period of essentially no running,” he said.
That time away from competition came during COVID shutdowns when events were scarce. Fortunate timing.
“I guess you could say that,” he said. “Toward the middle of 2020 I picked up a knee thing and I didn't start running until November of 2021 really, about a year and a bit of just trying to work through a lot of stuff.”
Being a runner, COVID didn’t have a big effect on his training when he was physically able to do it.
“We have a great community here in Guelph so I met up with the guys when it was safe to do so,” he said. “For a while we were all just training in pods. A lot of us live together so that was very easy. It was tough during last winter in January when there were still lockdowns and stuff so we had to do a lot of training outside. Training outside in January can also be pretty tough, the cold and the ice, but we did as much as we could and I think we did pretty well.”
And how’s the training going now?
“It's going really well,” he answered. “I wish there was some wood to knock on, I've been healthy for almost a whole year now which is the longest stretch I've put together in a long time and I think it's really starting to show. I had a PB (personal best) in the 3K two or three weeks ago. I ran 8:06. That was a six-year PB that I got there so I think we're really starting to train in the right direction again.”
Patton is planning to increase the length of his on-track races this year.
“I'm going to move up to the 5K this summer so I'm excited to try a new distance,” he said. “It's a new fun challenge, that's what I'm excited for and I hope to run fast.
“I've run, I did the math the other day, something like 40-something 1,500s in the last couple of years. I'll still do more. That's not the final count by any means, but as you get older, I've run a lot more. We've got a really good 5K training group here now with Mitch Ubene, Nick Bannon and some of the other guys, I'm excited. Whatever excites me, I want to do and it's exciting to try a new event.”
Competing in track and field and cross-country at a high level for more than a decade now has brought plenty of wisdom to Patton.
However, there’s also a thing or two he still stresses about.
“Probably sleep is the biggest one,” Patton said. “I know I want my eight hours, for sure. I like a routine. I eat almost the same lunch every day, which sounds pretty boring, I'll be honest, but it sits well and gives me good nutrition. I don't really stress a lot about it.”
While he used to play rep soccer when he was a youngster, he might get back in it at the recreational level when he decides to cross the finishing line on the track for the final time. That, though, is likely a long way off as he’s nowhere near done with track and field or cross country.
“During that year and a half off with injury, I had a couple of people tell me that maybe you should consider something else,” Patton said. “Maybe this is your body telling you you're done. And I just pretty much never listened to that. It was in one ear and out the other. This sport can be really hard and brutal, but it's also just a high that's so high. It' s so awesome, I don't think I'll ever stop.”