Whether it is in academics or athletics, you could say Paul MacLellan is a numbers’ man.
The fourth-year student-athlete, who plans to embark on a career in accounting, and his St. F.X. track and field teammates, will return to action Saturday, Jan. 12 at the Moncton Open.
“I like the 3,000m, because during the race you can strategize more, and I like the 1,500m because it tests out my speed,” the Antigonish native said of the distances he competes in during the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season.
MacLellan noted his goals for this campaign are “breaking his personal best times” in both disciplines (1,500, 4:07; 3,000, 8:49).
“We have a great team that is really close,” he said of the track and field squad.
The 22-year-old is coming off a stellar cross country season with St. F.X., one in which he garnered an AUS all-star nod.
MacLellan, with a fourth-place finish (32:47.91) in the championship race at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, helped the X-Men secure another conference banner.
The Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Royals’ product finished 73rd at the U Sports championships, while St. F.X. finished 12th in the nation.
The start line
As for the first time he toed the start line, it came after his parents encouraged him to take up a sport.
“Going into it, I wasn’t predicted to win it, but I won it,” MacLellan recalled of his first race – on the St. F.X. course he now calls home – which brought together Grade 5 and 6 students from across northeastern Nova Scotia for a 2.5k race.
Then Saint Andrew Junior School (SAJS) head coach Kevin Grant encouraged the youngster to join the Highlander program.
“I got more interested in continuing on with it,” he said of working on his craft heading into Grade 7.
He joined friends Edward MacDonald and Mike Tate in their growing love for the sport.
“It was always great to have people my age who wanted to go to that next level,” MacLellan said.
By the time he reached high school, under the tutelage of Regional mentor Chris MacKinnon, MacLellan was an integral member of the perennial provincial power program.
In Grade 11, he started talking with legendary St. F.X. head coach Bernie Chisholm, who he said provided great tips on “how to improve as a runner.”
“I was able to train with them [St. F.X.], while I was in high school, which was incredibly helpful,” MacLellan added.
He noted Tate, who has represented Canada on the international stage and achieved success in the NCAA, has always inspired him.
“Seeing Mike perform so well, at a high level of competition, it really inspired me to keep at it,” MacLellan said of his friend.
There has also been inspiration from the likes of Eric Gillis, his now head coach with St. F.X., who represented Canada in three Olympic Summer Games.
“Anything is possible – if you put the time and the work in,” MacLellan said of what he has learned from their high-level performances.
On race day
When it comes to race day, his focus is “to stay as comfortable as possible.”
“When you wake up, you want to make it feel like a regular day,” MacLellan added.
After breakfast, it is time to “visualize my strategy” before the usual team meeting before race time.
When he gets on the course, MacLellan said it is a key to try “to stay warm, calm and not overthink things.”
“When the race starts, it is time stop thinking and just do [it],” he added.
MacLellan concentrates on staying with the pack and not racing out too quickly.
“I want to hold on to a particular pace and stick with it,” he said.
As for his best attribute, as a runner, MacLellan pointed to his endurance.
“The longer the race, the better I do,” he said.
Gillis praised the consistency of his student-athlete.
“He has steadily improved [since high school], which is what you love to see, as a coach,” he said of MacLellan.
Gillis described his performance in the most recent cross country season as “one of his most consistent.”
As for that continual improvement, he pointed to the training MacLellan put in over the summer as a member of Halifax Road Hammers with coach – and St. Andrews, Antigonish County native – Lee McCarron.
“Paul was quite dedicated,” Gillis said.
To illustrate that point, he noted MacLellan, who was working at Stanfield International Airport, would race from work – a 45-minute trip – to training sessions.
“Most days he would have to wear his running clothes on the bus ride,” Gillis said.
“He found ways to make it work, which means so much.”
Because of that dedication, he added, MacLellan came to training camp for the 2018 season in “great shape.”
“Paul put in the work and it really paid off,” Gillis said.
With his commitment – both athletically and academically – he said MacLellan serves as a “great role model” for any St. F.X. student-athlete.
As for highlights from his years as a runner, MacLellan talked about “the people that you meet.”
“It is a sport where you can make a lot of friends. It is one where, right before the race, you chat with people and get to know them,” he said.
During the race, MacLellan noted, they are competitors and then, after the final strides, everyone touches base again.
“The bonds I have created are the best thing. Those friendships stay with you forever,” he said.