Members of the Cochrane Endurance Project finished the race series leading up to the Nov. 7 cross-country age group provincials on a high note, Oct. 24.

The club's high school boys (grades 9 to 12) pulled off a big win by claiming gold in the team competition in their final race before provincials.

Both the high school girls and open women's team won bronze, and the open men's team came fourth.

Jessica Kaiser had a convincing third-place finish in a tough open women's field, just 54 seconds behind Olympian Maria Bernard-Galea, who won the race.

There were several top-five and top-10 finishes across the board with about 30 athletes wearing the Endurance Club's colours.

Travis Cummings, one of the club's coaches, says the team is peaking at the right time. He believes some could return from the provincials with medals dangling from their necks.

"We're sort of shifting the focus into championship mentality," says Cummings. "Saturday was the pre-provincial preview, and you want to shift the tone. The next few weeks will be true caper and they'll be ready to rock."

In its sophomore season, the club has grown to 42 athletes. At the core is 15 to 20 athletes who have been training twice weekly since the early fall.

For some, especially the younger racers, it's provided an opportunity to get a full season under their belt. Turbulent weather has seen many races, particularly at the junior high level, canceled over the years.

"I've had kids that I have coached since grade 7 who maybe have raced cross-country once because they haven't had the chance to compete. The irony of COVID is the kids have actually got a full season."

Cummins has coordinated a series of four carefully orchestrated cross-country races in Calgary for southern Alberta runners on behalf of Athletics Alberta in Calgary. He'll also be overseeing the age group provincials. Race clubs have provided volunteers for each event, and volunteers from the Cochrane Endurance Club were the first to step forward.

"It's been really well received. It's been a huge opportunity for the athletes to have a season and not lose one," says Cummings.

"Saturday was good for ironing the kinks out before age class provincials. Other than the snow, the races went really well, and we have a few things to tweak here and there. For me, the series has been a lot of work, but it's been pretty rewarding. It has been well received and it helped raise the profile of the club here in Cochrane."

There's a wide range of classes and age categories at each competition, from first-time youthful competitors to seasoned varsity racers as well as senior and masters racers. The Cochrane Endurance Club has a healthy mix of all of these.

The number of participants in the race series has increased steadily. Last week, 230 competed, and they are expecting 300 to 400 competitors at the provincials.

Because of the vast number of classes, the competitors are broken into small groups well within COVID-19 rules. There's also a strict protocol for pre-race staging. No warm-ups are allowed on the course and the competitors have a 30-minute time window to depart.