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Bennison running in Uganda worlds

Hannah Bennison is literally on the run 24-7.

Hannah Bennison is literally on the run 24-7. Even at bed time, she’s been known to hit the light switch and land on her pillow before it gets dark. She’s that fast.

Just back from the Pan Am Cross-Country Cup in Boca Raton, Fla., after flydowns to universities in Rhode Island, Washington State and Toronto, the Grade 12 VSS Panther runner is in Kampala, Uganda for the 2017 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships. She left Tuesday with the 24-member Team Canada, including her coach, Malindi Elmore, of Kelowna.

Bennison qualified for the worlds by winning the nationals last November in Kingston. The world cross-country championships are held every two years. She races the six-kilometre course Saturday.

“It’s a very tough course,” said Bennison, who turns 18 in August. “There are man-made obstacles and stuff you have to jump over, and some steep hills. There will be 300 (athletes) in the field.”

She was runner-up in the junior women’s 5-k at the Pan-Ams in Florida on a flat course, clocking a 16:44, five seconds back of Kingston’s Brogan McDougall. Bennison beat McDougall by 15 seconds in the U20 women’s six-kilometres race at the Canadian Cross Country Championships in late November at Kingston’s Fort Henry.

Bennison attended elementary school at Kidston and Harwood before taking up cross country in Grade 8 at VSS under coach Mark Bendall. She trained at Accents Studio for several years before putting away her dancing shoes in Grade 9. She found dance helped her with balance and motor skills in running. Downhill and water skiing from an early age also set her up well for cross country.

“I joined just for fun. My mom’s (Anne-Marie Bennison) a runner; she’s run all her life. I would run for 30 minutes at a nice and easy pace to start. I liked it right away, and at first, it was tough catching up to her but then she slowed down a bit.”

Bennison progressed quickly once in competition mode. She was 50th at her first provincial cross country, then placed 10th before reeling off three straight gold-medal showings. She three-peated last November in West Kelowna by ruling the senior girls division 4.5-kilometre race in 17 minutes and 50 seconds, finishing four seconds ahead of Christina Sevsek of the Clayton Heights Night Riders of Surrey.

She puts no limits on human endurance.

“As soon as I started running, I loved it. I love the solidarity and the black and white of it. It’s not judged. It became a lifestyle. I love to live healthy. I feel I have talent but I haven’t trained to my full potential. I just want to keep the sport fun and I want to keep loving it. I enjoy the training it takes to get there and not just the results.”

Bennison strives for excellence as an athlete and a person, listing her mom as her hero.

“She exemplifies the grace and grit. You can be a kind and positive person and still make an impact on the world.”

Bennison will be running for Vernon and Canada in Uganda with the Providence College Friars in the back of her mind since she has secured an athletic scholarship with the Rhode Island-based school.

She looked at universities in California, Georgetown and Queens in Ontario before checking out Providence.

“I flew to Washington and I cancelled my other visits after Providence. I knew wanted to go there for the coach (Ray Treacy) who is a well-known distance coach. He has a long-term approach to training with a distance focus. He coaches Molly Huddle, the star American long-distance runner. It’s a small school with small classes, which I really like.”

Huddle set the American record in the 5,000 metres at a 2014 Herculis Diamond League meet in Fontvieille, Monaco (14:42.64). She also set the U.S. record in the 10,000 metres at the 2016 Olympics, with a time of 30:13.17.

The fourth-ranked Providence women’s cross country team scored 36 points and captured the 2016 Big East title at Van Cortlandt Park in New York last October. It was the squad’s second consecutive Big East banner and eighth all-time.

Bennison will study political science and English with an eye towards getting into law.

“I did a run with the girls (in Providence) and went to an English class with 20 students. The coach sees potential in an athlete and doesn’t care if you have a bad split or a bad workout. It’s a full ride. My parents were happy; they weren’t expecting that so it’s a bonus.”

Bennison runs for Elmore with the Okanagan Athletics Club and previously received coaching from John Machuga of the Vernon AAA Track Club.

Said Machuga: “Hannah is the strongest embodiment that I have seen of the competitive concept of - ‘this is hard, I will make it harder to see who is really up for the challenge.’ She pushes the pace in races to discomfort then she refuses to relent even after everyone else has given up.”

Machuga said an injured Bennison cross-trained diligently a year ago to ensure she could make the Canadian cross country team.

“As for Hannah’s development I can speak mostly of her earlier development but not the last couple of years. When Hannah started running she already had good technical form, and a strong competitive desire. She needed to learn the skill of training. How to control her intensity raising or lowering it to meet the goals of the workout.”

Her dad, Lindsay Pritchett, is a doctor and former rugby player growing up in Great Britain. Her younger sister, Mia, is also making a name for herself in cross country, winning the provincial junior title last season. Mia is in Grade 10 at VSS.

“She has to find her own way; she’s trying to figure things out,” said Hannah, an accomplished pianist. “She wouldn’t even go for a hike until last year.”