Terrace-raised Tyler Dozzi is gunning for a top spot in the national championship for youth cross country running after he achieved a solid victory at provincials recently.
Winning by 33 seconds, he catapulted into first place at the most difficult stretch of the nearly 7K provincial race in Kelowna Nov. 5. Each of the three laps was almost entirely uphill for the first half, and downhill the second half.
Dozzi said he glimpsed his chance midway through the final lap on the last big hill, when the lead runner started to slow.
“I saw the opportunity… so I picked up my pace and absolutely hammered it,” Dozzi said. “I passed him and I kept going hard until I hit the downhills… I kept going hard and didn’t look back.”
Dozzi is a Grade 12 runner on the cross country team at Oak Bay High School and claimed his victory against 222 senior boys from across B.C.
Propelled by the win, Dozzi races the best in Canada at nationals in Ontario Nov. 26.
Originally from Terrace, Dozzi started running four years ago for the Skeena Middle School Track and Field team.
“I didn’t think I was any good,” he said, noting that he did finish 9th and 11th in provincials that year, running against people his age and those a year older. Then looking at provincial results he noticed the year of birth and realized that he was actually significantly excelling.
“I looked at the results… and I was one of the top runners born in ’99 in both of my races,” he said, adding that he then realized he “could be pretty good at this.”
The next year in 2013, he improved his results and met a Smithers coach who encouraged him to run in more races outside of the high school team.
There are two different competition streams for youth running, one for high school and one for club teams and individual runners, so Dozzi started training more on his own. He won third and first in BC Summer Games, and then went to club nationals in Langley and finished third and fourth. The results energized him to invest more.
In Grade 10, he won several races in high school provincials, but said he did not compete well at nationals. That prompted him and his parents to talk about opportunities he had to pursue running outside of Terrace.
Having met his now-coach, Bruce Deacon at nationals, Dozzi was able to arrange through him a move to Oak Bay, where he has been since last September. He goes to school there and trains with the Prairie Inn Harriers Running Club, which includes training and events for runners from across the Lower Mainland.
Coach Bruce Deacon says Dozzi has “a lot of talent” and is smart and strategic, hanging off on his pace when needed.
“He is a smart runner and a good racer,” Deacon said, adding that Dozzi is also very goal-driven and focused. “He doesn’t give in very easily, so he’s going to fight the whole way and not give up.”
But Dozzi also balances his focus with a fun-loving and social personality, Deacon said.
He excelled at provincials with tactics and skill, Deacon said, noting that it was a technical course and he ran it exactly according to plan.
“It’s probably the best race he’s run,” Deacon said.
Lining up at the provincial starting line, Dozzi said he felt nervous but prepared.
His biggest competitor was Thomas Nobbs, a Grade 12 runner from Vancouver, who was a three-time national champion in track and field and second-place national winner in cross country.
Dozzi’s strategy was to stick at the rear of the leading pack and then take off on the final stretch, a downhill section where he naturally excels.
“Downhill is my personal strength so I knew that I wanted to make a move on the top of the hill on the third lap,” he said, explaining that the 2.3 km laps were almost entirely uphill the first half, then down.
But the lead runner Nobbs picked up his pace at the beginning of the third lap, so Dozzi had to kick it up early in order to stick with him. Dozzi fought to close the gap in the uphill stretch, managing to get within 5 km as they neared the final hill.
There, near the peak of the final hill, he noticed Nobbs begin to slow.
Dozzi knew it was his chance, so he took off.
“I passed him and I kept going hard until I hit the downhills,” Dozzi said. At that point he knew he had it.
“I just knew… ‘that’s my strength. I can keep going hard on the downhills until the finish of the race,” Dozzi said. “So I didn’t look back, I just kept going.”
He finished the 6.9K race in 24:23, a strong 33 seconds in the lead, and said he felt exhausted but ecstatic.
“It felt amazing,” Dozzi said. “I was pretty exhausted but I was absolutely ecstatic… I’ve been working pretty hard towards this for a long time.”
The provincial win was the capstone on a magnificent season, which included conquering gold at the club cross country provincials in Nanaimo against 54 runners, and winning first in the Vancouver Island cross country championship in Victoria against 93 runners.
While he enjoys running, Dozzi said what he really loves is competition.
“I really enjoy running, but my favourite part is actually racing,” Dozzi said, explaining that he enjoys the challenge of pushing his limits, both in workouts and competition. “I don’t know why I like it, but I like pushing myself,” he said, adding that he relishes the rewards.
“I love the competition, pushing myself as hard as I can and the reward if I do it well,” he said.
In the future, Dozzi aims to run on a university team somewhere, and since there is only track running in the Olympics, not cross country which involves running outdoors, he also hopes to compete in worlds.
“I’d really like to try to make the U20, or the Junior Worlds in 2018 with Team Canada,” Dozzi said.
“I need to be top six in the country to make that.”
Dozzi explained that Team Canada will take six runners ages 17-19, and he will be age 19 that year.
But first, Dozzi faces his test at nationals Nov. 26 in Kingston, Ontario.
Dozzi’s coach Deacon said his chances are bright.
“I’d like to think he’s ready to finish in the top two or three,” Deacon said.
He added that cross country races are always different, with factors like terrain and weather at play, but Dozzi is prepared to really perform.
“He’s definitely in the best shape of his life… ready for a really good performance,” Deacon said.