While Thomas Riva is taking six years instead of five to finish his engineering degree, no one can accuse him of going slow. In July, the track star won the men’s 800-metre Gary Reed Elite event at the Victoria International Track Classic in 1:47:02. It was a photo finish, and one of Riva’s most memorable moments as an athlete. Just five weeks ago, he was in Kamloops at another international under-23 tournament, coming second in his race there. Now in his fifth and last year of eligibility, Riva is about to close his university track career, but when asked to look back, he remains humble about his beginnings.
“I was good, but I wouldn’t say I was outstanding by any measure,” said Riva of his high-school career. “I wasn’t a teen phenom or anything. And so, it was weird to come here and just get beaten by everyone on the team because our team is pretty good.”
When deciding on a major in high school, Riva was attracted to engineering since he liked the problem-solving aspect, as well as its practicality, since “there was a job at the end of the degree.” While most engineers take six courses per semester, Riva takes four to account for his his athletic career. It is a demanding schedule, but Riva insists that running helps him relax, particularly when the schoolwork gets tough.
“You could be in the middle of an assignment, or a really tough problem, and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m going to take a break and go for a run,’ so it really breaks the day up, which is nice.”
Riva’s days start around seven or eight. After breakfast, he’ll go for a shake-out run at an easy pace, and work out more intensively for two hours in the afternoons. The harder sessions could involve intervals, running a set distance repeatedly with maximum effort, or a tempo session, running longer distances but at a more moderate effort. As running is an impact sport, it takes a long time to recover, so to prevent injury he is careful not to overtrain. But even with around two hours of running a day, the associated activities like weight training, stretching, soft tissue massages, and physio sessions leave little time for other extracurricular activities.
The 800- and 1500-metre specialist is now preparing for the impending cross-country season, but the longer distances and unpredictable weather conditions are a definite change from the outdoor track that Riva excels on. Later in the spring, when the indoor track season begins, he will have to adapt again, as the indoor track is just a 200-metre oval, compared to the 400-metre outdoor oval at UVic. The shorter straights and tight turns “[change] it up quite a bit, because it’s way harder to pass, and plus it’s indoors, so there’s no wind, so it’s not as taxing to lead those races, and it changes your strategy a little bit.”
His results in the classroom and on the track provide Riva an enviable set of options. He’s not sure if he’ll turn pro after his university career ends, but he’ll “see what doors open up after this year.”
Keep up with the Vikes track team through Twitter by following @trackthevikes.