Running down Rio: Why Lanni Marchant’s Olympic qualifier matters

ath-marathon18sp1If you were lucky enough to be in Toronto yesterday morning, then you cannot have missed the electrifying excitement that is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The flagship event of the Canada Running Series, the marathon has distinguished itself as Canada’s biggest and most prestigious race weekend. And while the home-grown competition at Scotiabank Toronto is always of a high caliber, this year saw Canadians Eric Gillis and Lanni Marchant running for the 2016 Olympic standards on the notoriously flat and fast course.

Two-time Olympian Eric Gillis famously ran his 2012 London Olympic qualifier at Scotiabank four years earlier, squeaking under the 2:11:29 standard by a margin of just one second. He finished yesterday’s marathon in a less nail-biting fashion, with a time that was more than a minute under the more relaxed 2:12:50 standard, qualifying for his third Olympic games in Rio 2016.

Gillis now joins Speed River training partner Reid Coolsaet on the list of Canadian men with a Rio-qualifying time on the books. But while Rio represents yet another Olympic games for both Coolsaet and Gillis, the real story in yesterday’s marathon was a Rio-qualifier for Lanni Marchant.

Marchant, who shattered Sylvia Ruegger’s 28-year-old Canadian marathon record on the Scotiabank course two years earlier, ran a 2:28:09, just a few seconds shy of her own Canadian record, but comfortably under the 2:29:50 qualifying standard for the 2016 Games.

That Marchant was able to bring home a 2:28:09 marathon yesterday morning isn’t especially jaw-dropping, given her past strong performances. What is noteworthy is that both Marchant and fellow Canadian marathoner Krista Duchene are now set to become the first women to represent Canada in an Olympic marathon in two decades.

Both women had achieved the IAAF qualifying standard for the 2012 London Olympic Games, but fell short of the more rigorous “A” standard required by Athletics Canada. Marchant and Duchene petitioned to be named to the Olympic team under the Athletics Canada  “rising star” provision, but both their petition and subsequent appeal were denied.

As a result, Canada went unrepresented in the 2012 women’s Olympic Marathon; just over a year later, Marchant shattered the long-standing Canadian record with a blistering 2:28:00 finish at Scotiabank Toronto, with Duchene hot on her heels in 2:28:32.

That Marchant and Duchene are now poised to represent Canada at the Olympic level is no small thing. Though the Canadian men’s marathon elite have enjoyed representation on the world stage in decades past, the women’s marathon has been consistently brushed aside. But in the three-plus years since she was left off the London 2012 team, Marchant has proven time and again that she is a world-class athlete who belongs on the world stage. After running to a strong 4th-place finish in the 2014 Commonwealth Games marathon, the Canadian went on to win bronze on home soil in the Pan Am Games 10,000m.

Fielding a strong pair of female marathoners in the first Olympic Games since Atlanta 1996 marks a turning point for women’s distance running in this country. And with even more rising stars, including Natasha Wodak, Rachel Hannah, and Natasha LaBeaud clocking world-class marathon times, it’s beginning to look as though Marchant and Duchene have lead the charge in the resurgence of the Canadian women’s marathon.

“It was disappointing not being selected to the (London 2012) team, but it helped motivate us,” Marchant says. “Hopefully this lays the groundwork for girls who come after us, so things might be different.”

If yesterday’s result is any indication, the revolution has only just begun.

Chase big dreams.

Advertisements

The Ten Commandments of Race Week


It’s that time of year again, folks. The days are getting shorter, leaves are changing colour, and there’s an undeniable nip in the air, which can mean only one thing: Toronto Marathon week is here!

For the running community in this city, the week leading up to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon feels a lot like Christmas. All around us, the city is charged with an excitement and energy no other race can match.

And while it’s easy to get swept up in the buzz of race week, it’s important to keep your excitement in check. So with that in mind, I give you my personal Ten Commandments of Race Week:

I. Thou shall not over-train.

68e86f947811fd3e4ff31066b9e543cbYou’ve been logging miles and pounding the roads for months; now it’s time to relax! There’s nothing you can do at this stage of the game to add to your fitness, but there’s a lot you can do to take away from it by working too hard. Race week means rest week. Remember, the hay’s in the barn – any big effort you put in now is just taking away from what you can do on race day.

II. Thou shall not neglect fueling.

10beeec2419db488be3a09d412f4d84dWhile it’s important to back off on hard training and let the taper do it’s magic, one thing you should not be neglecting this week is your diet.

You’re about to ask your body to do something incredible and superhuman – don’t risk pushing yourself without adequate fuel.

III. Thou shall visualize and commit to the race strategy.

8380c7970334d4c6dacc30f698a74da9The marathon is a different kind of beast than any other race, and you have to plan accordingly. This means going out at a conservative pace and holding steady through to the 30K mark before you let that racing instinct take over. And believe me, it will take over. If you’re anything like me, the only way you’ll be able to resist the urge to push your pace early is to visualize and really commit to your strategy. Know your splits. Watch your pace. And remember, in the marathon there is no such thing as “time in the bank” – going out hard in order to buy yourself wiggle room will only cost you later in the race.

IV. Thou shall not doubt thy training.

Believe Training Journal by Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-DumasThis isn’t the time to start second-guessing or wondering whether you’ve trained enough. You’re done! The best thing you can do at this stage is to lie back and trust the taper.

Rest up, and don’t let yourself feel guilty about the time off. Trust that you’ve done the work, and don’t let that voice of self-doubt creep in.

V. Thou shall go to bed early.

bb9b40b7d832687a3de6a7e7dd4a2992If you’re a night owl like me, this can be especially tough. But it’s necessary. Falling behind on your sleep can impact everything from your mood to your immune system, and this week, you can’t afford to be at anything but your best. So set a strict bedtime, and stick to it.

Limit “screen time” for one half-hour before turning in – laptops, smartphones, and television should all be switched off to give your brain time to properly shut down before your head hits the pillow. Remember, you’ve worked hard for your fitness – you don’t need to compromise it by staying up watching one too many episodes of New Girl.

VI. Thou shall not give in to the Taper Crazies

7263db9fd8b54b4031bc262649062b09Here’s the thing about marathon training that nobody really believes is true until they experience it for themselves: the taper is hard. Really hard. Worse than Peak Week hard. When you’ve spent the better part of six months mapping routes, checking splits, foam rolling your legs, obsessing over long-run playlists, gorging on carbs, stretching, and spending an exorbitant amount of money on shoes, it can be really hard to just back off and rest. But it’s also really, really important.

Remember, you are not losing fitness during the taper. You are not becoming a giant, carb-filled balloon. What you are doing is allowing your body to rest, and a million tiny little injuries to heal, while the miles you have put in these past six months sink into your legs. So lie back, put your feet up, and trust the taper. On race day, you’ll know you made the right call.

VII. Thou shall plan ahead.

b8670e6291c1a619549c847a68b5a42bWhat are you going to wear on race day? How many gels will you carry? What will your splits look like? How will you get to the start line the morning of?

If you haven’t answered these questions yet, do it now. The rigors of running 26.2 miles is tough enough on your mind – you don’t want to needlessly tax yourself worrying about a million little details, too. So get out a pen and a pad of paper and write it all down. Figure out what you’ll be wearing in the race, and lay it all out – right down to your socks. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and keep a contingency plan for heat, cold, or rain. There’s so much in a marathon that you cannot control, so plan for what you can.

VIII. Thou shall keep a tidy home.

28fdda610d77ba3877331af4c9f43b9cRight now, your environment matters. Just like your diet, your surroundings have a huge impact on whether or not you’re functioning at 100%. So if you’re not in the habit of it normally, make sure you take the time to take care of your home. It sounds trivial, but little things like making sure the dishes are done right away, or making your bed every morning, can really help to boost your overall sense of well-being. If you’re staying in a hotel for race weekend, make sure to keep your suitcase as neat and orderly as possible. The last thing you need is to be frantically rummaging for your watch on your way out the door on race morning.

IX. Thou shall watch “Spirit of the Marathon” at least once (and thou shall probably cry while watching it).

e823a891b0737be3b217d0121c0eefacIf you’re training for a marathon, chances are you’ve watched this award-winning documentary at least once. And if you haven’t, what the hell are you doing reading my blog?! You’ve got watching to do!

What I love about this film is how it explores the many meanings that the marathon has to the many different people who run it. From elites like Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga, to seasoned recreational marathoners, to first-timers, there’s a story in here that will resonate with just about every runner. So grab some snacks, curl up under a blanket, and settle down for some serious inspiration.

X. Thou shall remember to enjoy the process.

cf263a0558e6969181810ab9cb49a429I went into my first marathon thinking that it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. And yet somehow, it was still harder than I expected it to be. But it was also incredibly rewarding. For the rest of my life, I will always be more than just a runner; I have earned the right to call myself a marathoner.

Marathons are tough – they can grind you down, injure you, and drive you to the point that you want to quit. But they’re also pretty amazing. They’re an incredible, fearless celebration of tenacity and the human spirit. When you run a marathon, no matter how fast or slow you are, you share a kinship with those who run before and after you. The marathon is a special club, a select group of the ultra-crazy and ultra-brave. And the strength that having finished a marathon fosters within you is an incredible and powerful thing.

So however your race goes on Sunday, whatever time you run, don’t forget to enjoy the process. Remember that with every step, you are building up a deep reservoir of strength in your heart, forged in the crucible of pain and self-doubt, that you will carry with you forever; you’re a marathoner.

Good luck out there, everyone!

Chase big dreams.

Rob Watson versus the Chicago Marathon

Chicago-Marathon

Sunday, October 11th will mark the 38th running of the Chicago Marathon. Founded in 1977 as a rival to the New York City Marathon, the race has swelled from its original 4,200 runners to a field of more than 40,000.

To say that the Chicago course is fast would be an understatement. World records in both the women’s and men’s marathon have been broken at Chicago four times. The course records holders – Dennis Kimetto and Paula Radcliffe – happen to be the respective world record holders as well.

If you’re looking for a course that will allow you to run your fastest time, you could do worse than Chicago.

“Chicago’s probably the fastest North American marathon, course-wise,” explains Canadian elite marathoner Rob Watson. “If you go out there, and the weather works out on the day, and you’re fit, there’s nowhere else in North America you’re gonna run any faster.”

Which is precisely why Watson selected this year’s Chicago Marathon for his run at the 2016 Olympic standard.

“It’s a great course,” says Watson.  “It’s got lots of history… That’s where Steve Jones did some really cool things. It’s a marathon I’ve always wanted to do.”

10431981_1589620607925279_1899216843_n(1)

Like marathon legend Jones, Watson is a notoriously gutsy but sometimes inconsistent runner; his fade-from-the-front approach to the marathon, which has contributed to some of his more spectacular blow-ups, has also fueled many of his most daring and inspiring performances.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who would question his ability to put himself in the hurt box,” says Watson’s former coach, Speed River’s Dave Scott-Thomas. “He can run himself almost comatose.”

This is precisely what Watson did four years earlier, while chasing the London Olympic standard in the Rotterdam Marathon. He collapsed over the finish line in 2:13:37 – a huge personal best for the runner, but still more than two minutes slower than the qualifying standard. “I was upset,” he says. “But when I think about it now, I ended up in a hospital bed on an IV and I couldn’t stop throwing up. What more could I do?”

2013 Boston Marathon WeekendWatson’s old-school running style eschews tactical running in favor of a sort of no-holds-barred, pure-guts, balls-out foot racing. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Canadian distance runner welcomed the recent announcement by Chicago Marathon organizers that they would no longer be allowing elite pacers in the race.

“It takes it back to the purity of the foot race,” Watson says of the decision. “I don’t like how these races have become essentially time trials… I like the racing aspect of the sport, so I’m all for getting rid of these rabbits.”

Chasing the 2:12:50 standard for the 2016 Olympics in a strong elite field like Chicago should leave Watson with no shortage of competitors to run with. And while the standard would mean a personal best of nearly 40 seconds, Watson has proven before that he’s capable of running times that might otherwise appear to be out of his depth.

If Dylan Wykes, Reid Coolsaet, and Eric Gillis represent the pantheon of the current Canadian men’s marathon elite, Watson is a comparative outsider: gutsy, capable, and – in his bid for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team – just a hair’s breadth shy of the mark.

As Coolsaet proved again in Berlin last week, his place at Rio 2016 is a forgone conclusion. Gillis, who met the qualifying standard for the 2012 London Olympic team by a margin of only one second, will be chasing the Rio standard again at the Toronto Marathon later this month – exactly one week following Watson in Chicago.

A qualifying time for Watson in Chicago would electrify the Toronto Marathon, and light a fire under not only Gillis, but also up-and-coming marathon elites Matt Loiselle and Kip Kangogo. It would certainly turn the Canadian Marathon Championships into a race to be remembered.

But timing aside, it’s impossible not to root for Watson’s Olympic dream. There’s a purity to the Rob Watson style of racing, a charming blend of ego and humility, ambition and lightheartedness, competition and camaraderie.

“Long term the goal is Rio 2016,” Watson says. “That’s it man – the Olympics is everything.”

Godspeed, Robbie. Go give those Chicago streets the Steve Jones treatment!

Chase big dreams.