November 30th, 2016
Kate Van Buskirk, bronze medalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, weighs in on the Rio Olympics, women’s magazines and how a love of running trumps negativity in the end.
This was disheartening, but not surprising. Glance at the cover of most female-oriented “health and fitness” magazines and you’ll find articles like, “How to get a flatter tummy almost instantly.” The danger here lies in the association between how you look (low body fat and muscular, while retaining an air of femininity) and what it means to be “fit” and “healthy.” Never mind setting unattainable ideals for girls and women; what’s most concerning about this focus on the female body is its detraction from a woman’s character and accomplishments.
To be clear, I don’t believe that this is solely a female issue; there are pressures placed on men to adhere to a stereotypically ‘masculine’ body type. However, the extent to which women’s bodies get scrutinized, dissected and judged is relentless, as is the evaluation of a woman’s worth based upon her appearance.
I’ve experienced this many times, and there seems to be a strange implication that it’s acceptable to judge elite female runners because a) we’re often in the public spotlight, and b) our competition uniforms consist essentially of a two-piece bathing suit. It’s as if competing in tight and minimal clothing is implied consent for our appearance to be picked apart, commented on and criticized, and that being public figures makes us immune from the sometimes hostile judgement of strangers. My friends and I often feel as though we’re walking a fine line between adhering to pressures around the embodiment of perfection, and not wanting to represent the unrealistic body standards perpetuated by the media.
I don’t like my appearance being critiqued any more than the rest of the world. My body looks the way it does not as a result of wanting to appear a certain way, but because I’ve scientifically sculpted it in order to maximize its potential; function over form. That said, I think that there can be an appreciation of both the form and function, without the corresponding sexualisation. Women can and should be proud of their bodies on their own terms without worrying that expressions of self-appreciation will be construed as attention-seeking, or permission to be scrutinized. When I choose to post photos of myself running in briefs and a sports bra, I do so with pride because I know how hard I’ve worked to feel good in my body, and I like the way that it looks as a result. Wouldn’t it be awesome if girls were encouraged to feel good instead of being bombarded with messaging that reinforces their worth and desirability as being inextricably linked to their waist or cup size, or ‘flat bellies’?
This fall, I came across a tweet by Women’s Health that irked me into action. The tweet featured a cropped photo of a woman bending forward with a caption that read “How to rid yourself of belly pooch forever.” Not only was the model in the least flattering position possible, she appeared to me to have a lower than average amount of belly fat. I snapped a shot of myself in the same position and wrote:
“Hey @womenshealthmag, every normal person has belly rolls when they bend forward, even elite runners w 14% body fat.”
My reply garnered 172 retweets, 573 likes and dozens of comments. This response was encouraging and I was proud to showcase my own “belly pooch” on social media. But no one’s immune from criticism and I admit that my selfies decrease when I’m in my heaviest, noncompetitive months of the year. It’s something I’m working on.
At the end of the day, I don’t run to look a certain way, or solely with the goal of winning races. I run because I freaking love it. I love the feeling of my body in motion; of becoming stronger and faster; of challenging myself. I love the endorphin rush, the sense of accomplishment, the connection to my community and to a primal part of my humanity. In essence, I run to feel good. My wish would be for every woman to experience this type of joy and empowerment, and to find beauty in her body’s abilities.
November 30th, 2016
|Silvia Ruegger recounts her journey from Canadian Olympian to children’s activist and tells the tale of how women’s running caught its stride.
August 5th 1984, the site of the start of the Women’s Olympic Marathon was pregnant with hope; the steps these 50 women would take from Santa Monica College to the Olympic Stadium 26.2 miles away were progress for women. Prior to 1984, the furthest running event for women at the Olympic Games was 1500 meters—the equivalent of 3 ¾ laps of a high school track.
I was often the lone participant in cross country events from my high school. Growing up in the country, my mom drove the car behind me at 6:00 a.m. with the headlights on, creating a path for me to run on those dark country concessions.
At the 1984 Olympics, our desire was to inspire all women to believe that they could run regardless of age, background, ethnicity or talent. It’s the journey that changes how girls see what they’re capable of: courage, perseverance, resiliency, determination.
As my mom shone the light for me, I work with Start2Finish to do that for others. Mothers, daughters and grandmothers, neighbours and co-workers are inspiring each other to engage in this journey together. I tip my hat towards the future of women’s running in which we all say: Yes I can.
November 30th, 2016
Across the country, the power behind Canada’s biggest races is female.
By Emma Prestwich
Kirsten Fleming was at a Running USA conference two years ago when it first occurred to her. The executive director of the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon was attending an all-female panel when the moderators asked every race director in the room to stand up. The moderators then asked participants to sit down if their team was composed of less than 20 per cent women. Then 50 per cent. And so on. The point of the exercise was to highlight how men still dominate the industry. But Fleming noticed something intriguing when it was over. “I looked around the room and it was actually Canadian race directors that were still standing,” she says. The country is flush with female race directors and women in top race leadership positions.
Ladies run the show or help to do so at several major road races across the country, from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon to Toronto, Hamilton and rural Nova Scotia. Fleming’s team has five women and one man. “I have never known anything else besides my female team,” says Fleming.
But it wasn’t always this way. When Cory Freedman directed her first race for the YMCA in 1989, there were few other women in her position.“At the beginning there were so far and few of us we became fast friends with each other,” the 52-year-old says. The longtime triathlete and runner now has her own event management company called MAX VO2, which puts on the Toronto Women’s Run Series and the Sporting Life 10K. “Over the years what I’ve seen is that more and more women are the race directors as the sport continues to grow,” she says.
In 2005, Mary Wittenberg made history as the first female director of a major international marathon when she was named president and chief executive of the New York Road Runners. Even three years later, when Susan Marsh started working in the industry, the marketing director at Run Ottawa still wasn’t aware of a lot of other women in positions like hers. And the 48-year-old, who has a background in competitive sports, wants to see more. “Running stats prove that women are leading the charge, so it would be great to have more women in leadership roles, it could make a difference.” The trend follows the huge influx of women in running over the past couple of decades, but Freedman also thinks it has to do with how races have changed.
Organizing one used to be simpler. You blocked off a road, added pylons and printed out some shirts. Men traditionally took on these logistics-heavy jobs. But a race is now an experience. Handling one also includes marketing, fundraising, enrolling volunteers, bringing on sponsors, juggling staff, general relationship-building — all skills that Freedman thinks women possess in spades.
“I think as the business has expanded, the roles and the expertise needed to lead the races has grown, and a lot of the time, it’s the women who are doing all of that.” Freedman says many of these women cut their teeth in fundraising, marketing and event planning and have the right kinds of skills. “I also feel that women understand and appreciate the various reasons why someone wants to participate in a race, volunteer, fundraise or sponsor a race.”
Anna Lewis is one. The new director of the 123-year-old Around the Bay in Hamilton took over from Mike Zajczenko last year after he’d run the show for nearly 20 years. She previously worked as the director of special events and community partnerships at the St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation, which is the race’s charity partner. The 42-year-old had worked closely with the race organizers for more than a decade and started running because of Around the Bay .“So it was a really good fit because I shared the same goals and vision,” she says.
Michelle Kempton, who organizes the Maritime Race Weekend, thinks many of the women in these positions are well-suited to such a demanding gig because they were already working their butts off in previous careers. “These women are already at the top of their game,” she says. Kempton, 43, created her pirate-themed Nova Scotia event five years ago, leaving a senior IT job she no longer loved for a frenzy of designing medals, ordering T-shirts, writing letters and meetings with officials. Skills from her previous career translated perfectly to managing a race. “Basically you’re an event organizer,” she says. “The fact that I’m a runner is a bonus.”
Fleming thinks the societal push towards finding satisfying work has something to do with the trend in Canada. “You’re constantly being pulled to find something you love, do something you love, and there’s so many more women runners, that it seems only natural that they would have sought out jobs in the industry.” All of these women say they’ve been well supported by their male colleagues, but have other reasons they worried they wouldn’t be taken seriously.
You’d expect that Charlotte Brookes, the daughter of Canadian industry veteran Alan Brookes, would hear some grumbling after she started working for Canada Running Series in 2005, when she was in her early 20s. “I think the gender thing probably didn’t play a huge role in people’s perception of me, more so than probably the nepotism or the age,” she says.
She’s been involved in the Canadian running industry since childhood, helping out at expos. “I was a little entrepreneur and workaholic at the age of five.” But she worked hard to prove herself, and at age 32, is now the event director for Canada Running Series, which runs events like the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. She handles the race-day command centres and oversees the division that handles volunteers, charities and participant services. She feels she brings a sense of calm and pragmatism to the often chaotic command centres. “Naturally, we [women] are a lot more organized,” she says.
Kempton didn’t worry that she’d be judged on her gender either. She was more concerned about the fact that she was a curvy, middle-to-back-of-the-pack runner who only took up the sport three years beforehand. But the 43-year-old has a unique insight into what the average female runner wants, particularly gear that fits them and is tailored to their figures. “As a plus-size woman, when I do a race, and they only go up to size large, I don’t get a shirt,” she says.
Fleming, like Brookes, also worried that people would focus on her age. The former broadcast journalist started working at the Calgary Marathon doing media contract work, and in 2012, became the executive director. She’s now 34. “The first year [in 2012] my motto was ‘fake it ‘til you make it,’ the second year, was sort of still faking it—but making it, too.” It is a tough gig — both Fleming and Brookes say they don’t have as much time to run as they used to, and Kempton says she relies on her husband to take care of their twins when she’s on the road. The frenzy of race day can also be overwhelming — she jokes that she doesn’t eat until all the events are over.
However, Anna Lewis says she loves the flexibility and work-life balance the job provides. “I’m able to pick up my kids from school, I’m able to participate as a parent volunteer at school, I’m just more available to them,” she says. There are two big stereotypes about how powerful women treat each other —that they’re catty, and that they love to work together. These ladies believe only the latter applies. Kempton has developed friendships with many of other the female race directors. “I think there’s a sort of sisterhood among female race directors, that we lean on each other.”
They also help out at each other’s races and share ideas and best practices. “Michelle would pick up Tim Hortons with me on race day at 3 a.m.,” says Brookes. Ottawa marketing director Marsh doesn’t really like to talk gender. “Once we start highlighting an issue, it really deflects from the team atmosphere,” she says. While it may seem like women are outdoing men in the industry, Marsh says it wasn’t too long ago that women were excluded from major competitions.
The Olympic Games didn’t have a women’s marathon event until 1984. “We weren’t looked at as worthy of competition, because it may damage us in some capacity.” When Brookes was in her early 20s, she went out for drinks with a group after a race expo. An American male race director was making some off-colour comments. She told him to cut it out. His response? “You’re living in a man’s world now, Charlotte, you better get used to it.” That statement isn’t accurate anymore.
November 30th, 2016
Leslie Sexton breaks down the sexist regulations of cross country running where women are still not permitted to run the same distance as men.
- There are no physiological reasons why women cannot run the same distances men.
Men have an advantage over women when racing shorter distances due to their higher levels of testosterone, muscle mass, and lower body fat percentages. The only relevant physiological difference between male and female distance runners is that women are slower than men by approximately 10%. Being slower over a given distance does not make women less capable of completing that distance.
- Men and women run the same distances on all other surfaces.
We don’t race the 1350m instead of the 1500m, or a 38k marathon instead of 42.2k. If men and women are equally capable of racing the same distances on the roads, the same is true for cross country.
- Long distance running is more popular than ever among women.
From 2009 to 2014, marathon participation among women worldwide increased by 26.9%. During the same period, women made up 44% of marathon finishers in Canada. Statistics indicate—clearly—that women have interest in distance running.
- Unequal cross country distances need to be revised to reflect the progress women have made.
Until 1984, the 1500m was the longest event women could contest at the Olympic Games. Women have fought to compete in long distance events and been successful. The women’s marathon was added to the Olympic Games in 1984, and the 10,000m was added in 1988. Cross country needs to update its women’s distances to reflect the progress we’ve made.
- Offering equal distances helps develop confidence and self-worth among girls.
When girls cross country distances are shorter than those of boys, the implication is that girls are less capable. By offering girls separate races with equal distances, we send them the message that they are equally capable of rising to the challenge that running long distances offers.
- Equal distances offer equal opportunity for girls and women to try longer distances.
Boys have more opportunities to try longer distances during their formative years than girls do because they get to run longer in cross country. The status quo limits girl’s options and development. If cross country distances were equalized, girls would have the same choices and opportunities to try racing longer distances.
- Equal cross country distances offer better long distance development for women.
Providing women with the opportunity to race longer distances will help in the development of runners who compete at distances 10k and longer as post-collegiate runners. When the women’s championship distance only increase from 5k in high school to 6k in university, women miss out on the opportunity to experience the training required to prepare for longer events.
- Longer cross country distance can help female middle distance runners build their strength and endurance.
For middle distance specialists, longer cross country distances can seem daunting. Yet many coaches encourage their male middle distance athletes to race 8-10k cross country to become stronger runners. 1500m Olympian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot has raced at the Canadian Cross Country Championships every year since 2013, and Corey Bellemore, the 2015 Canadian 800m champion, recently won the Ontario University Cross Country Championships. Female middle distance runners can also train for and race longer distances and thus benefit from their improved endurance when they shift back to middle distances.
- Empowering women to run longer distances can help to build lifelong runners and continue to improve women’s participation in the sport.
For post-collegiate runners who are not contenders to make national teams, there are better competitive opportunities in long distance road racing than there are on the track. To maximize female post-collegiate participation in competitive running, coaches should prepare women to train like long distance runners. By preparing women to race longer distances in school, more women can successfully make the transition to road racing and stay involved in Athletics as lifelong competitive runners.
- Women in distance running are tough.
Girls aren’t getting involved in this sport because they think it will be easy. They are running cross country to challenge themselves and test their limits. Why not offer women the same challenge of running longer that we present to the men? I, for one, think girls and young women are ready to rise to the occasion.
November 30th, 2016
Lanni Marchant is arguably the most popular Canadian runner since Terry Fox. Amy Friel talks to the 32 year old on how she’s pulling no punches as she’s changing the sport.
Lanni Marchant’s marathon legacy was born a daydream.
It was 1996, an early morning in the high heat of summer. On the television set in the Marchant family home played a live broadcast of the Atlanta Games; Ethiopia, Russia, Germany, and Japan, locked in a contentious battle for gold.
Women’s marathoning was still in its infancy, having gained inclusion on the Olympic program little more than a decade before. But the race showed no shortage of competitive depth. These women, the broadcaster explained, were running faster for twenty-six miles than most human beings, male or female, could run for even one.
It was a passing remark, but it seized upon the imagination of the then-12-year-old Marchant. Where other viewers might have seen trivia, she saw a challenge.
“I remember hearing that and thinking, oh no, I can do that,” she recalls, laughing a little at the memory. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was still a figure skater at the time—I didn’t even know how far a mile was.”
It would be years before Marchant would make the leap to distance running, and longer still before her transition from runner to marathoner would end a decades-long Olympic drought for Canada, shattering a 28-year-old national record in the process.
It would be years before the athlete, unwilling to capitulate in the face of rigorous and often arbitrary qualification standards, would echo the headstrong words of her 12-year-old self to race directors, coaches, and competitors alike:
“I can do that.”
Marchant’s mythology is as much a story of athletic endeavour as it is of grassroots advocacy. A criminal defence lawyer by training, the Canadian record holder cemented her reputation as something of a firebrand, after she famously waged a number of high-profile battles with Athletics Canada, her governing body. Her hard-fought journey from outside-shot to Olympian has been both tumultuous and controversial, and one that has left her with no regrets.
“I somehow got this reputation for poking bears,” she says. “But I’m happy I did it, because nobody was doing it before. I don’t mean that to be disrespectful to the women that came before me, but they’d file their appeals, and they’d be told no, and they’d go away. And I think with Krista [DuChene] and I—we didn’t go away.”
The top female marathoners in a country with notoriously exacting Olympic standards, Marchant and DuChene launched an ambitious bid for inclusion on the London 2012 team. After running to breakthrough personal best times at the 2011 Rotterdam Marathon, Marchant publicly launched an appeal on behalf of the pair, now well within the IAAF standard for Olympic qualification. She gave interviews, her characteristic frankness cultivating strong public support for her cause. Overnight, a #LetLanniRun campaign took over the Twitter feed of every road race junkie in the country.
Her appeal for inclusion was denied, but for the then-28-year-old marathoner, the fight was far from over; Lanni Marchant had no intention of going away quietly.
“When I was coming up in this sport, it was almost as if we as women had to ask permission to chase these standards, or to be as good as we wanted to be,” she recalls. “Now, we’re demanding it. We’re not asking for permission; we’re demanding our spot. And it’s been really cool to see that change.”
In the four years since Marchant’s appeal, a groundswell of female elite distance runners have reshaped the face of the marathon in Canada. The Canadian Championships, held at the Toronto Marathon this past October, represented the deepest and most competitive women’s field in Canadian history, while breakout performances from heavy-hitters like Dayna Pidhoresky, Leslie Sexton, Tarah Korir, and Erin Burrett have transformed the discipline, moving from thin-on-the-ground to a critical mass of contenders within a single Olympic cycle.
For Pan Am Games bronze medallist Rachel Hannah, who clocked a blistering 2:33:30 debut marathon in 2015 (the second-fastest debut in Canadian history), the trail blazed by Marchant and DuChene has proven invaluable for her own development as an Olympic hopeful.
“The performances of Canadian women like Lanni and Krista coming earlier along the path were absolutely an inspiration,” she says. “They have made the task possible, something very real, that a post-collegiate Canadian distance runner can pursue running beyond school days, and keep going.”
For Marchant, who ultimately earned her place at the 2016 Rio Games in both the marathon and the 10,000m (an historic double-event, completed much to the displeasure of Athletics Canada), the fight for inclusion has never quite felt finished. The battles which have served to define her career have also cemented her status as a role model for many Canadian women, a position that at times still feels foreign to her.
“I don’t always see myself as the strongest or the toughest,” she says. “I didn’t really set out to have this role. I just wanted to run, and run well.”
With a recent seventh-place finish and Canadian course record at the New York City Marathon under her belt, few could accuse her of anything less. Yet for all her fierceness and competitive zeal, Marchant seems oddly excited by the idea of relinquishing what is arguably her most famous accolade—the 2:28:00 national marathon record she set in Toronto in 2013.
“I hope the record doesn’t stand for another 28 years,” she says. “I don’t see it lasting through to the next Olympic cycle at all. I think if I don’t knock it down, someone else is going to. We have too much talent now in Canada for it to last that much longer.”
But while the list of athletes eyeing to better her mark grows steadily longer, Lanni Marchant shows little sign of slowing down. In either case, one thing seems unambiguously clear: in the world of Canadian distance running—for both men and women—Lanni Marchant will have changed the sport.
November 28th, 2016
I’ve been at this marathon thing long enough, 13 in 14 years to be exact, to pay particular attention to what my body says in the off-season. After the Olympics I took five days off then transitioned into Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon training with both care and risk. I wanted to recover properly yet quickly ramp up the workload because I felt I had nothing to lose. I was elated that it worked when successfully capturing the National Marathon title, particularly because it was against a very strong field.
It was definitely the icing on the cake.
Recovery from my second 2016 marathon, which was only nine weeks after my first, was smooth. As per my usual post-marathon routine, I fully indulged in the sweets I lived without for months. I enjoyed simple walks with the dog and recreational bike rides on the trails. I physically felt fine but emotionally and mentally started to feel that with every day, I needed that much more time to fully recover. I then looked back at my list of 2016 races from January to October, and somewhat surprised myself to discover it was a pretty big year: five half marathons (in Houston, Vancouver, Burlington, Montreal and Calgary), one 30 km (in Hamilton), one 10 km (in Toronto), and two marathons (in Rio and Toronto). No wonder I felt I needed more time! After two weeks without running, I started some easy jogging then filled the rest of my day with all the extras I had put on hold for basically a year. And since then, it has kept me quite busy in a variety of ways: I completed several interviews in person and by phone, Skype/Facetime or email, had various speaking engagements, worked with the kids to fill their Operation Christmas child shoe boxes and purge hundreds of items from the basement and their bedrooms, had overdue coffee dates with friends, completed my annual College of Dietitians of Ontario renewal, trained for and completed my first shift as official swim meet timer, helped with team fundraisers, played in an evening of laser tag, AND fully suited up for the first time in many years to play some ice hockey! So many of these events required significant energy that I just wasn’t able to give when in the thick of marathon training. I’m particularly glad to have the purging job complete. That takes more time and energy than any running workout!
At this point in late November, I’ve finished my fourth week of easy running and have quite enjoyed this beautiful fall, running freely with no plan, no watch, and simply the beauty of the outdoors with crunchy leaves beneath my feet. My 2016 recovery has nicely become my base building for a 2017 spring marathon. I’m expecting 2017 to look a bit different, not only because I will turn the big 4-0 in early January but because I will be with a new coach. It was a very difficult decision to make but after much thought I decided to not continue with Rick. After five very eventful and successful years with him it was really tough but necessary for my career. I felt I needed change, something different. I realize 2013 may be my fastest year and 2016 my most successful but I couldn’t stay for comfort and familiarity. I did not want to look back and ask myself, “Why didn’t you just try something new when you could have?”
Thankfully, I’m at a very good point in my career right now. I could get injured or decide to be finished today, leaving incredibly pleased with my success. Or I could give it a few more attempts to see what else could happen. Rick was understanding and supportive. We will always have a positive relationship with mutual respect as we continue to share our passion for running and love for our Brantford community.
In terms of coaching, it made sense to ask Dave Scott-Thomas if he and his team would consider taking me. For many reasons, I always felt this is where I would go, should the need arise. And I somewhat already felt part of the team because I was included as an “adopted” Gryphon in the list of Speed River/University of Guelph Olympians. Recently I made a trip to Guelph to meet with Dave to discuss our next steps. While walking around the athletic buildings, we made a stop in to see my former teammate and roommate, Rachel Flanagan who is now head coach of the women’s hockey team. We reminisced a bit, which included us determining that Dave’s first year as head coach was my second year at U of G. I had actually done a few runs with the x country team when in my first year while also attending hockey tryouts with a full course load but it was too much at the time when my mom was losing her battle to cancer. So there I stood, twenty years later, back in Guelph somewhat picking up where I left off.
December will continue to be a base-building month with likely the addition of a bit of quality. I am quite excited about 2017. Perhaps the best is yet to come!
November 26th, 2016
Sasha Gollish is the 2016 Canadian Women’s Cross Country champion. Gollish was the first to cross the finish line in the Senior Women’s 10k race (2016 marks the first time that both Senior men and women ran the same distance) in 33:52.
Gollish broke away with about 2k remaining, jumping ahead of Rachel Cliff, who held the lead at that point. Gollish, the fifth place finisher in 2015, maintained seemingly perfect form all the way through the final lap.
Cliff held on for 2nd place and Claire Sumner rounded out the top 3. For Cliff, the finish was an improvement over her 3rd place finish the previous year, while Sumner makes a big leap from a 22nd place finish in 2015.
Gollish, a PhD candidate in Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto, only returned to competitive running in 2014 after an early retirement in 2002. In 2015, Gollish represented Canada at the Pan-Am Games, taking home a bronze in the 1,500m. Earlier this month, she also won the Indianapolis Half Marathon with a time of 1:11, the second fastest time by a Canadian woman at that distance.
In the post race interview, Gollish was rather blunt, proclaiming, “I don’t like cross country and this course is my nemesis.” She credited her choice of long sleeves and tights for making her race strong after nearly fainting in the cold last year.
Ross Proudfoot defended his Senior Men’s title, holding off Olympians Matt Hughes and Lucas Bruchet, the latter of whom broke away early in the race and led at the halfway point. The gap was eventually closed by Proudfoot and Hughes and the three ran close until Proudfoot and Bruchet became their own pack with a little more than a kilometre remaining.
Proudfoot’s 29:51 finish marks a big jump form his 30:06 in 2015. Bruchet was the runner up followed by a late surging Trevor Hofbauer who rounded out the top three. Notably absent from the race was Olympian and Canadian 5K Road Race champion Charles PT, who made a last minute decision to sit the race out due to illness.
Proudfoot, who had just missed the Olympic squad this year, proved that his name is still in the mix among Canada’s elite. In the post race interview, he stated that his goal was to focus on indoor while trying to stay injury free. His ultimate goal is to land a spot on the Canadian squad for the 2017 World Championships in London.
Congratulations to all competitors at today’s event! Full results from all races can be found here.
– Ravi Singh
November 23rd, 2016
If you consult the Association of Road Racing Statisticians website, you’ll find that of the 100 fastest half marathons run in 2016, there is one Japanese runner who breaks the top 100 for men (84th) while three Japanese women have run the 73rd, 91st, and 92nd fastest half marathons this year.
Japan is one of the few countries outside of Africa to make multiple appearances on that list. To be really impressed by the state of Japanse running, however, one needs to examine the sheer depth of the competition at a race within Japan.
Runners at the Ageo City Half Marathon where 361 runners broke 70 minutes. Image via Japan Running News.
A prime example is the Ageo City Half Marathon run on November 20th, where 361 runners in the men’s race recorded a sub-1:10 finish in a field of 444. That’s 81% of the field. Winner Rintaro Takeda recorded a 1:01:59 (a personal best). By contrast, at the Copenhagen Half Marathon in September, where the fastest half marathon of 2016 was run by Kenya’s James Wangari (59:07), 37 runners managed to break 1:10 in a significantly larger field.
Ageo is not an outlier. The Marugame Half Marathon, run in February, saw 137 runners break 1:10. At that race, 8 of the 10 fastest half marathon times by Japanese runners in 2016 were recorded.
The field of runners at Ageo consisted primarily of university runners tuning up for the Hakone Ekiden, which will be run on January 2-3. The Ekiden is a long distance relay race with each runner covering various distances ranging anywhere from six legs totalling 12k at the elementary level to the monstrous Round Kyushu Ekiden, which sees 72 segments cover 1064 kilometres.
The Hakone Ekiden brings together top university Ekiden teams from the Tokyo region to cover 217k over two days. It’s Japan’s biggest sporting event, commanding an audience share comparable to the Super Bowl in the US.
Check out Japan Running News for a full recap of the Ageo race and a primer on the Ekiden. The site is a must follow for insight into a very distinct and rich running scene and culture.
November 22nd, 2016
When he stands at the start line of the Fukuoka Marathon on December 4th, the lone Canadian on the elite start list, Reid Coolsaet will complete the circuit of 2016 Canadian Olympic marathoners who returned to the distance within the calendar year.
Reid follows Eric Gillis and Krista DuChene, the top Canadians at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, and Lanni Marchant, who placed 7th at the New York City Marathon in November, recording the best ever finish by a Canadian woman at that race.
Reid Coolsaet (right) with fellow Olympian Eric Gillis (left). Reid returns to the marathon in Fukuoka on December 4th.
In a moment perhaps revealing of the very different mindsets of a back of the pack runner like myself and an elite like Reid, who owns two of the five fastest Canadian men’s marathon times (2:10:28 at the 2015 Berlin Marathon at 2:10:54 at the 2011 Toronto Waterfront Marathon), he says that he doesn’t feel like he’s rushed into another marathon when I ask what prompted him to run another so quickly after Rio.
In fact, the fourteen weeks between Rio and Fukuoka, Reid says, “…gave me enough time to have a little break, get in some base and then have enough time for a proper build up.” After injury had compromised his build to Rio, Reid appreciates the extra time to get in more speed work, which he says is starting to show up in his workouts.
Most recently, he used the Road2Hope 10K in Hamilton, where he now resides with wife Marie and newborn son Louis (pronounced like Louis Armstrong or Louis CK, not like Lennox Lewis), as a test for current fitness. Concerning the results – he placed first overall – Reid says, “Road2Hope was good for me. I ran 29:40 and although I was targeting a sub-29:30, I felt it was still a good enough indicator.”
Reid mentions on his blog that Louis has already attended multiple cross country meets and says that fatherhood hasn’t changed his goals or taken away from his commitment to running, but certainly has required him to make adjustments to his training and be “…more flexible with my schedule, often running later in the morning after catching up on lost sleep. I also have skipped core and plyometrics when I’ve been busy but I haven’t missed any runs.”
For the last two months, Reid has largely trained alone, which he hopes will prepare him for the fact that he’ll likely be running on his own in Fukuoka, without the company of pacers or teammates. In past races, the company and push from fellow Canadians like Eric Gillis at Toronto’s Waterfront 10K and Kevin Friesen at the Ottawa 10K have been an asset.
As for the obvious question of whether or not he feels any pressure running the race where Jerome Drayton set the Canadian men’s marathon record, which has now stood for more than fourty years, Reid says that it’s not really on his mind. “I’m not sure I’ll even target the record, so I haven’t put pressure on myself,” he says, adding, “I’ve still been dealing with some aches and pains so I haven’t gotten my hopes up.”
Reid’s finish at the 2015 Berlin Marathon nonetheless remains the closest anyone has come to Drayton’s 2:10:09, which added to the controversy around Athletics Canada’s most recent list of carded athletes, which excluded Reid along with his fellow Olympic marathoners and 10,000m record holder Natasha Wodak.
Reid says he wasn’t disappointed with the decision, as he wasn’t expecting to be carded, but does feel that the system isn’t entirely fair to marathoners, given that races are considered within a 54 week window, which his Berlin finish fell just outside.
His only other marathon within the window was Rio, where his 23rd place finish was also just outside the top 20 that would have qualified him for carding. Reid says that while he won’t say that he should have been carded, he feels that his time in Berlin should have at least been weighed in the decision.
Whatever the case, Reid is not done with the marathon and is on record as saying that he is ready to compete again in 2017 with Fukuoka serving as the foundation.
Best of luck to Reid on December 4th in Japan!
November 21st, 2016
With Jack Frost nipping at our toes, Canadian runners are contemplating one of two things – either hang the shoes up for the winter, or figure out how to maintain a training program over the winter months. The later is definitely a preference, however, there are innate concerns that runners may have regarding the snowy, icy and blustery conditions that we Canadians can experience.
By: Dr. Lowell Greib MSc ND CISSN
One of the largest concerns that The SportLab hears leading into this season, is that regarding proper footing on our winter roads. This leads to the question as to whether a runner can prepare themselves for Canadian winter roads and potentially reduce their risk of injury? There are definitely some easy tips that can improve runners stability and balance while simultaneously decreasing the risk of injuring an ankle or a knee.
ONE: Increase your volume of off road running. By training in the summer months on smooth, paved surfaces, we have conditioned our bodies to have the expectation of a perfect foot strike against the road each time we take a stride. As we enter the winter season, take some time to run on grass, do some cross country or trail running. The undulations of the terrain and varying angles of the ground, will help strengthen the muscles, that otherwise, may be used minimally in road running.
TWO: Work on your balance in movement. Call up one of your construction friends and have an eight foot length of 2×4 delivered to your house! Once you have this high tech piece of training equipment, you can work through three progressions. Lay the piece of timber on the ground with the 4” surface facing upward. Walk the ‘plank’, heel-to-toe, from one end to the other, turn around, and repeat. If you are able to complete the exercise with your eyes open, progress to doing the same thing with one eye open and ultimately work towards walking the plank with your eyes closed. In working through these progressions you will be creating input into your nervous system that will ultimately improve balance and decrease your risk of falling and becoming injured.
THREE: Practice stationary stability. Time to track down another piece of high tech training equipment – a pillow. For this exercise you will stand, on one foot, on the pillow (an uneven surface). Aim for successful completion of 30 seconds on each foot. In order to progress, do the same exercise with one eye open and the final progression is being able to complete the 30 seconds with both eyes closed. It may take a few weeks to become an ‘expert’ at this!
By implementing the tips above, a runner can be well prepared for changes outdoors that may present themselves over the course of the winter. Through good preparation, we will be able to enjoy the great outdoors, decrease our risk of injury and show Old Man Winter that no matter what he throws at us, we are hearty Canadians that will continue to do what we love. Or, go jump on a treadmill for the next 6 months.