Reid Coolsaet is a two-time Olympic Marathon runner who is 41-years-old and recently attempted to qualify for his third Olympic marathon at a race in Tuscany. Back home in Canada at a quarantine hotel, we spoke with Coolsaet about his once-in-a-lifetime pursuit.
Ben Kaplan: How long was this race part of your training program?
Reid Coolsaet: Less than three weeks before race day. Which is far from ideal, but back in February I thought I might have a shot racing Hamburg, which was the same day, but I didn’t get in. Then I set my sights on a mid-May race until I found out about Siena and the pack going for 2:10-low.
BK: A 2:10-low would qualify you for the Tokyo Olympics?
RC: Yeah, and even if my training wasn’t ready, I had to take a shot.
BK: How was your training leading up to the race?
RC: Well, I got a call from my agent that I got in on Tuesday morning and it was less than three weeks out, so I said: ‘Alright, this is my last big workout,’ and an hour later I had a great workout.
BK: Which is what?
RC: About 36K total and 24K at 3:07-per-kilometre. That would be 2:11:30 pace, but I was by myself and the way I felt doing that, I felt I could run faster.
BK: Feels like a goofy question, but what impact did COVID have on your preparations?
RC: A lot, but the biggest one was not having any races. I hadn’t raced for 13 months prior to Siena and I’m someone who likes a rust-buster or two.
BK: Three weeks isn’t a lot of time to prepare.
RC: Every marathon build is different, but there’s similar key things. I always like to race during my marathon buildup. It makes certain paces feel easier. I contemplated a time trial, but I wanted to do a bit more at marathon pace and a VO2 max workout; all these things, but nothing is really the same as a race.
BK: Let’s get into it. Tell me about race day.
RC: The pack was great. They wanted to go through halfway at 65:10 and I yoyo’d off a couple times from the group before halfway, but got back into the pack and through halfway—65:15—I felt really good, especially the first 15K. They really felt like just as good as I had ever felt in any time I’ve run 2:10 before.
BK: But the marathon is 42K.
RC: I was still very optimistic I could run 2:10. I wasn’t that optimistic I could negative split and get 2:10-low, but 2:10-mid? We can do this! Then I lost the pack again around 27K.
RC: It was right at where we get our water bottles and I lost the pack and just didn’t get back to them like I had on the last couple of laps and then it was getting tougher. I was losing ground and at that point I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. It didn’t feel like it was going to happen.’
BK: That’s almost the Wall.
RC: I stuck in pretty good through 30K, but running by myself at that point got really tough and by 32K, I came around and saw a bunch of guys drop out. By 32K I was done; like I said, ‘I should just call it.’ My feet are getting blisters and I’m thinking, why do this, why do this, why do this?
BK: How come you didn’t just pack it in?
RC: Thinking about my kids to come back home and say I didn’t finish the race because it wasn’t going my way? Nah, I’m finishing this thing.
BK: Should you have just tried to run slower? A 2:12, say, and finished strong?
RC: I thought about that. But you know what? I would’ve had a huge regret had I run 2:12. All I would think was, Could I have run 2:10 if I went for it?
BK: That’s what makes our whole community love you, man. So, what’s next?
RC: It’s kind of sad, but kind of obvious that if this race didn’t go really well that’s the end of my Olympic career. That’s a big one thinking back to 2004 when I came close to qualifying in the 5k and the Olympics has basically been my carrot for the last 16 years. It’s hard to reconcile with putting the Olympics to rest, that’s obviously a big shift in my life.
BK: So now we’ll find you on a beach sipping Mai Thais, watching your stomach grow?
RC: Either I’ll go into trail racing or be competitive as a masters in a marathon this fall. It’s weird because I’m already like: what’s my next goal? I need to have this goal to feel like I’m doing something and it’s addictive and compulsive and a weird thing, but at least you see it across all runners. At first I was like, ‘maybe I’ll chill,’ but 24-hours later I called my agent, ‘Let’s see if I can get into another one.’