Canada and THE BIG WEEKEND: London, Boston, Montreal, Vancouver, and on to Sporting Life Toronto 10K. The momentum continues and WE’RE part of it!

WOW. Wow, wow and wow!

 That seems as good a way as any to begin reflections on THE BIG WEEKEND that’s just gone by. I just got home from London, where I saw my piece of “the Big One”. There’s no doubt we called it. We wrote in the Journal part of our last CRS eNewsletter:  “it’s a convergence of the planets, alignment of the stars, but this Spring, April 17th-18th weekend is IT! Road running and racing excitement EVERYWHERE”.  That said, I don’t think any of us had an idea of just HOW big it was going to be.

Steadily building over the last 2 years, the world and Canada has been a BUZZ this past week, following the first 2:04 ever run at the London Marathon, the sensational sprint-finish return of Martin Lel [if you want buzz, you gotta watch this one!], and a remarkable 18 women under 2:28 in last Sunday’s race; followed by the unreal, gob-smacking 2:03:02 by “the other Mutai”, and the 3rdplace finish of Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2010 champ Sharon Cherop in a thrilling duel to the line, in Boston on Monday. Closer to home, we had two fine road races of our own in Montreal and Vancouver.

Watching Boston on Tom Bedford's computer in London. Who's the guy in red?

Is this THE defining moment for the current running boom? Should Geoffrey Mutai’s time be ratified as a World Record, and Ryan Hall’s as an American record?What about Desi – are the lunch-bucket gang from neighbouring Michigan just as good as the stylish Mammouth Lakes crowd [see Desi post-race interview next to STWM2010 Champ Sharon Cherop] ? LOTS of fun discussion this week, and BUZZZZZZZZZ! 

Whatever your take, THREE things seem clear to me.

  1. We are currently enjoying an unprecedented boom in road racing and particularly the marathon, which is on FIRE!The euphoria is being driven by huge mass participation and by the pursuit of excellence. Both quantity and quality. In the quality, we’re seeing not just gob-smacking individual performances and times not thought of, ruminations not made since the furor a generation ago over whether 2:10 might be broken – but we’re seeing DEPTH. There are now SO many athletes running fast times. According to Ken Nakamura’s always-great stats, 10 guys have now run under 2:05; 79 have run under 2:07! And while the women are not as deep, London last Sunday was a breakthrough for sure. Half marathon World Record holder Mary Keitany ran the fastest women’s marathon since 2005; and think of Mariya Konovolova, Askale Tafa, Azusa Nojiri and Yoshiko Fujinaga. They all ran 2:25s in London and placed 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th! As this season’s NB tag line says, “Let’s Make Excellent Happen”!                              


Redi Coolsaet winning 2011 Canadian Half marathon Championships at Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal

2. With the depth has come BREADTH and CANADA is clearly, directly part of this Marathon Mania and excitement.Because there are so many good athletes, they can’t all get a place on the Start lines of the Majors so they are racing hard and fast in Rotterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Prague and Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I have to say it was fun sitting on the edge of my chair in the bar at the Tower Hotel in London on Monday, as our STWM2010 women’s champ, Sharon Cherop, duelled it out for the Boston Women’s crown last Monday. Sharon’s 2:22:42 last year on the Waterfront was the 6thfastest Women’s time in the world in 2010, and helped STWM to a #3 ranking in Women’s Marathon races by, behind only London and Chicago. Atsede Bayisa was 5thin London, the same place she ran at STWM ’08. And our STWM ’06 runner-up, Abderrahime Bourramdane was 4th in London last year and 7th this year.  We’re seeing the stars in the Majors tomorrow, racing with us in Canada at STWM today.

And we’re developing Canadian stars of our own which is REALLY exciting!Many were on show, racing with US in Montreal [Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal Half marathon Championships] and Vancouver [Sun Run 10K]on THE BIG WEEKEND. Reid Coolsaet battled a strong wind as well as a good field in Montreal to take the title in 64:54. The newly-formed Athletics Toronto Club then took places 2 through 5 with Matt Loiselle [65:29], Rejean Chiasson, Lucas McAneneyand Andrew Smith– as well as Women’s title with Megan Brown [1:14;09]. Windsor’s Dayna Pidhoresky, who has already won Around the Bay 30K and Harry’s Spring Run Off 8K this Spring, was second [Complete Results]. Calgary’s Emily Kroshus [3rd] turned the tables on London’s Lanni Marchant [5th] from Around the Bay, with Heather Magill sneaking inbetween for 4th.  Later in the day, Coolsaet’s training partner, Eric Gillis became the first Canadian winner of the Sun Run since 1998 [29:06], fighting off Kingston’s Dylan Wykes and Lethbridge’s Kenyan, Kip Kangogo.   

Megan Brown takes Women’s Canadian Half marathon title at Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal

Competitive?After their 2:11:23 and 2:12:08 performances at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon last September, Coolsaet and Gillis were invited to London this Spring. Coolsaet’s time was the fastest run by a Canadian in 24 years, and his performance gave him the 3rd fastest 10thplace finish in marathons around the world in 2010 – in other words he’d have been in the top 10 at every marathon in the world except Paris and Frankfurt! Unfortunately, slight but nagging injuries hampered their preparations and they were forced to forego the London 42K in favour of shorter road races this spring as they prepare for Olympic qualifying bids at this year’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16th. A month ago, Wykes and Coolsaet raced an international field at the New York City Half marathon, recording a PRs of 62:14 and 62:42, respectively. They placed 11th and 13th, ahead of American aces Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezghi [2009 NYC Marathon champ], and only a minute behind two-time NYC Marathon champ Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil [8th]. Last Sunday, Dos Santos was 4th in London in 2:06:34 and Hall was 4th in Boston in an astonishing 2:04:58! On March 12th, Megan Brown finished a strong 5th at the USA 15K Championships at Gate River Run in Jacksonville in 50:49.

3. Finally, this week, no one can tell me that fast times, records, thrilling head-to-head battles don’t generate HUGE excitement and interest in running!While definitely not wanting to sound smug, I have to say we feel a tad vindicated. For 25 years we’ve been organizing races at Canada Running Series that strived to build a balance between “competers and completers”. We’ve invested a lot in trying to encourage and build an elite race component, as well as providing a great festival experience for ALL runners – often when this wasn’t popular. I hope it’s clear to everyone now that to be the “complete race” and a major running event, you need strong “competer” as well as “completer” elements. They are complementary and not mutually exclusive. [See John “The Penguin” Bingham’s essentially the same take on things].

Wherever you were  — running in London, Boston, Montreal , Vancouver or elsewhere, I hope you enjoyed THE BIG WEEKEND! Now it’s on to MORE thrilling head-to-head battles and running excitement at the Sporting Life Toronto 10K next Sunday, May 1st… [see last year’s Recap video ].

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