Eric Gillis Approaching Olympic “Trial” Cautiously, by Paul Gains

JUST 45 Days to go to “M-DAY”, October 16th, and the biggest and best Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half & 5K. We’re already past last year’s totals for marathon entries, and our CRS Team and working every bit as hard as all of you folks are out there training, to make sure it’s a spectacular occasion.

And lest we doubt that the streets of Toronto Waterfront are the road to Glory, let’s pause a moment, and raise our hats to last year’s STWM 2010 Women’s Champion, SHARON CHEROP, who won a Bronze Medal at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu last Saturday morning! Well done, Sharon! We’re very proud of you, and appreciative of your comments from this Spring, when you told us that STWM had changed your life! 

Sharon Cherop winning STWM 2010 in Canadian All-comers Record of 2:22:42, 6th fastest time in the World last year, that earned her a place on the Kenyan Team to World Championships.

As the days count down, the BUZZ builds up. Here’s the next in Paul Gains’ series of weekly features on THE CONTENDERS. Can someone from STWM 2011 end up with a medal at London 2012?

Eric Gillis Approaching Olympic “Trial” Cautiously, by Paul Gains

Eric finishing STWM 2010 strongly. Does he have another minute in the tank?

 Methodical is perhaps the best way to describe Eric Gillis’s approach to the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  The 31 year old from Antigonish, Nova Scotia is not one to take risks especially with a place on Canada’s 2012 Olympic team within reach.

Three years ago Gillis represented his country at the Beijing Olympics after running a personal best 10,000m time of 28:07.19. The experience of lining up in front of 90,000 spectators alongside Ethiopian superstar Kenenisa Bekele contributed to his wanting to make the team for London. But it also gave him a lesson in what is important to him in his remaining years as a competitive distance runner.

“It took me a while to figure this out but the year after the Olympics I continued on the same path I was on for the weeks leading up to the Oympics,” he reveals, “and I wasn’t really running for myself and enjoying it as much as I could be.

 “So I took a step back after the 2009 season and re-evaluated my running and what I wanted from it. I realised that the Olympics is very important but it’s not the most important thing. It only comes around every four years and I have to enjoy the other three years. And good things will come from that.”

 A year ago he made his marathon debut with an 8th place finish at the Houston marathon in a fine time of 2:13:52. Nine months later he improved upon that at the STWM with a time of 2:12:08. Now he has one goal in mind.

  “The  Olympic ‘A’ standard which is 2:11:29,” he declares without hesitation. “That will be my main focus. I will put all my energies into running under that standard. Anything faster than that is bonus. At the end of the day I will be shooting for that standard no matter what.

 “My training going is well.  I am getting my mileage up and my workouts are better than last year. That’s encouraging, My highest week so far has been 208 kilometres. I have this kind of mileage before all three marathons so there’s nothing new there. My first marathon I wasn’t sure how the body was going to respond to that high mileage but,  after doing it a couple of times, and now going into my third one, I am comfortable I can handle that kind of mileage and still do a quality workout.”

 Gillis studied at St.Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and started spending summers in Guelph. He moved permanently to “The Royal City” five years ago to join the expanding group of distance runners tutored by Dave Scott-Thomas.

 Among his current training partners are Reid Coolsaet, who has achieved the Olympic ‘A’ standard a year ago in Toronto with 2:11:23, Rob Watson, the former Canadian international steeplechaser (4th at the 2011 Houston marathon in 2:16:17) and John Mason. The fact he is competing against his teammates for an Olympic spot is not lost in his mind.

“Reid comes down on Mondays and Thursdays when we do workouts and meets Rob Watson, John and I,” Coolsaet says. “The four of us are pounding the pavements on the back roads of Guelph.

 “But my training partners aren’t the only guys I am competing against for a spot to go to the Olympics. I will get more, I will enjoy the process more, which inevitably is what it’s all about, if I am training with the guys like Reid and Rob, than if I was training on my own. It’s going to lead to better results down the road. It really works on a number of fronts to benefit me. I am not worried about side effects of helping them out. I am quite happy to do that.”

 Although the Toronto race is very much a ‘do or die’ event for those Canadians wanting to race in London next summer Gillis is adamant that he has concerns for his teammates’ welfare.

 “There’s three spots so I would definitely want those other spots to be filled by my training partners,” he declares.

 Unlike his rivals Gillis has a young family. He and his wife, Emily, are the parents of a seventeen month old daughter, Heidi and the runner has had to learn to balance parenthood with his professional approach to marathoning. Two training sessions a day and an afternoon nap are fit around Heidi’s needs.

 “Since Emily went back to work, five months ago, that was the biggest adjustment having to take on more responsibility,” Gillis admits. “I was getting off the hook easy when Emily was on maternity leave.

 “Our first nanny wasn’t working out that well. She was maybe a little young for the job and she wasn’t showing up. So that was tough and there were few times I had to miss a run because we didn’t have child care. It was a learning experience. We thought we had put sufficient time into planning that but it was more work than we thought. So now things are better on that front.”

 Gillis has often benefited from Athletics Canada funding but because of the constant requirements to meet standards has occasionally lost the support he has needed. Because of his 2:12:08 performance a year ago he is currently carded. But he has also been working part time at a group home in the Guelph area.

“Yes it’s the Community Living Group Home,” he says. “I am still doing that as relief staff so I work a few sleepover shifts. That’s on the back burner now since I got back from the road racing season in May.  Since June I have been 95% focused on training for the marathon.

 “Every year we have to run times to qualify for Athletics Canada funding. Over the past seven years I have been carded every other year on average. So it goes from having support, to not having support, to having support and not having support.  But I am at a position with road racing and marathoning I am not as concerned about that. It’s a huge help when I do get support but if it’s not there it’s not the be all and end all. Maybe it was when I was running track when I wasn’t getting money for racing on the track. Now I can get a little bit of money marathoning and road racing.”

 While the marathon training volume remains high Gillis looks forward to competing two, perhaps three times, prior to Toronto. The Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia is confirmed for this weekend, September 4th. He is also contemplating racing the Canadian Championships 10km at Oasis ZooRun in Toronto September 24th.

 It’s all step by step in this runner’s methodical preparation for that coveted Olympic place.

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