“Ethiopia’s Koren Yal Looking for Toronto Course Record,” by Paul Gains

TORONTO. September 27th. Tick, tick, tick… inexorably, the minutes, hours and days tick by on the road to M-DAY, October 16th and Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Now 18 days to go.

Each week, I look forward to Paul Gains stories on “The Contenders”. While our CRS team of 12 full-time Staff, 150 managers and 3,000 volunteers are mired in the zillions of organizational logistics, it’s great to be reminded of what it’s all about — 22,000 of you from FIFTY countries, coming together together to join us on one special day.

While we’re burning the midnight oil to be ready for you, all around the world you’re doing your last long runs, and finishing your training off. Beaches Champion, Dave Emilio ran his final 34k on Saturday. A bunch of you had a quick spin at OASIS ZooRun as a final test of fitness. What are YOU up to this week, wherever you are?

That’s one of the wonderful things about our sport. It’s so democratic — when everyone has their shorts on you can’t tell the bank president from the unemployed labourer. The latter may be a more accomplished, respected runner. And our sport is so INclusive. There’s a place for everyone on that start line. There are MANY different dreams, goals, and things that drive us. But we are all people, and there will be one Finish Line on October 16th, at Bay & King, with one very special moment/day to share. M-DAY. What does it mean to you?

Enjoy Koren Yal’s story. She had such a great race at STWM last year, being part of the best women’s race we’ve ever had at STWM. Can she go one better this year and get the victory, and realize her Olympic Dream?

 

“Ethiopia’s Koren Yal Looking for Toronto Course Record,” by Paul Gains 

 Like many of her Ethiopian compatriots Koren Yal’s success in marathoning has been fueled by a desire for a better life. The 24 year old returns to Toronto for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon October 16th chasing a fast time and another hefty pay cheque.

 A year ago she finished 4th in this IAAF Silver Label race with a personal best time of 2:24:32 but claims she is ready for more. 

“My fitness and preparation has been better than last year,” she says “ My target will be to run my personal best,  under 2:24, but to do it everything depends on the weather conditions and if I have a good pacemaker like last year.” 

“I’m training daily under the supervision of my Ethiopian coaches,  Gemedu Dedefo and Gebeyehu Berihun. They follow the technical advice and programs of an Italian coach, Gabriele Nicola.” 

Yal says that the summer months constitute the rainy season in Ethiopia and for that reason they sometimes skipped either the evening or morning training session. Still, she has been consistently running 160 to 170 kilometres a week. The training group includes Aberu Kebede , Aselefech Mergia, Tirfe Tsegaye and Atsede Habtamu. 

Koren at STWM 2010

 They do most of their training on the roads around Sabata and Sendafa at altitudes of roughly 2,500m elevation and sharpen up with speed training on the track inside the Ethiopian national stadium. Her 2011 form is apparent. 

Already this year Yal has competed in two marathons. On January 16th she won the Mumbai Marathon in a new course record of 2:26:56 earning $36,000 USD. Then on April 10th she finished 3rd in Paris with 2:26:56. Though she is well travelled she can’t say she enjoys the experience. 

“Due to language problems (I speak little English) I have had a hard time traveling around the world,” she explains. “It was quite stressful, but now I’ve more experience and feel comfortable while traveling. 

“I’d like to point out I was lucky enough that I never faced problems as some of my athlete friends did and I never spent the night lost around the world, waiting for the next flight, simply because they were not able to communicate and ask for help.” 

Koren Jelela Yal grew up in a family of six children born to farmers in the Shewa area of Ethiopia. As a young girl she admired Derartu Tulu the two time Olympic 10,000m champion and former London and New York Marathon winner.

 “I have two brothers and three sisters,” she says. “Nobody followed me into running, some are students and some are farmers. 

“Until now I did not win many races, not a top race. I hope I’ll do it in Toronto and I’m ready to organize a nice party with family and friends to celebrate this achievement and share my joy with them.” 

Despite her young age Yal has much international experience. As a 20 year old she represented Ethiopia at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya finishing 19th in the senior women’s race. A year later, in Edinburgh,  she finished 14th. But she realised that her future lay in road racing and not as a national team member. 

Being a full time athlete means there is little time for anything but training, physiotherapy and rest. Yal concedes she likes to watch television or read a book when there is time to do so. Spending time with friends is also high on her list of pastimes. And there is another priority in her life. 

“I’m engaged to Shumi Gerbaba (2:09:03 marathoner),” she reveals. “I believe he understands my condition and feeling as athlete and this is great as life with an international level athlete is not always easy.” 

Gerbaba won the 2011 Stockholm marathon and helps inspire his fiance with his performances. 

Yal knows that the Toronto course is conducive to fast running and she will also benefit from the fact the race is three weeks later than in past years. If the competition develops, as it should, we can expect Yal to be in the thick of the battle. Could a course record be in the offing? That would be something that Koren Yal would surely enjoy.

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