2011: a Year where Canadians boldly went. 2012: a Feast of a New Year before us!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, to all our friends and fellow runners, wherever you are in the world! 

It’s definitely that time where we all reflect back on the year gone by, and make some prognostications, some plans and goals for the year ahead. So here’s my two cents! 

Reid Coolsaet boldly pushes the pace through The Beach, with Kenyans Kenneth Mungara and Nixon Machichim (rear) and Ethiopia's Shami Dawit

As many sage sooth-sayers have already noted, 2011 was an exceptional year for road running and especially the marathon, all around the globe. Participation numbers hit record highs, as did fundraising totals. I noted the huge surge forward in numbers and the global spread of the marathon movement in my 2010 Review. But a tremendous amount of the buzz and excitement, and the awareness  that was generated for our sport in 2011, came from remarkable improvements in performance, improved depth in the quality of performances, and some super head-to-head battles in so many races. It was the stuff that the sports journos salivated over and the athletics world often looked on in astonishment. As Julin & Jalava noted in their 2011 Review for the IAAF

“what really made 2011 a year that will be considered of historical significance in the sport of marathon running was that it changed our perception of what is really possible.”  

STWM2010 Champion Sharon Cherop was part of the "Kenyan domination" in 2011 as she went onto 3rd in Boston & a bronze medal at World Championships, as Kenyan women swept the podium

The World Marathon Majors noted in their Review, that all 5 of their events saw new Course Records, including a new World Record by Patrick Makau in Berlin: 

“All five World Marathon Majors — Virgin London, BAA Boston, BMW Berlin, Bank of America Chicago, and ING New York City, in chronological order — saw new course records set, and in Boston and New York, the standards were taken down to times that few fans or pundits would ever have deemed possible for those race courses. There was a new all-time fastest marathon by Geoffrey Mutai, a 2:03:02 in Boston followed closely by Moses Mosop’s 2:03:06. And while that wasn’t deemed a “world record” by the governing bodies (because of the geographical distance between Boston’s Hopkinton start and its downtown Boston finish), there was a “real” world record of 2:03:38 by Patrick Makau in Berlin in September — followed not long after by Wilson Kipsang’s close brush with that new standard, his own 2:03:42 in Frankfurt. ” 

As that last line suggests, the remarkable performances and excitement were not confined solely to the world’s largest and richest, WMM events. Our good friend Jo Schindler, Christoph Kopp and the team in FRANKFURT got many people’s votes for THE best men’s marathon of 2011 — perhaps one of the best of all time. Besides Kipsang being only 4 seconds off the new World Record set in Berlin a month earlier, the top 6 men ran under 2:07; 19 guys finished under 2:10:30! And of these 19, 14 were Kenyans. Again, much has been written about the total dominance of Kenyan men this year. Toni Reavis blogged on December 28th, there were   182 sub 2:10 marathons run in 2011 verus 66 in 2004. Of the 182, “athletes from Kenya ran 110 (61%)”. In a New Year’s VIDEO interview, one of the world’s top marathon coaches, Renato CANOVA, waxes eloquent about Kenyan excellence this past year; gives his take on how training techniques have prompted the big surge forward, and predicts a new World Record and sub-2:03 THIS Spring!  (ALSO check out a very good new piece in The Guardian from Jauary 4th).  

I’m absolutely delighted to be able to say the Canada Running Series, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Canada were very much part of the road racing and “Marathon Mania” that gripped the planet this past 12 months. 

In terms of sheer numbers, Canada Running Series’ 8 races passed 60,000 participants for the first time, and $6.5 million was raised for 238 charities in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — both records! Yet like the rest of the world, it was the quality of the competition and the performance of CANADIAN runners that really stood out, and gave us SO much to cheer about. I’ve summed up the CRS season elsewhere, as the year of “the unbeatable Coolsaet, the unstoppable Pidhoresky”.  

Eric Gillis & Reid Coolsaet celebrate at the STWM11 Finish line

The Canadian marathon men really stepped up to international calibre. Whether it was Dylan Wykes leading the charge with his super 62:14 at the New York City Half Marathon in March, or Reid Coolsaet racing shoulder to shoulder with the 2:07 Africans until 37km at STWM before slipping off the pace a bit to still record a 2:10:55 — the fastest time by a Canuck in 35 years and 2nd fastest of all time (see STWM11 HIGHLIGHTS video) — there was thrilling racing and Canadians were in the thick of it! Reid’s STWM performance also put him on the podium, in 3rd place, at an IAAF Silver Label marathon. Excellent “Live” CBC TV coverage only added to the BUZZzzzzzz! Eric Gillis defended his title at Harry’s Spring Run Off Toronto 8K on April 2nd, then became the first Canadian since 1998 to win the prestigious Vancouver SunRun 10K on April 17th, all leading up to his spectacular sprint finish at STWM that got him the tough Canadian Olympic qualifying standard for London 2012 by 1 second, with his 2:11;28. Several of you have suggested that Reid’s cheering and embracing of club-mate Eric at the STWM Finish line was THE “highlight” moment of 2011! The Coolsaet-Gillis-Kip Kangogo battle to the line and final 800m sprint to the tape at the Toronto Yonge Street 10K [formerly Sporting Life Toronto 10K] was and IS a joy watch and re-watch (VIDEO)!   

Eric Gillis started his season off with a victory at Harry's Spring Run Off Toronto 8K

But it wasn’t just Coolsaet, Gillis & Wykes [who narrowly missed the standard with a courageous 2:12:57 at STWM on a tough day]; the Canadian men’s DEPTH that developed over the year was super! The year began at Houston Marathon in January where Rob Watson ran a tough, mostly-solo 2:16:17. Matt Loiselle ran a strong 44:44 at the Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville in a top quality field in March before being the only Canadian to challenge Reid Coolsaet for the Athletics Canada Half Marathon Championship title at Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal in April. He then made a significant improvement over the 42K distance at Waterfront with a 2:16:01. Athletics Toronto teammate Rejean Chiasson debuted at STWM in 2:17:48. 

On the Canadian women’s side, Dayna Pidhoresky stole the show, with Megan Brown up there too. As I’ve noted elsewhere, it was a marvellous debut season for Dayna that included taking the overall Canada Running Series crown, winning outright at Around the Bay 30k, and beating an impressive group of all-comers to take the women’s Athletics Canada National 10K Championship at OASIS ZooRun on September 24th. En route to taking the CRS title, she had victories at Harry’s Spring Run Off Toronto 8K, the Toronto Yonge Street 10K, and the Acura Toronto 10 miler as well as at the Zoo.  

Dayna Pidhoresky's most-frequent position in 2011 -- breaking the tape for another "W" -- here at the Sporting Life 10K, now the Toronto Yonge Street 10K.

Her defeat by Megan Brown at the Montral Half marathon Championships was her only defeat. Along the way, though she and Megan had some great tussles, climaxing in the 10K championship at OASIS ZooRun where Dayna prevailed by 9 seconds.    

Perhaps epitomized by the Pidhoresky vs Brown or the Coolsaet vs Gillis vs Wykes contests, it was really the quality, head-to-head battles (that included Canadians) that are MY highlights from 2011.    

Perhaps fortuitously I wrote in an April 23rd blog

“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.“ 

Ed Whitlock, "The Master", ran an absolutely astounding 3:15:54 at age 80 at STWM11

But the race-days and the year belonged not just to the young. Michel Boeting, friend and manager of some top guys like Emmanuel Mutai held forth that Ed Whitlock’s 3:15:54 at the age of 80 at STWM was THE run of the year, anywhere! Phenomenal and remarkable. Watch for Paul Gains’ nice article and the reaction of all the top African runners to Ed at STWM, in January’s edition of Distance Running magazine (I’ll tweet the link when it appears & post on our STWM Facebook page). And then there was Fauja… the Turbaned Tornado who propelled himself and STWM to over 1 BILLION media impressions in 2011! The first centenarian on the planet to complete the classic distance. It was a Canadian running story that reached into every corner of the globe. 

Another friend, Irene Peralto, the RD of the Caracas Marathon, emailed me in disbelief on the Monday after the race to say she’s started her day as usual by checking the online Venezuelan news service,  and there was a photo of me with Fauja at the Finish line!   

Mare Dibaba (red) and Koren Yal do battle at STWM2011 en route to an African 30K Record & a new STWM Women's Course Record of 2:22:42.5

Our STWM 2010 Women’s champ, Sharon Cherop, fought the battle of her career at Boston to come in 3rd by 6 seconds to Caroline Kilel (herself an STWM alumni from 2008, 4th) & Desi Davilla. She then did STWM alumni proud by winning a bronze medal at the World Championships Marathon in Daegu in August. Firehiwot Dado, 5th at STWM 2010 then WON New York in November. Her coach, Haji Adilo was in Toronto for Waterfront again this year (as well as in New York) with Mare Dibaba, who jointly with eventual race winner, Koren Yal, set a new African 30K record of 1:38:33 as they entered The Beach en route to their 2nd and 1st place finishes. It put STWM in the IAAF record books!  

Repeatedly, throughout the year, I was able to write about these thrilling performances at home and abroad, and exclaim with pride that “we in Canada are part of it!” 

 

  

The Turbaned Tornado approaches the Finish line in 8:25:17, aged 100 years.

 

On such a high, how can we top it for 2012? Easy, it’s an Olympic year AND we’ll have lots of exciting racing and breakthroughs, developments at home! 

Just like the past 2 years, the year will begin for Canadians in Houston on January 15th. It promises to be a fabulous weekend! First up, on Saturday 14th, we’ll get to watch the US Olympic Marathon Trials. One day. One shot, first three Men and first 3 Women past the post to go to London! (for an always-insightful and stimulating review see Toni Reavis’ recent Blog, “Wringing Out The Old”). Then the following day, Regina’s Simon Bairu [living and training in Oregon since graduating from Wisconsin] -our current national 10,000m record holder with his 27:23 on the track in 2010 — will hope it’s 3rd time lucky at the marathon distance as he goes all out to make that Canadian standard of 2:11:29. Unlike the US, we don’t have the one-day, one-race Trial, but a 16 month “qualifying window”. On April 22nd, 2012, the fastest 3 guys under the 2:11:29 mark will go to London. They’ll be the first Canadians to race in an Olympic marathon since Bruce Deacon in 2000. Right now, Coolsaet [2:10:55] and Gillis [2:11:28] are the only ones with the standard. But what if Bairu runs 2:11:00 or 2:10 on January 15th? Dylan Wykes is planning another run at the standard, most likely in Japan in February or March; Rob Watson and Matt Loiselle, the outsiders who are still in with a chance — both plan to race somewhere in Europe, perhaps Rotterdam on april 15th…. The permutations are palpitating! Exciting? You bet!!  (for another piece on the exciting permutations in the offing, with a Speed River focus, see Guelph Mercury).  

March will see Canada Running Series 2012 begin, and April will be a bonanza with not only the marathon qualifying stakes at boiling point, but the launch of a new “Run Canada Month” initiative from Speed River TFC and Athletics Canada to build awareness for our sport, and to fundraise to support the Endurance athletes going to London and to support kids’ running programmes. Coast to coast, the Vancouver SunRun 10K, plus CRS’ Harry’s SRO Toronto 8K, Toronto Yonge Street 10K and Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal [again the National Half marathon Championships] are all part of the festivities. Coolsaet and Pidhoresky are already confirmed to defend their titles at the Yonge Street 10K, and Dayna for Montreal, too! 

And that’s only the first 1/3 of the year! 

Scotiabank Vancouver Half has lots of momentum and promises excitement to keep us going into June. Then, from August 3rd to 12th all eyes will be on London, cheering for some outstanding Canadians like Dylan Armstrong, on the track and in the field events as well as on the roads! 

September promises more duels for the National 10K Championship titles at OASIS ZooRun, and then its STWM time again. Can we get a 2:07 in the men’s, another 2:22 or better in the women’s race, and 6,000 entrants for the 42K? Will Dayna Pidhoresky make her marathon debut in 2012? How well can she do — sub 2:30? Can we hit 60,000 participants again for CRS2012; can we top $7m for fundraising? 

What will be THE stories of 2012? What’s certain is that these are banner times for Canadian distance running. 2011 has been a thrilling year, to set the table for what promises to be a FEAST for 2012. R U “in”? Please join me at the races. Happy New Year and best wishes to all for JOY with your running, for faster times and PRs in abundance, personal and Olympic dreams coming true, and the exhaltation of beating your training buddies, partners. always so much more fun to beat the folks you know than those you don’t — all in the spirit of fair competition and the pursuit of excellence. I can’t wait. 2012, let the Games begin! 

Alan 

Danny, taken at the 2010 Acura toronto 10 miler at The Distillery.

 ps. While there were SO many positive highs in 2011, I would not want to say goodbye to the year without saying goodbye to a very special young man, our STWM2004 Champion, part of our Canada Running Series and larger Canadian running family — Danny Kassap, who we lost to heart failure, aged just 28, on the Sunday night following his last start in a CRS race at the Sporting Life Toronto 10K [now Toronto Yonge Street 10K] on May 1st. For “Remembering Danny” see my blog from May 2nd. Gone, but not forgotten, nor that wonderful Danny smile…

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