“To TRIAL or NOT-to-TRIAL”? 2012 set to take off with a BANG this weekend in Houston!

Introductory Note: This blog post is taken from “Alan’s Journal” in today’s Canada Running Series/STWM Newsletter. You can see the complete Newsletter [and sign up to receive it free, approximately every 2 weeks] online.

Since I wrote it yesterday afternoon, mynextrace.com has also posted an interesting opinion piece on Canadian versus US Olympic Selection processes for the marathon event, entitled “American Olympic Trials: Fair or Unfair?”  

Thanks too, to Tim Payne who has already sent me an email this morning saying 1984 was NOT the only year that Canada has gone to the Marathon Trials format — as he ran in the Canadian Oly Trials in 1976, held in conjunction with the Ottawa Marathon.  

Dear Fellow Runners,

Hope you are all “up and running” for 2012, getting out the door and enjoying some of the unusually fine weather we’ve been having, setting your goals for the year, and signing up for some key Canada Running Series races as part of the plan. I hope you’re taking advantage of Combo Packs AND Early Bird prices to get the best deals, and to sign up before we sell out?

I have to say I am buzzing! 2012 really promises to kick into high gear with lots and lots of BUZZZZZZ, and excitement this weekend at the US Olympic Trials Marathons on Saturday and the regular Houston Marathon on Sunday, with MAJOR Canadian content. Your Canada Running Series team will be there in the thick of things, trying to bring you the best of the action, with tweets, Facebook posts and Blogs! I’ll be doing them, while Chris, Heather, Dave, Clif & Tom will see it all up close and personal, from the inside, as they work all 3 races as part of Houston Course Director Stan Coburn’s Ops Team. Our gang will have special responsibilities for water stations.

There are LOTS of great pre-race Reviews of the US Trials, so I won’t be repetitive here –simply Google and check a few out! (If U need a quick fix, check-out Toni Reavis’ always informed, always insightful reviews that also put American marathoning and marathoners in perspective: Men, Women ;  and Today’s piece on the MEN from LetsRun . Runner’s World also has extensive pre-race and “live” Blog coverage on Saturday morning).

Simon Bairu pictured after a successful outing at the OASIS ZooRun 2009 where he claimed the AC National 10K Championship title

 But what I would like to share is how fascinating – and full of HUGE DRAMA — the weekend will be for us Canucks as well as the Americans. It also underscores another of our differences. The Yanks have a simple system they employ every 4 years. They hold Marathon Trials (I believe we only did this once, in 1984). The men and women always race separately. And until this year, they’re usually different dates in different cities. For Beijing, the US Men’s Trials were run in New York City; the women in Boston. In both cases, they were staged the day before the mass New York City and Boston Marathons. For the Yanks, they spend a couple of years training and racing like demons, to qualify to run in the Trials. This Saturday morning, for the first time ever, the Trials for Men & Women will be held in the same city on the same day – dateline Houston. The 2-year qualifying window closed in December. The standard for Men was sub 2:19:00 (or 1:05 Half); for Women it was 2:46 (1:15 Half). 158 men will take off at 8am, undoubtedly led by favourites Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein. 223 women will start their race for Olympic dreams at 8:15am with Desi Davila, Shalene Flanagan, Amy Hastings, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Kara Goucher likely to be at the front of the pack (and maybe my dark horse fave Stephanie Rothstein whose birthday it is on the weekend!) One thing is certain. By 10:45am we will know who will be running for the USA in the London Olympic Marathon in August. It’s simple, replicating the Games themselves. The first 3 past the post will have punched their tickets to glory. They can start training for London next week. The other 155 guys and 220 women will go home.

In contrast, we in Canada follow a process shared by most of the rest of the world, including marathon powerhouses like Kenya and Ethiopia. Instead of Trials, we have a window, a “qualifying period” and standards. Our current window is from January 2011 to April 22nd, 2012. On April 23rd, we will take the fastest three men and women under the standards. For London 2012, they are 2:11:29 for Men and 2:29:59 for women. Less drama you say… maybe NOT! You’ll recall the magical moments at STWM 2011 last October when first Reid Coolsaet (2:10:55) then teammate Eric Gillis (2.11:28) crossed the line to achieve the really tough standards – Gillis by the most slender of margins of 1 second, after 42.195 kilometres!

As you’ve probably read, Regina’s Simon Bairu is racing in Houston this weekend, but on Sunday at 7am, in the regular Houston Marathon. Simon set a scorching new Canadian 10,000m record of 27:23 in May 2010, then decided to move to the marathon for London rather than stay on the track. 42.195km has not been kind to him. In November 2010 he DNF-ed in his debut in New York. Then he DNS-ed (Did Not Start) at STWM 2011, withdrawing in the final weeks. Will Houston be 3rd time lucky? Or 3 strikes and you’re out? Drama… In an online chat with Canadian Running magazine on Monday this week Simon said he’s planning to run conservatively, going for a 65:30 split at halfway.

Eric & Reid in their pre-Olympic-quest "happy moment" at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon last October 16th, after both making the standard

What if he finishes in 2:11:20? That means Eric Gillis has to crank up the marathon training and most likely run another marathon in Rotterdam (April 15) or London (April 22) – because Vancouver’s Dylan Wykes, our #3-ranked marathoner, ran 2:12:57 at STWM11 and will be running another marathon in Japan on March 4th. IF he runs better than Eric’s 2:11:28 on March 4th AND Simon already has this Sunday, then Eric would be 4th man, and stay at home… Drama. But what if Simon splits halfway in 65:30, picks it up just a tad, and finishes in 2:10:50? Then Reid may want to crank up the training for Rotterdam or London, because he would have the #2 time (to Simon), but with Dylan and Eric set to race in March and April, he could end up #4 if they both go faster than his 2:10:55 (Dylan ran 62:14 at New York City Half last March to Reid’s 62:42). Drama. Of course, having cranked it up after Sunday, Eric and Reid could “stand down” if Simon hasn’t made 2:11:27 on Sunday and Dylan doesn’t on March 4th. Or maybe not! Because we can’t forget “the outsiders”, Matt Loiselle and Rob Watson, who are rumoured to be planning another run at things on April 15th or 22nd in Rotterdam or London or Zurich. It could come down to the last day. Canadian Drama! (also check out Canadian Running’s weekly podcast, ‘Road to Houston’ interview with Eric).

If your head isn’t spinning by now, well mine is. I’m just not sure if it’s from the # of permutations and possible scenarios, or the excitement of it all! One thing is for certain, our CRS/STWM team are gonna be there. Dateline Houston. This Saturday AND Sunday. You can follow my tweets direct @alnbrookes AND on Sunday as part of a dynamic “live” BLOG being hosted by Canadian Running mag. Buzzzzzzzzzzz.

Gotta run! But stay with me on Twitter and Facebook. It is going to be a RIDE [I’ll be on Sunday’s lead truck] and a wonderful contrast of our two countries, two methods.

To “TRIAL” or not-to-TRIAL. Which do YOU think is best?

Alan (aka http://www.twitter.com/alnbrookes)

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