TORONTO. February 26th. Many runners claim running as their salvation but one shudders to think where the life of the 2012 Canadian marathon champion, Rejean Chiasson, was leading without it.
A self described ‘badass’ Chiasson entered the military straight out of high school but, after dabbling in hard core drugs and alcohol, and, being an instigator in numerous bar room fights, he was summarily dismissed from the armed forces two years later. So he took up running.
“I needed the discipline and something else to focus on because, during my military time, alcohol and drugs played a huge role,” he admits. “I wasn’t heading in the right direction so I think getting kicked out of the military and slowly getting serious about running was a huge help.”
He had occasionally joined some group runs at CFB Gagetown about four hours from his home in St. Isadore, New Brunswick, but enjoyed playing hockey. The turning point in his life he says was an incident which occurred nine days before he was to go on a 2006 tour to Haiti.
It was the end of his military career but, inadvertently, the beginning of a running career which has seen him record 2:17:49 at the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and reach the podium of the Banque Scotia Montreal 21km, which doubles as the Canadian Half Marathon Championships, three consecutive times.
“I got jumped by a bunch of guys and had my jaw broken in two places,” the 29 year old reveals, “I got banged up pretty bad. That’s why I missed my tour to Haiti and couldn’t play contact sports anymore. That’s how I ended up in running.”
“Oh yes, running has been huge. I needed the discipline and something else to focus on because during my military time alcohol and drugs played a huge role. I used to do a lot of ‘coke’ and ecstasy. I wasn’t heading in the right direction so, I think, getting kicked out of the military, and, slowly getting serious about running was a huge help.”
Chiasson, it should be noted, has been clean since 2007. After a short spell training with coach Steve Boyd while taking college courses in Ottawa Chiasson settled in Toronto to work with Hugh Cameron and the Athletics Toronto club. Now he is intent on focusing entirely on running and achieving consistency at the highest levels. Asked what his ultimate goals are he hesitates briefly.
“It’s always a hard question to answer,” he explains. “If I say what I really think I might sound cocky. To be honest, I don’t see any reason why I can’t run 2:10 (for the marathon) or faster. I feel I should be running with the top guys in Canada. I am going to shoot for that. There’s no guarantee, but I am going to go for it and see what happens.”
As a measure of his commitment Chiasson has dipped into his savings to finance a nine week high altitude training camp in Sululta, a rural area just outside Addis Ababa. While many of his contemporaries have gone to Kenya he has found Ethiopia quite to his liking.
“Training in Africa, in general, was definitely something I wanted to do,” he declares. “I liked the fact it was new and a little bit different; most people are going to Kenya. There is something about Ethiopia I liked and it just seemed more interesting to me.
“Really, I just don’t want to have any excuses. I want to find out what my true potential is. I don’t want any ‘what ifs.” What if I had trained at altitude? What could have happened?’ So I am putting it all in and hopefully it’s going to pay off in 2016 to make the Olympic team.”
Chiasson is known for high volume training covering as much as 300km in a week. At present he is running around 200km a week but is gradually increasing the volume as he becomes better acclimatised to the high altitude. Sululta is around 8,000 feet. Many of the forest trails lead higher up into the Entoto mountain range. On easy days he has been running with local Ethiopian runners and with British Olympic 5000m/10000m runner, Julia Bleasdale, who is also staying at the same venue, Yaya Village.
Excited, and getting fitter by the week, Chiasson plans to open up the 2013 season with the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8K in Toronto’s High Park, April 6th. It’s a race he is familiar with and one that will offer a bit of a fitness test.
“I will be back on March 30th just in time for the Spring Run Off in Toronto,” he reveals. “I have run the Spring Run Off two or three years ago. Pretty much it’s a season opener. It’s a pretty tough course it is going to match well with the type of training I am doing here (in Ethiopia). There has been a long stretch without racing since the fall of 2012 so it’s breaking things up.”
A life turned around, a career full of potential, Rejean Chiasson will be a handful for anyone in the next few years. First, there’s Harry’s Spring Run Off then he wants to return to the Banque Scotia Montreal 21km before tackling a fall marathon. But win or lose this is one runner who is grateful for the second chance life has given him.
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