Eric Gillis Wins Third Consecutive Canadian Half Marathon Title, by Paul Gains

ij_21kdeM14_4363MONTREAL April 27th. As expected Eric Gillis claimed his third consecutive Canadian Half Marathon championship title today as he won the 2014 Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal in a time of 1:04:28.

For his efforts the 34 year old earned $2,500 while confirming his fitness is as good as ever.

From the gun the two time Canadian Olympian found himself in front but not alone as Sami Jibril of Athletics Toronto virtually attached himself to his right elbow passing through a quick opening 10 kilometres in 30:26. Conditions were ideal with the temperature hovering around 6 celsius but a wind kicked up along the river. Still the pair pushed on unconcerned with the chasing pack of more than 3,000 runners.

Gillis is in the midst of training for the upcoming Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon and hadn’t tapered for this race. He had expected only to run a steady tempo to claim the victory. Jibril had other ideas since he had beaten Gillis at the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8k on April 5th.

ij_21kdeM14_3925“The idea was to stick with the more experienced Eric Gillis as long as I could and if I have a good day go with him all the way,” said the 24 year old Jibril. “The wind was pretty strong on and off at some points. Once he broke away from me around 14k or 15k it was all a matter of getting to the finish after that. I had a bit of a stitch so I just wanted to stay relaxed and finish the race respectfully. It was a thirty second personal best and I have to be very pleased with that.”

Jibril finished far back but was rewarded for his bravery with a personal best time of 1:06:06. Third place went to David Le Poro of Montreal in 1:08:31.

“It was great experience,” Jibril continued. “Eric is a good role model for how a half should be run. It was very honest, and no playing around. You have to be even paced. Running with rhythm most of the way helped me out throughout the race. I am looking forward to doing another one for sure.”

ij_21kdeM14_4463The champion had brought his wife and two young children to Montreal with him to enjoy both the city and the potential third championship and they were not disappointed. Gillis broke away in the 14th kilometre as he covered the next kilometre in 2:56 to go clear of the young challenger.

“Yeah, it’s nice to run here and to go three in a row,” he admitted with a smile. “And this is the year I have been most in control. I felt strong and consistent. It was a bit windy but all in all it’s a flat course and I am still able run a decent effort. It was a very nice race here to set me up for the Ottawa Marathon in four weeks

“(Jibril) did push me the first half; he was right on my tail. He’s obviously a strong runner and he’s beaten me already this year so I wasn’t taking him for granted. He is younger so I thought I might have an edge on him in the half marathon here. I think if he sticks with it he is going to be able to take this title in the future.”

Gillis revealed he and his family took a train to Montreal, a first time experience for his four year old daughter Heidi, who will begin attending school in September.

“Heidi, my wife Emily and son Luke went to an art gallery with arts and crafts yesterday which was a down day for me,” he offered. “Heidi took the school bus here with the other athletes. She is going to be starting school this year so that was another highlight and that was her first time on a school bus.”

While Gillis’s victory was no surprise the outcome of the women’s race was totally unexpected.

ij_21kdeM14_2915Krista DuChene, who represented Canada in the marathon at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, won the title last year and has been in good form this spring winning both the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8km and the Around the Bay 30km road race. A year ago she won the title here in 1:12:28.

As expected she forged an early lead and seemed to be in control of the race. But Toronto’s Rachel Hannah, who defeated her at the Toronto Yonge Street 10k two weeks ago, was closing the gap in the last kilometre when she noticed DuChene clutching her hip in obvious pain. She increased her speed and passed the favourite in the final five hundred metres.

Hannah claimed the gold medal and $2,500 while DuChene struggled to stay on her feet. She would eventually be passed by Erin Burrett of British Columbia (1:15:02) and take home the bronze medal.

“It feels excellent,” Hannah admitted. “This is actually my first Canadian championship medal. I caught up to Krista just after 10k or 11k and was right up with her and she asked to speed up on the canal part of the course near the river and she definitely got a gap on me at that point. I just tried to maintain my pace. I was running pretty even from that point on.

“In the last kilometre her hip started to give out on her. I could see myself catching up to her and I didn’t think she was slowing and then she had to stop it looked like. I knew her hip was hurting her and she was holding it. I just hope she is ok and not injured for a while.”

DuChene eventually limped across the line in 1:16:37 and fell into the arms of race director Alan Brookes and a very concerned Hannah. In an extraordinary example of sportsmanship the pair carried her away from the finish area to meet oncoming medical staff. She was taken to hospital for examination. The injury appeared to be bursitis of the hip for which she has been receiving ongoing treatment.

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