Canadian championship medals, lucrative prize money and a chance to run on a fast course through scenic Parc Jean Drapeau have attracted some of the best road racers to Montreal for the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal this Sunday, April 27th.
The next stop on the 2014 Canada Running Series, this race doubles as the Athletics Canada National Half Marathon Championships and both male and female defending champions return. To top it off the race is completely sold out.
“Being the Canadian championship that gives it extra pizzazz to do it,” says 34 year old Eric Gillis, a two time Canadian Olympian who won this race in both 2013 and 2012. “Trying to get the win and winning three in a row would be pretty nice.
“It’s actually a flat course and it could be fairly fast. Both times I have run there it has been windy along the water. So if we get a nice calm day I think a lot of folks can surprise themselves on that course.”
The 34 year old from Antigonish, Nova Scotia has been a long time resident of Guelph, Ontario and is making the weekend a family affair taking the train trip with his wife and two young children. The race will also provide him with further indicators of his fitness. A week ago he won the prestigious Toronto Yonge Street 10k in 28:32.
“I think between the New York City Half Marathon, where I ran a personal best (1:03:30) and Yonge Street 10k this week, I have a pretty good indication of my fitness. My workouts, they have been going consistently, so mostly I am looking to use Montreal as a final preparation for the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon. I am confident in my fitness. A fast time (in Montreal) wouldn’t hurt.”
Meanwhile women’s champion Krista DuChene must battle back from a surprise loss at Toronto Yonge Street 10k where Toronto’s Rachel Hannah blew past her with five hundred metres remaining to steal victory in 32:33.
“I am thrilled for Rachel, I really am,” DuChene admitted after the race. “It’s a huge breakthrough in her running career. She has done the work and got herself up step by step. I am honoured that she beat me. I am not one to run a race and say ‘Oh I just wasn’t in it today.’ No, she flew past me and I had nothing to give.
“So because of that and even with Erin Burrett placing third I am never going to take my competition lightly not that I ever did, but I will have to have my ‘A’ game for Montreal. I am a bit more experienced, I suppose, at the longer distances. But that doesn’t mean anything.”
Hannah, for her part, is approaching the race and a rematch with DuChene cautiously. Nevertheless she clearly has respect for the woman who represented Canada at the 2013 IAAF World Championships marathon.
“I definitely think she has a major advantage over me over double the distance,” says Hannah, a 27 year old dietitian and Georgia State graduate. “The half marathon and marathon are obviously her specialties. I think she has one up on me. She ran 1:12:28 there last year and I don’t expect to run that fast of a time next week but we will see how I am feeling. I will run a slower pace than her at least through half way and see how I feel.”
The step up in distance will be one of her toughest challenges. She was fifth in last year’s Montreal half marathon in 1:18:58 which she considers her debut at that distance.
“My number one goal is to break my time from last year,” she concedes. “l hope that things go well and if I can run with Krista I will definitely try to. We will just see if I can run her pace. I will try to.
“I think I just proved to myself (in Toronto Yonge Street 10k) I can do a lot more than I think I can. It has boosted my confidence level. You need that. You can be in very good shape but mentally you have to be tuned in on race day. I am definitely at a higher fitness level than last year.”
While Hannah has track aspirations, hoping to represent Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games, DuChene would like to represent this country at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (July 23 – August 3). Although her personal best of 2:28:32 from the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is well under the Commonwealth standard she hasn’t been told if she is on the team.
A spokesman for Athletics Canada has said the marathoners will be announced along with the rest of the Commonwealth Games team after the Canadian track and field championships (June 27-29 in Moncton, NB). This is something that doesn’t sit well with the marathoners.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the long distance runners have to wait so long to be given that information because we do need twelve weeks to mentally and physically prepare ourselves to run our best marathon,” DuChene says.
“It’s encouraging to know why we are going to bed early, why we are logging the miles, and why we not eating that cookie. So if I knew I was on that team it would make me that much more accountable and more motivated. I wish we knew. I think a lot of it is routine and will be made after track. Well that is, what, June? So a month before we are to run a marathon that’s when we are going to find out? It’s a little ridiculous.”
Although she is not in the midst of a marathon training buildup she has demonstrated good form already winning the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8k and the Around The Bay 30k before finishing second last week in Toronto. Defending her title in Montreal is the next target and she will not take the race lightly.
“You know, I think with women’s distance running the bar is getting higher and higher and for Rachel to step up and beat me is great,” she declares. “A lot of people were saying that I likely had the Toronto win and I did for nine and a half ‘k’. So it’s really great that it keeps all of us on our toes. I can’t just rely on Lanni (Marchant) or anyone else to keep me going and to make me accountable and to have that high level of competition. It is great that we are having more people step up and take that spot.”
The race starts at 10:00 a.m. and should the weather cooperate we might see exceptionally fast times. But will there be a successful title defense? That’s a good question.