TORONTO. August 12th. Over the past two years Aliaksandra Duliba has swiftly risen to prominence in international women’s marathon running becoming one of the most exciting prospects on the planet.
On October 19th the 26 year old Belarusian will line up in the 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon with an eye on the course record of 2:22:43. The event is, for the seventh consecutive year, an IAAF Silver Label race.
Her marathon experience might be short but she has accomplished much. She will arrive in Toronto as one of the race favourites. In March 2013 she debuted at the Los Angeles Marathon emerging with a victory in a decent time of 2:26:08. That was good enough to earn an invitation to the 2013 Chicago Marathon where she raced to a 4th place finish in a new personal best of 2:23:44.
“I came to the marathon distance by accident – and good luck,” she declares. “During the years of 2009-2011 I was basically making my living competing in small races in France and Poland. Twice a year I participated in the national championships of Belarus and hadn’t even thought about running a marathon. At that time that would be the most ambitious and surreal idea.”
Duliba credits her agent the New York based Russian, Andrey Baranov, with moving up to the classic distance.
“I realized I was barely making my living from those small races and I was not moving forward,” she remembers. “That was the right time and Andrey Baranov approached me saying right away ‘Duliba, it’s time to get serious, you’ve got the potential of a marathon runner, just stay focused on one distance.’ And, he had the right coach for me.”
The agent introduced her to Ukrainian coach, Igor Osmak, and they began working together in the winter of 2012. One of the first things the coach did was increase her training volume. The partnership continues to pay off. Most recently Duliba finished 6th in the 2014 Boston Marathon in a world class time of 2:21:29, a result which bolstered her confidence in considering an assault on the Toronto race record.
“I have to ask your opinion,” she says good naturedly. “If my ‘PR’ is 2:21:29 and the weather conditions are close to ideal, like they were in Boston, am I capable of that record? But, to be honest, time is not the goal, the aim is to make the podium.”
Duliba will be accompanied by her fiance, Ukrainian marathoner Vitaliy Shafar, to Toronto. He has a best time of 2:09:37, which he ran in Boston, last April. The pair are living together in Kiev, Ukraine.
“During warm months we train in Kiev, actually in the countryside near Kiev, surrounded by fresh air and beautiful forests,” Duliba explains. “For the winter months we move to southern Ukraine, to the seaside town of Yalta, or go to Cholpo-Ata, in the Kyrgyz Republic. Usually it’s our coach’s decision depending on the specifics of the marathon we train for.
“Eastern-European athletes usually train differently than athletes from Kenya or Ethiopia, who are used to training in a group. Yes, there are other athletes in our group, we all see each other before the training, while parking a car, having a little chit-chat warming up, but women and men train separately. And we don’t pace each other. I personally like to train by myself, but for the long runs (20 – 25 km) I don’t mind to have someone from the group next to me, just to keep me company.”
As a young girl Duliba showed athletic promise and was enrolled in the Sport School of Olympic Reserve in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, where she specialized in cross country skiing. A local athletics coach happened to spot her running on the track one day and approached her. Some regional track and field competitions followed and her interest grew.
“I came from a family who had little idea of what professional sport is. At first they didn’t ‘get’ my passion for running and couldn’t understand why I didn’t choose a ‘normal’ job, like an engineer, or a teacher,” she explains. “It’s not that they didn’t approve it, no, they simply felt sorry for me not having days off or holidays, spending all my time training, being on a running diet all the time, not eating fast food, or mayonnaise, or anything fried. They basically thought of it as a temporary hobby of mine.
“But as time went by my accomplishments changed a lot. Now they are my biggest fans and support every single thing I do, and they help me a lot. When I visit my parents, and my older sister, they do everything to make me feel comfortable. They adjust their schedules to my training and resting needs.”
Formerly a track runner she experimented with some road racing in 2011 finishing a half marathon race. The seeds of her marathon ambition might have been sown at that point. Despite her impressive resume she admits she is still learning the marathon.
“With each marathon I gain new experience and confidence,” she says. “From those three marathons I learned a lot of lessons, mistakes were made, but corrected and lots of knowledge derived. I learned how to stick to the pace and tactics, how to react to the other competitors moves, how to be patient at some point and where to be aggressive to achieve victory.
“I also learned many small things which could make your performance a success or totally ruin it such as: what to eat before the race, how to make the elite fluids, how to get them right at the fluid station, which shoe model to wear depending on the weather and many things like that which I will all use in Toronto.”
Duliba and her coach have decided there will be no competitions prior to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. They are looking for something special in Canada’s largest city. But she harbours very bold long term dreams.
“I think the biggest dream of each athlete is an Olympic medal,” she reveals. “It is also mine. But more realistically the goal is to make the national Olympic team and represent your country at your best.
“I am not chasing any time, or any record, I personally find it a bit self-distracting. My goal is to make podiums and enjoy the profession as a professional athlete and stay injury free.”
The Toronto record remains 2:22:43 and was set by Ethiopia’s Koren Yal in 2011. If weather conditions are right, and her competition takes the bait, we may well see it beaten by the Belarusian star. And that would be just the next step in this great athlete’s career.