Mulu Seboka has one thing in mind when she lines up for the 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, October 19th, and that is to beat the women’s course record of 2:22:43.
That record was set in 2010 by Kenya’s Sharon Cherop and is also the fastest time ever run by a woman on Canadian soil.
If the Ethiopian, who celebrated her 30th birthday last week, is successful she will earn at least a $35,000 bonus in addition to the first place prize of $20,000. That, of course, is wonderful motivation.
“I have full confidence,” she declares, “if there is a good pace maker and good weather I will run the course record. My training is going very well. My condition is very good now. I am training with my husband Yohanes Nigatu Bekele and I am training in all the places (around Addis Ababa) Sendafa, Sululta, Ararat and Entoto.
“I have trained well and I hope I will do my best to make the organizers of the race and the good people of Toronto happy.”
Those are words that will almost certainly endear her to the organizers of this IAAF Silver Label race, who would like nothing more than to see both men’s and women’s records fall. With a personal best of 2:23:43 recorded at the 2013 Daegu Marathon the record is certainly in the realm of possibility.
Most recently she returned to Daegu and won the race in 2:25:23 (April 9th) This followed a surprising but very tough Dubai Marathon win (January 24th) in 2:25:01. Her margin of victory there was just twenty-two seconds, which in marathoning is too close for comfort.
But, she won’t have an easy time of it in Toronto. On paper, at least, the favourite has to be Aliaksandr Duliba, the Belarusian star, who has a personal best of 2:21:29 from the 2014 Boston Marathon. She was also 4th in Chicago a year ago (2:23:44). However, Seboka has one advantage over Duliba, and the rest of the field: she has twice before run the race through the streets of Canada’s largest city.
As a 24 year old she won the 2008 edition of this IAAF Silver Label race in 2:29:06 then finished second a year later to her compatriot, Amane Gobena.
“I remember there is very good support from the people along the full course so I really like the Toronto marathon,” she recalls from her previous visits. “I went to Dukem Restaurant after the race.”
The latter comment is in reference to what has become a post-race excursion for the Ethiopian community at this traditional Ethiopian restaurant, a place where legend Miruts Yifter, the 1980 Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion, is a frequent visitor.
Seboka comes from a region called Shoa Oromia, an area known for its fertile farmlands and where half of Ethiopia’s coffee is produced. Many of Ethiopia’s greatest runners also originated from Oromia but it was one athlete in particular who sparked Seboka’s interest in running.
“I was inspired by my sister-in-law, Alemitu Bekele, who is now a Belgian citizen. She was training in my home town when I was a child,” she explains. “She brought me to Addis in 2002. I go home once a month to Shoa Oromia.”
Her sister-in-law is not to be confused with the runner of the same name who is currently suspended for doping violations while running for Turkey.
Like many of her compatriots Seboka does not concern herself too much with the competition she will face on October 19th. When she is informed that fellow Ethiopian Mestawet Tufa and Duliba are co-favourites she appears nonplussed.
“I never raced with them and I know only Mestawet Tufa,” Seboka says. “She is really talented and a good athlete. I hope we will push the pace together as she is also a front runner.”
Unafraid to lead, Seboka will likely enjoy the benefits of early pacemaking which the Toronto marathon organizers have set up to encourage both the men and women to fast times. Then it will be her vast experience that will propel her onward chasing the record. Not surprisingly she has other long term goals.
“I want to represent Ethiopia in the 2015 world championships in Beijing and at the Olympics in Rio,” she declares.
It has been a few years since she last wore the Ethiopian national vest but with her current resume surely her goals are not too remote.
A victory against a strong Toronto field would help draw attention back in the offices of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. A course record would further reinforce her ambition putting her amongst the highest echelon of women’s marathoners.