Despite the rather brief and dry title to Paul Gains’ latest athlete-feature blog, I think this is owe of his best so far. For the last decade, Ethiopian runners have been such an important part of Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and of advancing the marathon movement in Canada. Paul’s story today not only introduces us to one of the important female athletes on our Start Line this year, but gives us some lovely insight into their Ethiopian context — of training, family and community, of a distance running society that we are so enriched by. Her younger sister Tigist has already won the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon in a Course Record this Spring. Can Mestawet make it a family double in Canada on Toronto Waterfront?
— Alan Brookes, Race Director.
TORONTO. September 4th. Extraordinary things are expected of Ethiopia’s Mestawet Tufa as she prepares for the 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon October 19th – an IAAF Silver Label race. Then again, that’s nothing new for this talented athlete. Since she was very young she has delivered continually on the track and on the roads.
As a relative novice she won the 2007 All Africa Championships over 10,000m an achievement that counts for a lot in her native country and which certainly caught the attention of the world’s media. A year later she earned the silver medal at the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh. Now, weeks away from her 31st birthday, she seeks to fulfill her enormous marathon potential.
“I am so motivated (by my family),” she reveals. “I have seven brothers and two sisters and six of them are athletes in different events. I was inspired by seeing (Olympic champions) Derartu Tulu and Haile Gebrselassie running.
“I met them before because Derartu is my neighbor. I didn’t see them on television but I heard about them on the radio. I wanted to be like them.”
Among her running siblings is 27 year old Tigist Tufa winner of the 2014 Ottawa Marathon in a course record time of 2:24:31. Having a younger sister who has run so fast must also be a motivator.
“There is no rivalry between us,” she says of her younger sister. “I have a good relationship with her. But she lives in her own house in Addis Ababa.”
Although Mestawet has a personal best of ‘only’ 2:26:20 from last year’s Nagoya Marathon she knows it’s just a matter of time before she knocks a chunk off that, hopefully, she says, in Toronto.
“I hope I can run my personal best and get a good result there,” she declares. “Yes all I can do is try my best. I don’t have any information about Toronto.”
LIke the majority of athletes represented by the Dutch based Global Sports Communications company Tufa is coached by famed Ethiopian coach Getaneh Tessema.
On any given morning, just after sunrise, the group of nearly one hundred athletes will meet in the village of Sendafa. It’s a twenty minute drive from the capital of Addis. The region lies at close to 9,000 feet elevation and is ideal for marathon training.
After a short warmup of three kilometres jogging led by the veteran coach the group gathers to receive instructions for the workout. And then they hammer out hard efforts of ten minutes repeatedly with a short recovery, kicking up dust along the rural roads. Children, walking miles to reach the only school in the region, stop to admire them as they pass by, no doubt dreaming of one day following in their footsteps like Tufa did as a young girl.
The women and men are separated during the training sessions although the women have a male pacemaker to ensure they complete Tessema’s objectives. Mestawet runs with a group that includes 2012 Olympic champion, Tiki Gelana, and also Dinknesh Mekash, who came to Toronto a year ago but failed to finish the race. Before she flies to Canada she will likely press Mekash for details on the city.
Like many of her contemporaries Tufa comes from the Arsi region of Ethiopia where her parents have a small shop. At least once a year she goes back to visit them.
Earlier this year, despite dreadfully hot and humid conditions, Tufa won the Yellow River Marathon in China setting a course record of 2:28:27. To travel all that way from Ethiopia and come up against an unsavoury climate was very disappointing, she admits.
“I didn’t expect these conditions but I can run in hot conditions,” she says summarising her efforts during the event.
Despite her impressive curriculum vitae Tufa is a newcomer to the full marathon distance. As far back as 2009, she was racing competitively at the half marathon distance finishing 5th at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham that year. Asked why she waited so long to move up to the marathon she provides a very reasonable explanation.
“It’s because of my baby boy,” she explains. “My baby boy was born on Jan 17th, 2011. His name is Olyad Worku, so now he is two years and seven months old.”
Being a mother and a full time athlete means she is grateful for the relaxation time she finds herself daily. That is filled with pastimes very quickly.
“I enjoy time with my family,” she reveals. “I like watching Ethiopian movies especially drama movies and I like swimming at Bole Rock in Addis Ababa. They have a swimming pool, gym and sauna there.”
Tufa knows she will face a very strong women’s field in Toronto including Aliaksandra Duliba of Belarus (personal best of 2:21:29). Duliba has targeted the Toronto course record of 2:22:43 so the early pace will be quick. The weather conditions are unlikely to mimic what she faced in the Yellow River Marathon and she can be expected to go with the leaders. All this translates in a great opportunity for Tufa to lower her best time.
Expectations follow Mestawet Tufa but she has a history of delivering. And, that’s good news for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
For further information and entry to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, see www.stwm.ca