Why Rick Rayman has run every day for over 40 years, and why he’s doing his 377th marathon in Toronto

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By Ravi Singh

“I just love being with runners,” is Rick Rayman’s very simple explanation as to why, at the age of 72, he had just completed his 376th marathon and would be returning for number 377 just two weeks later at this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Aside from Virginia Lee, Rick is the only runner to have completed every edition of the race.

“There really isn’t any other sport where amateurs line up and compete alongside their heroes, or where Meb Keflezeghi can share a sponsor with someone like me,” Rick says.

And he really does love runners to an astonishing degree. I call Rick at his office at the University of Toronto, where he serves as director of student life at the faculty of dentistry, to discuss his accomplishments and legendary status in Canadian running, but he quickly turns the conversation to me with a genuine interest in my journey as a runner.

Dr. Rayman admits that when it comes to his 40 year run streak and unbroken Toronto Waterfront Marathon streak, “It’s partly to do with ego and being among very few people who can do it, but it’s also to show that it can be done.”

Rick has no shortage of stories of running alongside runners who were struggling at races and suffering together because he knew they would regret giving up. Now, long past his days as a 2:40 marathoner, Dr. Rayman has taken on a role more akin to a cheerleader and running ambassador.

This year, he won’t be the only member of U of T’s Faculty of Dentistry on the course. For his 30th race in Toronto, he’ll bring along around 80 students known as Rayman’s Runners to run either the 5K, half marathon, or full marathon, all in support of the Princess Margaret Foundation.

“The first year, I think we had about 10 students participate and now it’s grown to almost a hundred,” Rick says proudly. “It’s about having fun, raising funds for a cause, and accomplishing something. Running can be crucial for wellness and students are taking that away.”

In his more competitive days, Dr. Rayman had a far more serious approach to racing, going so far as to stay in a different hotel room from his family the night before a race. Now, as he runs into his 70s, fun and wellness outweighs competitiveness, just as he tries to teach his students.

“Throughout my life, three things mattered,” Dr. Rayman explains. “Family came first, my passions were second, and my profession was third. All of those things are important, but you’re not living a full life without that second one and it has to be fun.”

Dr. Rayman’s streak compared:

Rick Rayman

Second longest active running streak:

14, 918 days running (over 40 years and counting)

Cal Ripken Jr

Most games played by a MLB player:

2,632 games played over 16 years

Brett Favre

Most consecutive starts by a NFL player:

297 consecutive starts over 18 years

The Wild Card: Will Rory Linkletter become Canada’s next star marathoner?

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Now running professionally, rookie marathoner Linkletter is the dark horse of the Canadian Marathon Trials

Things have been moving quickly for Rory Linkletter as of late.

In the last year, the Calgary native and former student-athlete at Brigham Young University (BYU) moved from Provo, Utah to Flagstaff, Arizona, signed a professional running contract with Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite, and got married to his university sweetheart.

It’s hard to believe Linkletter is only 23, and his training log might reveal his most precocious move to date.

With nothing longer than 10,000m raced (in 28:12, mind you) the six-time NCAA All-American is fast-tracking his way to a marathon debut. In July, fresh off his final NCAA campaign, Linkletter started training with some of North America’s best marathoners, including top American finisher at the 2019 Boston Marathon Scott Fauble, and 2:12 marathoner Scott Smith, in preparation for the Canadian Marathon Trials on Oct. 20.

Despite his relative youth and inexperience, Linkletter’s adjustment to marathon workouts has been smooth, even enjoyable.

“I’m having so much fun with it and am getting so excited for workouts that I am pestering my teammates,” he says. “I think that’s because of the environment I was in at BYU, being around guys like (sixth place finisher at 2012 Olympic marathon) Jared Ward and my coach (2:10 marathoner Ed Eyestone, who has competed and won in Toronto) who are so established in the distance.”

Linkletter has not increased his weekly mileage (he already hovers around 160K) in preparation for the marathon, but his race-specific workouts are now longer, more difficult, and require much recovery. Sometimes, he takes as much as four days of easy running between hard sessions, a luxury he did not have when training for the 10,000m. The difficulty of workouts has also led him to race sparingly in preparation for the Trials, which has added to the impossibility of predicting his finishing time.

It’s only with the help of comparison, Strava and Twitter that we can start answering the question on everybody’s minds: just how fast can Linkletter go?

What Will Rory Run?

One prediction tool we have is comparison. His 10,000m PB indicates that we might get treated to one of the fastest debuts in recent Canadian history.

Fastest Canadian Debuts of the last 30 years:

Cam Levins: 2:09:25 – 10k PB (27:07)

Peter Fonseca: 2:12:07 – 10k PB (N/A)

Eric Gillis: 2:12:08 – 10k PB (28:07)

Carey Nelson: 2:12:28 – 10k PB (28:04)

Peter Maher: 2:12:58 – 10k PB (N/A)

Jeff Schiebler – 2:14:13 – 10k PB (27:36)

Bruce Deacon: 2:15:16 – 10k PB (28:46)

Dylan Wykes: 2:15:16 – 10k PB: (28:12)

Graeme Fell: 2:16:13 – 10k PB (30:09)

Robin Watson: 2:16:17 – 10k PB (29:27)

Reid Coolsaet: 2:16:53 – 10k PB (27:56)

Rory Linkletter: ??? – 10k PB (28:12)

Linkletter is faster over 10,000m than three men who debuted under 2:17. He also has the exact same 10,000m time as Dylan Wykes, now a 2:10:47 marathoner.

Strava posts

Another prediction tool we have is Linkletter’s social media. His Strava account displays impressive workouts done at altitude. Here are three of his biggest sessions of September:

Rory’s Twitter Timeline

While his Strava breaks down his training by the numbers, his Twitter account provides more qualitative insight into his high-mileage journey. Plus, it’s pretty entertaining.

Behind the tweet: “I knew I was going to run Toronto for a long time, but I was feeding into the narrative that I think I am young to race it. But, for me it makes so much sense to start the marathon now. 10k to marathon, I think there is some allure to the roads. It is an intriguing challenge of strength and growth, and if I can bottle it and get the most out of myself, I know I can be good at the marathon.”

Behind the tweet: “I’m slowly figuring it out and finding pastimes between runs. I play a lot of X-Box, I watch my dog. Sometimes I hate not having things to do but at the same time I feel very fortunate that I can push my body to its maximum and see what it’s capable of doing. I am blessed in that sense.”

Behind the tweet:“This was my first session on Lake Mary Road, an iconic marathon training spot for anyone out here in Flagstaff. It’s a rolling road with a big shoulder, simulates a lot of things you’ll seen in the marathon. The first session I had it didn’t look bad on paper. It looked like an easy pace and I thought it will feel slow. But I hadn’t done a long session like that, and then add altitude to the mix. It was 1.5 mile at marathon effort, half mile at 3:45 per kilometre. That, times six. I felt really good during reps three and four, but during the fifth one, I thought my legs were getting heavy and I was pressing. The sixth one, I felt like I was walking. I had never dug myself that deep of a hole. It was just a different kind of pain. There was nothing left. I couldn’t go any faster than that pace if I tried. Now I kind of get what it means when people say they hit the wall.”

Behind the tweet: “I thought this one would hurt. It was four miles tempo, 10 miles at six minute pace, four miles tempo. The first tempo was alright, and then the 10 mile hurt more than it should. I was dreading the last four miles. I was running it with (Matthew) Baxter and (Scott) Smith, and I was terrified that I would get put in a Blender. I figured it would be painful anyway, so I just sent it. I went out way too fast, way under marathon pace: 4:58 at altitude. But I actually surprised myself after that because I cruised it in 5:02 pace and I held on pretty well. After that day I remember thinking: I could be good at this. I’m almost 20 miles in a run and I’m holding 5:02 (per mile) pace.”

Behind the tweet: “This one was a killer. 16 miles at marathon. The goal was to run 5:17 pace. The first two miles felt really good. Two miles later I thought “I will not have a day out here.” Two miles later I thought “coach, pull me out of here.” I’m not looking at my watch because it hurts. I want him to say that I’m going backwards and that I should stop. I get to 14 miles and there are headwinds and hills. I felt I was so done, and I see my coach. “Finally, he’s going to pull me out,” I think. But, he looks at me and just says, “be competitive.” Are you kidding me? So I ran my last few miles at 5:20 and 5:30 and my legs hurt so bad. Later that Sunday I was watching football and my legs were just screaming.”

That tweet caught the attention of a fellow Canadian marathoner who knows the feeling too well.

The Bottom Line

A new wave of Canadian marathoners (which might eventually include Ben Flanagan, Mike Tate, Chris Balestrini and Farah Abdulkarim, among others) is about to rock the ship, and its headliner is nothing short of a national treasure. Rory Linkletter loves to run, is entertaining, and is still a totally unknown quantity heading into these Trials. At worst, he overestimates his fitness and crashes into a brick wall of hubris. At best, he runs one of the fastest debuts in Canadian history, and challenges for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. Either way, we are likely witnessing the start of a long and successful marathoning career.

“What I want to do is be a professional in all aspects of the sport, make history, and run fast,” says Linkletter. “I think the marathon is my distance, and no matter what happens in Toronto, I am excited to get started.”

Two-time Olympic marathoner Eric Gillis on his Toronto breakthrough

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By Ravi Singh

For someone so understated in his demeanour and approach to training, Eric Gillis is good at causing commotion. There was of course his top 10 finish in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Canada’s best result at that event in decades.

In 2011, as he approached the finish line of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Gillis could hear the crowd counting down in unison as he threw down his final kick. From his office, the now head coach of St. FX Cross Country recalls, “The announcer started the countdown. I thought it was interesting that the crowd was counting me down and that they were pretty much going to be bang on. I didn’t realize right away that they weren’t just counting me down, but the Olympic Standard in general.”

When he crossed the finish line, Eric kept his cool and didn’t rush to celebrate. “I crossed and everyone cheered, but I saw the time and knew that I was one second under. In road racing, the time averages up.” He needed to be under 2:11:28.5 in order to meet the standard of 2:11:29.

Eric could finally breathe when the official time came down as 2:11:27.2, which would take him to London in 2012, the payoff of a quiet grit that’s defined Gillis’ career.

Passion

Gillis has run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon five times. Though he hails from Nova Scotia and trained out of Guelph during his collegiate career, he fondly calls Toronto his hometown race—the event where he always knew the most people, found his biggest support, and felt like he as part of something special.

Toronto also offers the opportunity for the elites and non-elites to cross paths on the course through the out and back portion along the city’s Lakeshore. Gillis says, “I’ve heard my name being called and I draw from that energy. It was great to be part of other people’s experience as well. I’ve heard people say that they want to finish the half before I finish the full and I love being part of someone else’s achievement. It helps put some perspective on it and reminds you that it’s supposed to be fun as well.”

Eric Gillis finishing 10th overall at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Courage

London 2012 would be Eric’s second trip to the Olympics, having represented Canada in the 10,000m event at the 2008 Beijing Games. “If I wanted to stick with running long-term,” Eric explains, “I needed to move to the marathon.” The 10,000m didn’t offer enough opportunity to compete and had less cache than the marathon.

With two marathons under his belt, Eric was about 40 seconds off the Olympic standard and thought that with a stronger build than he had for his previous marathon, where he was dogged by knee issues, would get him there. Nonetheless, “Knowing that I could run 2:12.08 gave me the confidence to go into the following year’s race with more control.”

Follow Through

Taking the leap not just from the track to the marathon, but to the Olympic standard, didn’t feel as daunting as it perhaps should have. According to Eric, “I didn’t have to really do anything differently, just do it more efficiently and with more confidence this time around.”

Training out of Guelph at the time with Reid Coolsaet, Eric recalls, “I really enjoyed my build up because I trained with Reid, and I was able to track where I’d been compared to the previous year.”

“You have to have mental toughness, but you also have to be able to forget things and let it go.”

The training didn’t feel like an all-out assault on his mind or body. The consistency of his performances, and his ability to dig deep, reveal a mental toughness that eludes many. “It’s about situational aggressiveness,” Eric explains. “You have to have mental toughness, but you also have to be able to forget things and let it go.” That’s how Eric saw the progression, evaluating outcomes as he went and relying on the support system around him.

“I take my time when I’m serious about something.”

His whole career had been a year-to-year evaluation of whether or not he wanted to continue competing, so the same model applied to training. Manage the day to day and follow through as necessary.

“I take my time when I’m serious about something,” Eric says, “which was easy to do in Guelph because I didn’t have to get caught up in the goals. I could just look forward to training with guys who were as good, better than, or even behind me.”

Gillis racing the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Resilience

When race day arrived, “Everything said I was capable on a nice day. Even if if was a little windy, I could still fight through and have a bit of a cushion.”

Reid Coolsaet already had the standard, so he would race all out and land himself a podium finish at 2:10:54.

“At 32K, we turned into the wind and I had some time under me. I checked the splits and liked what I saw.” At 33K, Eric noticed a slightly slower split and “I decided that the math wasn’t going to help, so I just went all out and raced it.”

By 41K, Gillis knew it was going to be within 5 or 10 seconds, “So I knew I that I’d have to go all out so that I’d have no regrets. Even if I was a second over, I wanted to know that I gave it everything.”

The urge to do math, however, still lingered. “There were 300m left and I had about a minute to break that. That’s something I’d done regularly on the track, so I finally went for it.”

With the finish in sight, the announcer started counting down.

Excellence

“Toronto in 2011 was definitely a career highlight at that point, Rio being number one overall and London 2012 maybe number two for the experience if not the performance,” is Eric’s assessment.

For all the sterling achievements, nailing the Olympic Standard included, the foundation was a desire to run. “When I was in Guelph I knew that I wanted to be a professional athlete and I never wanted to sacrifice a future performance for one day. Even Rio was just one day and the process to get there wasn’t for that one day–I did it for all the days before that.”

That time a 100 year old ran a marathon in Toronto

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By Ravi Singh

One day, a bearded figure with origins in a small rural town no one ever heard of and who was witness to an astonishing amount of history—two world wars, the partitioning of India, the invention of television and the iPhone, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more—decided, for no particular reason, to go for a little run.

“At 89 years, he took seriously to running and ended up in international marathon events,” is one of the many excerpts of Fauja Singh’s Wikipedia page that manage to be astonishing, hilarious, delightful, absurd, and inspiring. Like any biography befitting a proper legend, Fauja’s life has come to read as a blend of truthful elements, life lessons, perhaps a little embellishment, and tales of extreme adversity leading to unlikely triumph.

The oldest man to ever finish a marathon at 101, supposedly didn’t walk until he was five. Running through every story about the man they called the Turbaned Tornado, however, is an unquestioned reverence for what he achieved, the impact he made, and the people he inspired.

The adventure was triggered when Fauja met Harmander Singh, President of the Sikhs in the City Running Club, himself a marathoner 160 times over, met Fauja. The latter had moved to the UK in 1994 to stay with his son after another one of his children passed, leaving him with no close relations in his homeland of India.

Accordng to Harmander, “his simple outlook on life and respect for all based on his religious values of remembering God, working honestly, and sharing with others” resonated with everyone from youth, fellow runners, and even the Queen, who included Fauja as part of the 2015 New Year Honours List.

“Fauja Singh was introduced to me by Sukhjeevan Singh, a local businessman, in 1999,” Harmander recalls. Fauja was hoping to enter the London Marathon, but had missed the cutoff date. Harmander had previously run London in support of the Harefield Heart Transplant Trust on behalf of Sukhjeevan, whose son was awaiting a heart transplant. Harmander had subsequently trained Sukhjeevan to run the London Marathon on his own, so the latter figured that Harmander could find Fauja a bib and train him in the 12 weeks remaining before the race.

In 2003, race director Alan Brookes invited Fauja to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. He’d come back again in 2011 to celebrate his 100th birthday. Though Guinness never verified his record because of an absent birth certificate, his time of eight hours made him the oldest marathon finisher in history.

After 42 kilometers, Fauja still had the energy to entertain admirers and leave a legacy in the city. Harmander explains that the race “…was the trigger for many health conscious initiatives such as the ‘Inspirational Steps’ program organised by the Toronto based Guru Gobind Singh Children’s Foundation, which has evolved into an annual series of different distance races attracting over 500 participants from the South Asian communities.”

Now, past his 108th birthday, Fauja continues to move, though his comparatively sedate routine covers about six miles of walking every day. According to Harmander, “He is coping well with the onset of nature on his body and is reluctant to let people down who wish him to attend their functions.”

“Fauja has always said he loves the attention in a respectable way and feels he must be doing good if his actions or presence inspires people to become more active and positive about themselves,” Harmander says.

The marathon is meant to humble us and show us a world beyond ourselves. Fauja, humble as he is, might be one of a very few runners whose life and personality make the marathon seem small.

This runner literally wrote the book on what it’s like to run all around the world

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Globetrotting author and elite American marathoner Becky Wade-Firth is ready for the race of her life in Toronto

It’s hard to believe that this Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be Becky Wade-Firth’s first race in Canada. The 30-year-old is surely the most travelled entrant on the race’s elite start list.

In July 2012, fresh out of Rice University, the Dallas native travelled the world on a Watson Fellowship to immerse herself in multiple running cultures across countries. The documentation of her year of running abroad is now bound in Run The World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe, a must-read memoir for runners, published in 2016.

“After college, I wrote a proposal about how I would spend my dream year and how I would pursue it,” says Wade-Firth about her application for the fellowship, which promotes purposeful travel and is granted yearly to 40 graduating seniors across the United States. “I built my proposal on long distance running cultures and training styles because I fell in love with the lifestyle I had in college.”

And so began Wade-Firth’s running pilgrimage to parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. She ran on the world’s fastest one-mile course in New Zealand, she learned about ancient Midsummer Rituals in Finland, and she tackled punishing tempo runs up the mountains of Switzerland.

“One conversation that resonated with me was when I asked an Ethiopian athlete how much she ran every week and she had no idea.”

In Tokyo, she crammed onto the Namban International Running Club track with thousands of others for weekly practices, followed by a public bath and social drinks. In Ethiopia, she relished the laid-back running culture. “One conversation that resonated with me was when I asked an Ethiopian athlete how much she ran every week and she had no idea,” says Wade-Firth. “She guessed somewhere between 30 and 100 miles.”

The runner had planned to visit nine countries, but that number quickly ballooned when she followed new acquaintances to new land. She wrote several entries in a travel blog entitled Becky Runs Away, and inserted her final statistics on the blog’s landing page.

Countries visited: 22

Beds: 72

Pairs of Running Shoes: 11

Miles Run: 3,504 (that’s 5,639 km)

Wade-Firth wrote online so that her mother and sister could follow stories of her adventure, but had little aspiration of turning her entries into a book. Her blog, however, gained so much traction that her high-school friend, who had become a literary agent in New York City, nudged her to take her writings one step further. By 2016, Wade-Firth published with Harper Collins, which led to new opportunities for the now-30-year-old.

“I realized you can make endless connections through travel and running and the intersection of both,” says Wade-Firth, who now contributes regularly to Runner’s World, among other outlets. “Now people will ask me for running route recommendations, I get to talk at bookstores and expos… it has really opened doors.”

Wade-Firth hopes to write a second book, but is in no rush to publish.

“Writing a book is kind of like running a marathon,” she says. “The first one, I was so naïve, it just happened. The second one, you see it differently. You know the amount of work it takes to succeed – you just want to nail it.”

Wade-Firth has now waited over five years to perfectly nail a second marathon. Her debut in Sacramento in 2013, shortly after her year of travel, remains her best to date: 2:30:41.

Lately, however, training is going well. Wade-Firth now lives in Boulder, CO and just last year reached new heights in the half-marathon, running 1:11:15. This year, she has already raced five times in her marathon build, and has only lost to two of her compatriots in that stretch: 2011 Pan-American steeplechase gold medalist Sara Hall and 2016 10,000m Olympian Emily Infeld. Wade-Firth now brims with confidence, and believes it possible to achieve the IAAF Olympic Standard of 2:29:30.

“I feel like my PR is way overdue for being shattered. I feel like I’ve been ready before – the conditions were off and I haven’t done it. I can talk all I want – Toronto is the day to put it all together.”

Why Toronto?

“One thing about Toronto is that it likely won’t be hot and humid there,” says Wade-Firth. “I know some people go there to run fast.”

And what does an expert on running cultures have to say about the one in Canada?

“Polite definitely comes to mind. I shared a cab with Cam Levins in Philadelphia once, and cooled down with Emily Setlack (at the Rock and Roll Philly Half-Marathon) and she was speaking so highly of her Canadian competition. It seems like there is an intimate community of runners.

“I also think Canadians are really tough, similar to the Scandinavians. Getting through a cold winter requires a different type of toughness. I’ll have to go up there and see for myself.”

How The Maddie Project embraced running to make a difference with youth mental health

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On April 11, 2015, Madeline German Coulter, 15, took her own life after grappling with mental health challenges. She was the first child and only daughter of Nicole German. Maddie’s death tore through the family, but where most parents might crumble, spiralling into depression themselves, German rallied, founding The Maddie Project, a charitable organization.

“The organization is really focused on two primary areas,” German says. “One is around creating awareness to reduce the stigma around youth mental health. And the second is helping to provide uninhibited access to kids and their families who are struggling with mental health challenges.” These mental health challenges include anything from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and psychosis.

Since its foundation, The Maddie Project’s main goal has been raising funds for the North York General Hospital Foundation where Maddie spent some time while suffering from depression. German pledged to raise $1 million for the foundation that would go towards the creation of Maddie’s Healing Garden. The outdoor space surrounds Phillips House, a re-developed Georgian-style mansion located up the street from the hospital that acts as the home for child and adolescent outpatient mental health programs.

Six months after Maddie’s death, German and The Maddie Project committed to entering the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “People just wanted to do a run to raise money and awareness,” she says. But since then, it’s become one of the organization’s major fundraising and awareness events. The run now sees upwards of 100 participants of all ages competing in the 5km to the marathon, supporting The Maddie Project.

“There’s nothing more compelling than a bunch of teenagers getting up at 7 a.m. to advocate for youth mental health. It’s hard enough to get them out of bed as is.” German laughs.

Phillips House and Maddie’s Garden were officially opened on September 4, 2019, thanks to the $1.6 million The Maddie Project has raised over the last four years—and $320,000 of this was raised during the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “This is our fifth year doing it,” German says.

The Maddie Project’s fundraising goal this year is $50,000, but German is quick to mention that “the awareness is as important as the fundraising.” Each participant running for The Maddie Project will proudly wear a purple shirt and will be led by team captain Robert Agouri, one of the organization’s top individual fundraisers.

Even Maddie’s two younger brothers, Zac and Sawyer Coulter, participate in the run, acting as the organization’s national youth ambassadors.

Now that Maddie’s Healing Garden is operational, The Maddie Project will continue to raise money for the North York General Hospital Foundation, and has also established fundraising partnerships with Skylark Youth and Families, and Outward Bound Canada.

The Maddie Project has funded over $200,000 to Skylark Youth and Families, a walk-in clinic that doesn’t require an appointment or a health card, and launched their partnership with Outward Bound Canada this year. “It’s a fully-funded trip for eight young women that had struggled with mental health,” German says. The trip allows participants to experience the great outdoors in northern Ontario near Sudbury.

Looking to the future, German says The Maddie Project will continue to support and nurture those partnerships and youth in the community. “I think, for us, it’s really about continuing the conversation.”

Malindi Elmore’s shot at redemption

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After missing out on qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, Malindi Elmore put running behind her—competitive running, at least. Having trained seriously since age 15, the sport had driven her to her proudest moments but also her lowest. In 2004, a year after graduating from Stanford University, she achieved a lifelong dream, representing Canada in the 1,500 metres at the Athens Olympics. Four years later, she missed Beijing by 0.7 seconds.

“I had the IAAF “A” standard but that’s when Canada had an “A+” standard to make the team,” Elmore says, referring to the mark that track and field’s governing body sets for entry into the Olympics, and the fact that Canada had raised the bar even higher for its athletes. Two weeks before Beijing, the track world was rocked by a doping scandal. Five athletes—three Russians and two Romanians—entered in the 1,500 metres were suspended for doping infractions. The reduced field forced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to advance all 1,500 metre athletes straight to the semi-finals.

“I was the fastest person in the world not to make it.”

“Hilary Stellingwerff and I both didn’t make the team despite having standard, and we were fairly appalled by the fact that suddenly [five] women were out of the event and it actually went straight to semi-finals,” she says. “I was the fastest person in the world not to make it.”

The missed qualifications in 2008 and 2012 were augmented by further injuries, causing Elmore to describe the last few years of her running career as frustrating. “I had to kind of take a step away at a certain point,” she says.

After retiring in 2012, Elmore played around with the idea of running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but a pregnancy derailed the plan. Instead, looking for a fresh start, she took up triathlons. Over the span of three years, she raced 16 Olympic distance triathlons, 12 half Ironmans, and 2 full Ironmans, competing professionally at the 70.3 distance. Her Ironman time of eight hours 57 minutes 22 seconds, set in Arizona in 2016, is still the fourth fastest time ever by a Canadian woman. “I love a challenge, and I needed something refreshing,” she says. “But I’m really not a great swimmer, so it was tough.”

In 2018, when Elmore gave birth to her second son, she started to transition away from triathlons. “I decided swimming and biking takes too long, so I got back into running.” When she says running, she stresses that it was recreational. “I was just running an hour at like 5:00/km pace, which was a fast pace at that point.”

It was while she was out on a run with her husband, two-time track Olympian Graham Hood, that she once again floated the idea of the marathon. “I’d had too much coffee that morning. I had too much energy,” she laughs. But her husband jumped on it. “He was like, ‘That’s a super idea. I’ll coach you.’”

This was in September 2018, and after scouring the upcoming race calendar, the couple settled on the Houston Marathon in January for Elmore’s debut, four months away. It wasn’t much time to get in shape, but rather than buckle under the pressure, Elmore thrived under the added mileage. “I had a lot of injuries because the track was just so hard on my body,” she says. “For me, I seem to be OK with doing more mileage.”

Leading up to the race, Elmore and Hood had settled on 2:40 as her goal time. “I thought it would be reasonable because I’d run under three hours in my Ironman and off not a lot of training.” But two weeks prior to the race, Elmore crushed her final workout, causing the couple to reassess. “We were like, ‘Maybe I can run faster than 2:40. Maybe more like 2:35.’”

Elmore’s fitness had finally clicked into place and her finishing time in Houston reflected it. She finished seventh in 2:32:10, the third fastest marathon by a Canadian this year and only three minutes off the Olympic standard of 2:29:30.

At 39-years-old, Elmore is entering her upcoming race at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon with confidence. She has her sights firmly set on securing a berth in Tokyo and redeeming those missed opportunities in 2008 and 2012. “Probably winning Toronto or at least being top two at Toronto has got to be a goal for people who want to be on the team,” she says. “I’m really optimistic that we’re able to field three women to Tokyo.”

Kinsey Middleton: Strong and Free

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Dual-citizen and defending Canadian marathon champion embraces the maple leaf, and hopes to don it in Tokyo

Kinsey Middleton earned her red and white stripes when she broke away from competition at last year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, stopped the clock at 2:32:09, and earned the national crown. It was a first Canadian title for the then-25-year-old, in her debut in the race distance.

Middleton threw down nearly perfect splits and crossed the finish line with relative ease, after notoriously exclaiming “This is so much fun!” near the 16K marker while running alongside Leslie Sexton and pacer Natasha Wodak. Murphy’s Law, which especially holds true for young, first-time marathoners, clearly did not apply to the Boise, Idaho native.

“I have been dreaming of being an Olympian since I was in kindergarten.”

That was the beauty of Middleton’s 2018 performance: it seemed effortless, her step up to the marathon almost serendipitous (barely a year prior, she focused on the 1,500m.) But the honeymoon is over now, judgment day is approaching, and the stakes at this year’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon are higher than ever. Not only does Middleton have a title to defend, she gets to chase a long-time dream: Tokyo.

“I have been dreaming of being an Olympian since I was in kindergarten,” says Middleton, from her home in Boise, “and I knew at a really young age I could choose the country for which I would try to compete.”

Middleton has never lived in Canada, but she represented the country for the first time at the 2018 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships. Her grandmother currently lives in Guelph, and her grandfather in Nova Scotia. This fall, Middleton is eager to show her nation of heritage to her husband for the first time, a nation for which she grows fonder every year.

“As soon as I made the decision that I wanted to run for Canada,” she says, “it feels like home every time I go. Even though I don’t live there, I feel such a sense of pride. Representing Canada internationally would be my dream come true.”

To make that happen, the Oregon State and Idaho graduate plans on showing up in Toronto and the marathon trials more prepared than ever: she has ramped up her training, adjusted her lifestyle… and made sure to brush up on her Canadian trivia (more on that later).

The training

“Physically, I feel different this year than last. I am averaging around 120 miles (roughly 195km) and my highest week has been around 130 (roughly 210 km.) It’s hard because you want to play the comparison game. My coach has made the workouts harder this year, so that I don’t get caught comparing. A big test effort we will do a few weeks out is 7 x 5km at marathon pace. Last year, I ran that workout at the exact same pace as I did the marathon, so I think it will be a great indicator of what’s possible.

Mentally, I think just having the experience, I’m going in knowing what to expect. Sure, the pressure is greater for having won last year, and the field is more stacked this year because it’s the (Olympic) trials, but I think I know better what I can accomplish this year. Last year, my coach did such a good job telling me “this is your first marathon, it is not going to be your best marathon.” So, now, I’m nervous, but excited for the next ones.”

The lifestyle

“I used to train full time, and wanted to balance it with something. After the (Canadian trials) marathon last year, I started working at a holistic medicine office in Idaho. I used to work at the office, but it was hard to balance with running. I felt like I had to do it all. So I asked my employers if I could work from home, and they were so supportive. They said “we really want to have an Olympian working here!” So I manage to balance work and running. This year, my routine looks like this:

  • Wake up at 6:30 a.m.
  • A.M. run with my team (Idaho Distance Project)
  • Strength work at the gym for an hour
  • Work from home (also try to fit a nap in on the big mileage days)
  • P.M.: shakeout run around my neighbourhood trails
  • Make dinner—I love cooking big healthy meals so I have leftovers for lunches.
  • Walk my pups (Hank and Duke) with my husband in the park behind our house
  • Bedtime around 9 p.m.

I think I wasn’t doing as many of the “little things” in last year’s marathon build up. Specifically, I wasn’t doing the gym or strength work, which has made a big difference this time around. Also, taking the time to nap and rest is more of a priority this build up as well.

The Canada Quiz

Middleton says she still gets (friendly) flack from some of her competitors for being born and living across the border. So, we gave her the chance to prove her Canadian-ness by giving her a pop quiz.


 Who is Canada’s Prime minister?

Justin Trudeau (1 point)

Canada’s official animal

Not the Canadian goose… oh! The moose! (0 points – Correct Answer: Beaver)

What is the name of a one-dollar coin?

The Loonie! (1 point)

Name the Canadian who invented Basketball?

I don’t know… but that’s because I know nothing about basketball! (0 points – Correct Answer – James Naismith)

What is Canada’s national sport?

Curling… no! No, I know this: lacrosse! I knew it wasn’t hockey. (1 point)

Name of the person who invented the telephone

Bell, that was his last name (accepted – Alexander Graham Bell – 1 point)

Name of current Canadian marathon record holders?

Easy. Cam (Levins) and Rachel (Cliff) *bonus marks for being on first name basis with the record holders (1.5 points)

Number of provinces and territories?

Well, I could name you the provinces. Then there are two territories. Yukon and North West Territories. (0.5 points – Correct Answer, three territories)

Capital of Canada?

Ottawa (1 point)

 

(Photo by Pete Staples/USTA)

Name of the first Canadian to win a grand slam tennis title?

Bianca! (1 point)

Score:

8 out of 10 – Maple syrup in her veins!

Why Virginia Lee has run every single edition of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

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By Ravi Singh

In 2013, Virignia Lee was accepted into the Chicago Marathon via lottery. Given that Chicago is traditionally run a week or two before the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Virginia figured it was best to skip her hometown race.

That changed when the team at Canada Running Series informed her that, along with run streak legend Rick Rayman, Virginia was the only runner to have run every single edition of the event.

From that point, Virginia, a full-time personal trainer and fitness professional who divides her time between Toronto and Miami, has been fiercely protective of her distinction, going to any length to make sure she’s at the start line every October.

Virginia will keep her streak going this year as part of her goal of running 50 marathons by age 50. The 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be #47.

Why her record matters

“I know I don’t look like the typical marathoner or the kind of person who would hold any kind of marathon record. I want people to see that even if you don’t fit the stereotype of a hardcore runner, it can still be done. I like that the Toronto Waterfront Marathon has given me this recognition and that I can be a representative of Toronto’s diversity in running.

You also hear that the older you get, the more you’ll get injured, but I want to show that it’s not true.”

“Another big difference was that instead of a timing chip in your bib, you ran with a velcro strap around your ankle.”

What’s changed

“The first year, CRS had a table at the Sporting Life store near Yonge and Lawrence where I filled out a form in-person. I’m pretty sure I also paid cash.

I can remember at my second time participating, there were only a few hundred of us running. I didn’t want to sign up too early and risk not being able to run because of injury, but back then I was able to register in-person on race day and collect my kit. Another big difference was that instead of a timing chip in your bib, you ran with a velcro strap around your ankle.

I’ve collected over 20 Waterfront Marathon shirts, most of which I gave to my mother-in-law. In those years, the shirts didn’t have a unique design like they do now. But I loved the shirt from my second Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which was the only one that was primarily cotton.”

What she’s risked

“Maybe it’s selfish, but last year I missed a friend’s wedding for the marathon. Most of my closest friends and family have come to accept that I think of this as my race and they don’t question it.

Two years ago, I ran even though I was strongly advised not to. I sprained my ankle and had to DNF a race that was meant to be a tune up. I did physio and tried to recover as much as possible, but still had to go super slow and was definitely not 100%. After the marathon, there was no racing for the rest of the fall and following spring.”

Virginia’s tips for longevity

“It took a long time for me to consider myself a runner. Running was always a small part of what I did, but I was definitely always a gym rat and that’s probably what’s kept me running for so long. Every runner should weight train and cross train.”

Dylan Wykes on the joys of coaching, the process over the end result, and racing on his own terms

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Dylan Wykes says his best running years were in 2011 and 2012. It was right around this time that the Kingston, Ont. native transitioned into a full-time runner, moving from Vancouver to Flagstaff, Arizona at the end of 2011 to train at high altitude. In 2012, Wykes ran 2:10:47 at the Rotterdam Marathon, finishing seventh overall. The time ranked as the second fastest in Canadian history (he’s since fallen back to fourth, behind Cam Levins, Jerome Drayton, and Reid Coolsaet) and qualified him for the 2012 London Olympics. Wykes miraculous season continued with a 20th place finish at the Olympics in a respectable time of 2:15:26. But then his success came to an abrupt stop.

“The years leading up to [the Olympics] were really hard on my body, and to qualify for London, I had to do three marathons in pretty quick succession,” he says. “They just took a toll on my body.” After the 2012 Olympics, Wykes ended up with a stress fracture in his pelvis, crippling his meteoric rise. He spent the next four years chasing after results, but the injury would flare up, forcing him to deal with the repercussions.

Wykes racing in Toronto in 2011, trailing behind Eric Gillis, and Wykes, Gillis, Reid Coolsaet and Rob Watson at the 2007 Canadian Cross-Country Championships

Wykes ramped up his training again in 2016, taking a crack at the Rio Olympics, but the attempt fell short, leaving him disillusioned with his career as a competitive runner. Instead, he devoted himself to coaching.

“I would love to make another Olympic team. I won’t deny saying that.”

Back in 2012, after the London Olympics, Wykes connected with an old, Ottawa running buddy of his, Mike Woods (you may have recently seen him competing in the Tour de France, as he has transitioned to a career as a pro cyclist). Woods was coaching a group of local athletes and asked if Wykes wanted to get involved. Together, the two created Mile2Marathon, a personal coaching service.

The Mile2Marathon crew (with Wykes far right) in Ottawa.

“The idea is to work with people of all ability levels,” Wykes says. “We build on our experience as athletes and try to help other runners by sharing that experience. We put a lot of time and energy into building a community to give people of all ability levels an opportunity to train with other people and have something that they can enjoy.” Not to mention coaching from some of Canada’s top runners. The service boasts four Olympians and multiple Canadian champions in a range of events.

After missing out on the 2016 Olympics, Wykes put his own running on the back burner. “I kind of took a step back,” he says. “I didn’t have the drive.” Instead, Wykes turned his attention to building up Mile2Marathon, which he admits “was a bit all consuming.” Occasionally, he would still go out for runs to maintain the lifestyle, but they were rare. “Sometimes I’d go a couple months without training.”

“I started running again every day and it was just something that I enjoyed.”

In 2018, however, when Wykes, along with his wife and two daughters, packed up their lives and moved from Vancouver to Ottawa, there was a sudden change in his outlook towards running. “When we moved to Ottawa last year, I was kind of reinvigorated to get back into it,” he says. “I had a bit more time where I could just focus on myself. I started running again every day and it was just something that I enjoyed. I started doing some workouts and started doing some races again.”

Although Wykes didn’t expect a second wind in his running career, he’s training hard and is slotted to race at this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October. “I love that it’s the Canadian Championships; I love that it’s a race that Alan Brookes has put on for years,” he says. “I’ve raced it a couple times in the past, so I’m really excited to compete. I think Alan’s got a great line-up of Canadians in the race. Some young guys. Some old guys like myself and Reid, and some guys in between.” Wykes will be joined by 25 of his own Mile2Marathon athletes racing in either the marathon or half-marathon.

During the race, Wykes’ main goal is to stay competitive. He wants to finish as high up among the Canadian racers as possible. While he is reluctant to admit it, the idea of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is knocking at the back of his mind. “I would love to make another Olympic team. I won’t deny saying that.”

But Wykes isn’t sure he’s quite ready to hit the Olympic standard yet, and even if he was, this whole comeback is about avoiding pressure and enjoying the process. “I’ve tried to go about the last year or so without putting many expectations on myself and just enjoy the process as they say. It’s been something where I’ve really enjoyed…I don’t know what you’d call it, this last phase of my competitive running career.”

Dylan Wykes running career by the numbers

• Running for Frontenac Secondary School, Wykes won a number of OFSAA Championships, including 3,000m titles in 2000 and 2001 ( he admits that often, however, he would lose to fellow Olympian Nate Brennan).

• In 2002, he won the National Junior Cross Country Championships.

• After high school, he competed for Providence College in Rhode Island

• In 2003, he finished 49th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

• In 2004, he finished 15th in the 3,000m at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

• In 2004, he ran 7:58 for 3,000m in Boston.

• In 2008, he finished third at the North American, Central American, and Caribbean Cross Country Championships.

• In 2009, he finished second at the North American, Central American, and Caribbean Cross Country Championships.

• In 2010, he won the California International Marathon in a time of 2:12:39.

• In 2011, he ran 28:12 for 10,000m at Stanford University.

• In 2011, he ran 13:43 for 5,000m in Eugene, Ore.

• In 2011, he ran the NYC Half in 1:02:14, finishing 11th (two spots ahead of Reid Coolsaet, and less than two minutes back from Olympic medallists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp).

• In 2011, he finished sixth at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in a time of 2:12:56.

• In 2012, he finished sixth at the Rotterdam Marathon in 2:10:47 (the fourth fastest Canadian time ever recorded).

• In 2012, He finished 20th at the London Olympic Marathon in 2:15:26, the top Canadian.