The Canadian Marathon Trials, Explained

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For the first time in a very long time, Canada is getting proper Olympic Trials marathon race to see who could be going to Tokyo next summer. The 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will do double duty, hosting many of the best distance runners in Canada, all vying for a slot. The trials are designed to significantly help Athletics Canada’s National Team Committee (NTC) decide which Canadian marathoners will get to represent the maple leaf in Tokyo next summer.

The key word here is help.

Winning the trials does not necessarily guarantee one’s seat on the plane to Japan. More layers are involved, and we’ll explain them here. Getting on the national team is actually a pretty confusing task, and we’ll do our best to unpack it for you.

Here, we answer the key questions runners and fans might have about the qualification process for the marathon at the 2020 games:

Does the Canadian marathon trials winner get to go to Tokyo?

Short answer:

Not necessarily.

Long answer:

An athlete who wins the Canadian marathon trials AND achieves the Tokyo qualification standard during the period of Jan. 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020 will be named to the team. So, if the winner of the trials does not satisfy the standard set out by the IAAF (the international governing body of the sport), they must wait and see how the next several months unfold for them, and others (more on that in a bit).

What’s the standard?

To obtain standard, an athlete must achieve at least one of these feats:

◦ A marathon time faster than 2:29:30 (women) or 2:11:30 (men)

◦ A top-10 finish at this year’s IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha

◦ A top-five finish at an IAAF Gold Label marathon (that includes Toronto)

◦ A top-10 finish at a Marathon Major Series Race, which includes:

▪ Tokyo
▪ Boston
▪ London
▪ Berlin
▪ Chicago
▪ New York

So, a runner who wins in Toronto this fall, provided they achieve the qualification standard, will be selected to race in Tokyo. But, winning in Toronto without having achieved the standard is not enough to make the team.

What happens to the other athletes? Who else can qualify?

Up to six Canadian marathoners (three women and three men) may be selected onto Team Canada. The full team is named at the final nomination meeting on July 2, 2020. Here is how athletes who did not win the marathon trials can get chosen:

• An athlete who does not win the Canadian marathon trials but achieves the standard during the aforementioned qualification period will be nominated as an additional athlete. This athlete may eventually be selected to compete in Tokyo.

• Additional athletes are named to the team after the national marathon trials champions are named to the team (provided they have achieved standard).

• In the event that there are more additional athletes than spots available on the team, the NTC will rank the additional athletes in the order they are likely to finish at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the Marathon. The following criteria will help guide the NTC’s decision:

◦ Current form and fitness
◦ Proven ability to perform on demand
◦ Finishing position at the 2020 Trials; and
◦ Recent head-to-head record against other athletes under consideration.

Is that all?

Probably, but perhaps not.

The Hail Mary:

The IAAF publishes a full list of athletes who have achieved the qualification standard for Tokyo. They then look at what would happen if each country would select their maximum number of qualified athletes (Canada’s maximum number is three.) If fewer than 80 athletes are on that list, athletes closest to IAAF standard will be added, so that the list reaches 80 names. The Canadian Trials winner will qualify for Tokyo if he or she appears on the extended version of the list, despite not having the qualification standard.

Michal Kapral’s history of oddball records

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By Ravi Singh

The Kid

There are lots of ways to process the magnitude of the marathon. Of course, there’s the official distance of 42.195km. That’s roughly 105 laps around a standard track. Various forums across the internet place the step count at anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 steps.

At the 2017 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, local runner Michal Kapral also had to factor in approximately 130,000 tosses and catches. In support of the Sick Kids Foundation, Kapral went after the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon run while juggling five balls.

“I do serious things in my life, but I like to keep that kid inside me alive.”

Kapral had luck at STWM in the past. In 2004, he set the record for fastest marathon run while pushing a stroller (2:49:43), which he followed up with the joggling world record the next year with a time of 3:01:41. He’d subsequently best his own record, including with a 2:50:12 at STWM 2007, which still stands as the joggling marathon record.

To those who might ask Kapral the basic question of “Why?” his response would be, “I’ve always liked to do things that are different and that’s followed me most of my life. I don’t really like to grow up. I do serious things in my life, but I like to keep that kid inside me alive.”

Dropping the Ball

In all previous attempts, Kapral juggled three balls, which he insists is actually quite intuitive and gels well with the mechanics of running. In 2016, he even joggled the entire Chicago Marathon in 2:55 without dropping a single ball.

From the very beginning, however, Kapral says there were signs that he was approaching his “Icarus moment” with the 5-ball attempt. Before his marathon attempt, the longest recognized joggling world record was 5K, set my Matthew Feldman 2011.

“There was definitely a high chance of failure, but I felt I had a 50/50 shot at the record.”

“I knew there were going to be drops, but I thought I could get to the point where I could comfortably run 400m without dropping any balls,” Kapral explains, but adds, “I was lucky if I could even get to 100.” Add to that the fact that most of his training was done on a quiet street near his home or around a track.

With no shorter races under his belt and an admittedly rough training cycle, Kapral still felt, “There was definitely a high chance of failure, but I felt I had a 50/50 shot at the record.”

At the start, Kapral recalls, “I was in an absolute panic. I tried to stay at the front of the slowest corral, but a few runners shimmied in front of me and I was squished right in. I never had that experience while training.” In a race with thousands of others, the 5-ball pattern also acted as a visual obstruction.

From there, it only got worse, almost comically so. Kapral recounts, “Around 2K into the race, I pulled a muscle in my hand, which has never happened. It started as a tweak and then got progressively worse.” The second 5K of the race took Kapral 56 minutes.

Joggler Out

Then the cameras from the race’s online broadcast arrived. It’s one thing to be suffering on the course in front of spectators, but quite another in front of a global audience. The cameras lingered on Kapral at the 16K mark, capturing drop after drop after drop, each one requiring him to step back to the drop point and start again. He eventually puts both hands on his waist and looks down at the ground, clearly crestfallen. At this point, he had been running and juggling for nearly four hours.

At 17K, Kapral had enough. At the insistence of pacer Zach Warren, a fellow joggler and former world record holder, the pair were still going to finish the marathon as regular runners within the six hour limit. That required them to negative split the race by two hours.

“The crowd kept me going and later in the race there were few spectators. The crowd was essentially the volunteers and they were just incredible as well as the other runners,” Kapral remembers. Together, he and Warren came in just under the six hour limit. “I would have loved to come into the finish breaking a record, but at that point I was just another runner and it still felt great,” Kapral concludes.

Laugh It Off

The man who has won races and runs marathons significantly faster than the average runner while juggling barely avoided finishing dead last that day.

In 2017, STWM was a debacle, but it’s also been the site of Kapral’s greatest victories and he acknowledges both as special. Even if the 5-ball record wasn’t meant to be, Kapral says he wouldn’t trade the experience of branching out of his comfort zone.

“It’s a matter of committing to a goal you set out no matter how crazy it might seem.”

“You often wonder why you’re doing certain things and why you can’t just be a normal runner, so I contemplated that a good bit as I trained,” Kapral says. He concluded, however, “It’s a matter of committing to a goal you set out no matter how crazy it might seem. I loved the training even if it was frustrating and I didn’t get as good as I expected, it was a ton of fun.”

Zach Warren, Kapral’s pacer in 2017, has studied laughter as part of his PhD, and Kapral says he’s very much into making people smile, an endeavour at which he succeeds on every run.

That’s perhaps the element of play that’s central to Kapral’s whole joggler persona. Like a child first learning to kick or throw a ball, the process itself is as amusing as anything and brings as much joy as mastering the skill. That’s the marathon–a place where adults can still play. If Kapral were to worry about embarrassment or perfection, that would mean growing up. Like a kid, perhaps he’ll also never learn. Kapral is currently chasing a 5-ball record at the 10K.

Put a Ring on It! 30th Anniversary Shirt Reveal

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Last night, at the Downtown Yonge St. Running Room, over 50 runners filled the bustling location to witness the unveiling of the 30th anniversary Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon shirt design.  

Race shirts are an important part of the experience for runners. Not only does the shirt act as a form of recognition, but it also lives on to represents the accomplishment as they continue using the technical tee to train for future races.  Many friendships in the running community have started with an excited, “Hey, I ran that race, too!…”

Jessica (wearing the half-marathon shirt) and Richard (wearing the training shirt).


To kick off the evening National Event Director, Charlotte Brookes, said a few words on the history of the marathon. On behalf of Alan, she fondly remembered when Canada Running Series started out as the Coors Light series (a “six pack of races”). 30 years later we are lucky to be celebrating milestone after milestone, thanks to our dedicated community.  

New Balance athlete, Jessica Kuepfer, also described her positive experience returning to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon each year. This is a huge compliment coming from someone who, as she jokingly put it, “doesn’t like to repeat races”.  

Next up, Richard Kuchinsky (Directive Collective), said a few words on the inspiration behind his designs: 

This year’s race shirt is a special one… as an anniversary race year, it is also the first metallic print on a technical shirt in the history of the race! 

Photo by Edison Yao.

The full marathon shirt design.

The designs are as follows: gold on black for the full marathon, silver on black for the half, and silver on red for the 5K.

The design features 30 rings, for the 30th anniversary of one of Canada’s best IAAF Gold Label Marathons.

These rings represent the waves of the waterfront course and the energy that emanates from a runner’s core focus. As every runner knows, a runner’s strength comes from this inner center; your core is what allows us to push through when the race gets hard.

Our training, and the unique reasons why each of runs, is part of this core that pushes us forward from the heart through the legs.

Integrated into these rings is the word TORONTO. Just as the city itself is part of what makes the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon special. 

The letters, like the course, the neighborhoods and the other runners, are all connected and integral components of this special event.

And to mark the occasion, every shirt also features a special 30th Edition badge.

The group run, paused for a quick photo at the TORONTO sign.


And with that, the shirts were revealed, and the runners took off on their respective, celebratory runs (routes and direction courtesy of the Running Rats run crew).

Sound like fun? Join us in celebrating this classic Toronto event on October 20th, 2019.  

Shirts will be available for pickup at the Health and Wellness Expo for registered runners only.  

Register for the marathon, half-marathon, and 5K runs here More information available on and @TOwaterfront42K  


 Photo credit for all photos: Edison Yao

Why Natasha Wodak Only Ran that One Marathon in 2013

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This fall, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will celebrate its 30th anniversary. In the lead up to this fall’s marathon weekend, we look back at stories of past runners of all ability levels who have had breakthroughs on the streets of Toronto. This week, one of Canada’s greatest distance runners, Natasha Wodak, on her single marathoning experience.

At the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Natasha Wodak ran one of the fastest marathon debuts by a Canadian woman, posting a 2:35. On the same day that Lanni Marchant and Krista DuChene both bested Sylvia Ruegger’s longstanding national record, it appeared that Wodak would be another contender on the Canadian marathoning scene.

Wodak, however, never ran another marathon.

“Before 2013, I hadn’t really had a big breakthrough in running. I hadn’t made any national teams or done anything to make people say, ‘Wow, that girl’s good!’” Wodak says. Still uncertain of where she’d find her focus within running, Wodak was also in need of a distraction as she navigated heavy professional personal changes: a new coach, as well as a divorce.

“I hope I don’t poop my pants,” Wodak remembers thinking with a minute to go before gun time. She and training partner Chris Napier had a plan that would bring them across the finish in 2:35, but the anxiety was rife, as it had been throughout her training.

Wodak and Lanni Marchant running the 10,000m at the 2016 Olympic Games

“There were so many difficulties in training. I was exhausted and didn’t consider the toll it was going to take,” Natasha says, also acknowledging that training wasn’t the quick fix she hoped it would be for the pain of a divorce. Instead, it was often another stressor when Natasha had quite enough of those in her life.

“There were many days when those long runs were exactly what I needed.”

As late as September, one month out from race day, Wodak expressed doubts about whether she’d race. Her coach took the pressure off and gave her reassurance that one race wasn’t do or die. If need be, Natasha’s marathon debut could be postponed.

There were, however, moments of reprieve and joy. While in Nice, France for the Francophone Games, Natasha and Chris ran 35K along the southern coast to Cannes accompanied by Olympic steeplechaser Chris Winter and accomplished marathoner Rejean Chiasson. “Rejean and Chris rented these bikes with little baskets on them and took us the whole way. We had lunch in Cannes before taking the train back to Nice. It was one of the best runs of my life,” Natasha recalls. “There were many days when those long runs were exactly what I needed.”

The marathon, consuming as it is, can’t overpower life’s other challenges. It can, however, be its own channel of discovery for a stronger, happier self. “I had never run so much in my life and you have to learn to do that grind. I never had to go on the track and feel like you were hit by a truck,” Natasha says. Training forced her to get tough and learn to move through adversities that weren’t going to go away easily.

The self-proclaimed fierce and passionate runner was honest with herself following the marathon. “I missed being on the track. I love racing and you don’t get to do that much when your focus is on the marathon,” Natasha admits. She left the marathon behind, but took the toughness and resilience she picked up in training forward with her. “I love racing and you don’t get to do that much when you’re focusing on the marathon,” Natasha adds.

With all the lore and prestige of the marathon and the pressure that must have come with an impressive debut, Natasha did something that many might have found impossible and stayed true to herself.

Was the experience worth it? “100 per cent!” Natasha exclaims. “I remember crying at the finish line out or relief that I managed to get through that build,” Natasha recalls. She executed the game plan and even posted the fastest final kilometre among the women’s field. “You have to do the things that scare you. When you’re done, you’re just like, ‘Wow!’”

Since that one and only marathon, Wodak has made multiple national teams, including the Olympics, and set the current national record at the 10,000m. With one marathon, Natasha took all that she needed from the experience to become an even better runner.

Cam Levins Has 3 Big Goals for the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

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Cameron Levins is sitting at the head of the table, relaxed.

The Canadian marathon record holder is jointed by a small group of journalists for an informal luncheon in downtown Toronto after running the Lululemon Toronto 10k a couple days earlier. Everyone at the table introduces themselves, and Levins takes the final turn. He hesitates and then says, “Well, I’m Cameron Levins, and… you’re here because of me.” Everyone laughs, and not because they feel they are supposed to, but because no one expected Levins to be so forthright, and, quite frankly, funny. He gets right down to business after his awkward-turned-charming self-introduction. His real reason for being at the front of the table: that he will be returning to Toronto this fall for the marathon, and that he has a bold goal in mind.

The 30-year-old has come a long way in what has already been a career filled with perhaps the most extreme highs, and lows, of any Canadian distance runner in history. In 2012, the unheralded kid from Black Creek, B.C. single-handedly put Southern Utah University on the NCAA map, winning a pair of track championships, and doing legendarily massive mileage in the process. Levins became a folk hero to running nerds by crushing 300+ km weeks, and then legitimized his talent by making the Canadian Olympic team, doubling in the 5,000m and 10,000m in London. He finished a promising 11th overall in the longer event. It seemed like Levins was destined for greatness on the track.

Levins with Canada Running Series head Alan Brookes

He was then invited to join Nike’s Oregon Project, considered perhaps the most prestigious training group in the world, training along side Galen Rupp and Mo Farah. After a few rocky years in Portland, Levins didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics, and was left with a destroyed foot, needing significant surgery to repair the damage. “I didn’t know if I would ever run again in a meaningful way,” Levins now admits. Nike moved on from him, yet he decided to remain in Oregon, and return to his university coach, doing periodic training camps at altitude in Utah. Many in the room wouldn’t admit it, but they probably had Cam Levins written off after his fall from greatness. The same worshippers of Levins legendary triple days (he still does them) and marathons-in-training, now turned to the message boards to declare Levins washed up, before ever getting the chance to try his fitness out in a real marathon.

Levins digs into a burger. He ordered it with fries and not the optional house salad, as he’s about to embark on another extremely high-volume season of marathon training. Two days prior, he competed in the Lululemon 10K, which features a chunk of the marathon course. He refers to the 10K as a “rust buster” and seems un-phased that he placed fifth against competition he should be able to easily beat (Levins once held the 10,000m national record), and that it “didn’t feel easy.” But this is a different Cameron Levins. He is the marathon record holder, and, perhaps more importantly, he has found his way back to running on his terms.

Levins being interviewed by journalist Ben Kaplan

Levins’ fall from what could have been the apex of his career began in 2015, with a disappointing Pan Am Games performance, coincidentally, also in Toronto. From there, he began to have serious foot issues, that he at first ignored. Finally, after failing to make the Rio team, having a surgery that left a screw in his foot, and then getting dropped by Nike, he was forced to face himself in a manner he now admits helped him become a better runner, and possibly a better person. “I’d put everything in my entire life into becoming what I was, and I then had to accept that my identity might be taken away from me.” At home in Portland, and without a clear future in the only thing he ever wanted to do, Levins had to rebuild himself, and start thinking about what life could be like beyond running. At first, a terrifying prospect, and then a freeing one.

Levins says that search and self-discovery—and not the comeback or the jaw-dropping marathon debut (2:09:25 and a definitive new national record)—is what has redefined him and his new-found ability to run with freedom and confidence, regardless of the particular outcome of one race. There is both a grace and a calm to Levins today, as he chats with a journalist about buying a new home in Portland with his wife, and settling in for another season of that legendary training (he still likes to triple, and still piles on massive weeks, now with lots of marathon pace effort). That comfort was on display last October, when Levins first followed a pacer, then took control of his race solo in the latter stages, patiently dolling out increased levels of intensity as he ran down Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old record.

When asked about his plans for his second marathon, this fall on the streets of Toronto, he pauses and muses for a moment. Yes, he acknowledges that he plans on using the fact that it’s a key qualifying race for Tokyo in order to get back to the Olympics, this time as a marathoner. And he also feels he can lower his own national record. But there is something else. “I’m feeling way better than I was a year ago going into marathon training,” he laughs. “This time in Toronto, I’d like to be right there towards the end of the race, in a position to go for the overall win. I want to see if I can win Toronto. That would be special.”

A bold new vision for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

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This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. A part of why the race has not only endured but thrived is because it has grown and changed with the running community.

We are going to make this year’s marathon something truly special, and that begins with a bold new look.

We’re proud to unveil the new Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon identity. We’ve created a new logo, tagline and standalone social media accounts, which will focus on telling your stories as you prepare for this year’s race weekend. You can find them all right here in the coming days, weeks and months leading up to Oct. 20.

“There is no other sport where the first timer stands amongst the world’s best. They stand as equals on a level playing field.”

We’ve teamed with Origin, the Whistler/Montreal-based agency that specializes in outdoor sports to create a representation of both the marathon’s identity and what it means to bring together thousands of runners to celebrate what we do in Toronto each October.

First of all, we were super excited about this project,” says Isabelle Philippe, the lead designer on the project. “There is no other sport where the first timer stands amongst the world’s best. They stand as equals on a level playing field. We’re going to draw on the essence of the race, the inner fire it sparks in its participants, and the significance it has to Toronto.”

“We resonated with this idea that for those running, this is our city, but it’s the moment that belongs to each and every participant.”

Philippe, along with Origin teammate Lenka Prochazka, focused on a refresh that would be fun, avoid the cliches of many running logos and stand out as representative of the event, the running community and the city.

Celebrating a diverse city and running community

“When you look at it, you see the flow of the “T.O.” lettering,” says race director and founder Alan Brookes. “It represents the flow of how and why people run, of collective movement—how the running community has grown by embracing many different types of people.” Brookes points out that when they moved the course to encompass much of the waterfront in 2000 (and thus taking on its namesake), they knew that the city would evolve down to the lakeshore.

In 2018, the marathon drew runners from 76 countries, and was livestreamed in 146 countries. “I’m not sure if there’s another event in the city that puts Toronto on the world stage to that extent,” says Brookes.

The running community has changed immensely over the past 30 years. The race consciously worked to stay relevant, both to the shifts in what the race experience can be, but also to the community. Our new tagline, “Our Place, Your Moment” and its corresponding hashtag #ItsYourMoment reflects this. “We resonated with this idea that for those running, this is our city, but it’s the moment that belongs to each and every participant,” says the Origin team. “A moment months in the making. A moment shared with 25,000 others on the same path of self-discovery.”

“We are runners which is why this was such a good fit for us at Origin,” says Philippe. “Two of us ran a half-marathon together last fall in Montreal and experienced the joy of training together, running together as colleagues and sharing in the highs and lows of those moments. We also felt really connected to our city in that race. We saw parts of it that we’d only ever driven through, we saw the power of the cheer stations to keep us going when the muscles hurt, we felt the importance of the branding as a pride factor in wearing the T-shirt post race.”

A new social identity for the Marathon

For the first time, the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon will have its very own standalone Twitter, Facebook and Instagram presence as well.

Be sure to follow @TOWaterfront42K as we tell your story in the lead up to race weekend this October: