Canada gets a close-up look at its marathon man this coming weekend at the Toronto Yonge Street 10 km, which is expected to attract a field of 7,500 runners less than 100 days out from the Olympics.
Reid Coolsaet, a 32 year-old Hamiltonian, is out to defend his title and fuel the hope that come London 2012, Canada can go the distance with the best of them in one of the spotlight events at the Games.
"I could walk away from the race happy without a win if I feel my fitness is where it needs to be," Coolsaet said, having just returned from weeks of high altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona. "Having said that it's hard not to compare the same race from the year before and competitively I want to win. There would be less doubt if I win."
There is almost no doubt that Coolsaet is at the forefront of a renaissance in Canadian men's distance running.
His first dalliance with the marathon came in 2009 and his time of 2:17:10 was good enough to win a national championship. At the IAAF World's in Berlin the same year he finished in 25th spot while teammate Dylan Wykes, originally from Kingston, wound up 33rd.
They were far from leaders of the pack.
Fast forward and in less than three years the two have made enormous strides.
On a blustery autumn day in Toronto, Coolsaet flirted with Jerome Drayton's 36-year old Canadian record of 2:10:09 and ended up with a time well within the Olympic qualifying standard. Coolsaet's 2:10:55 was achieved in adverse climactic conditions and in spite of the fact that he took a well publicized break to, "...have a dump," along the way.
Also that day Eric Gillis, Coolsaet's teammate at Speed River Track and Field Club in Guelph, beat the Olympic cutoff by less than a second. Add to that last week's effort by Dylan Wykes in Rotterdam, which saw the British Columbia resident run the second fastest marathon in Canadian history at 2:10:47.Record could fall
It means Canada will send three men to the marathon at the Olympics for the first time since 1996 in Atlanta. It also suggests that Drayton's record, which is the oldest national athletics mark still on the books, is clearly in danger of falling at long last.
"Seeing as we've run the second, third and seventh-fastest marathons in Canadian history in the past six months it looks like we're getting closer," Coolsaet reasoned. "Close doesn't count though and we'll still need improvement or perfect conditions and a solid race to get it done. Always much easier said than done, especially when we only get one or two shots a year."
It's all in the preparation according to Coolsaet. He's put in the work and the endless hours on the road. Recently he's logged 180 kilometres a week while drawing on the physiological benefits of living and training at 7,000 feet above sea level. He's also made a trip to Kenya for an extended period of time to try and match the modern gods of distance stride for stride.
"Going to Kenya is always a great experience. I came away from that training camp fit and motivated," said the Canadian champion. "Knowing that the best marathoners in the world are doing similar training as we do at Speed River gives me confidence."
Not that he needs any confidence.
Reid Coolsaet is known to be gutsy and won't back away from any challenge. But as he gears up for the Olympics he welcomes the chance to race close to home.
"I love competing in big races in Canada," he mused. "Hearing people cheering for me always helps when I'm digging hard and hurting."
Reid Coolsaet got beyond the hurt a long time ago.
Now he's in it for the payoff to the pain and Canada's running man aims to lead the Maple Leaf charge wire to wire in London this summer.
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