When race walker Evan Dunfee showed up to run the Fall Classic Half-Marathon in Vancouver on Sunday, it was all about having fun.
The 2016 Olympian wasn't in a position to talk about winning a road race, given he had run only 200 kilometres the previous six weeks, and wasn't in peak physical condition.
After his controversial fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics in August, Dunfee wanted to "mentally shut down" and try something different while maintaining a good fitness level.
Following a 10-day break after the Olympics, a race walking tour in China and five training sessions in September, the Richmond, B.C., native finished 38th at the B.C. Cross Country Championships in Nanaimo on Oct. 29.
"Mentally," Dunfee said over the phone from Vancouver, "it's been a huge break for me. It's been a lot of fun and refreshing. I'm really itching to get back into the high-performance demands of race walking but doing the running and setting goals that [don't include] winning Olympic medals helped rejuvenate me."
The fun on Sunday began with Dunfee being unrecognized while talking to competitor and eventual second-place finisher David Eikelboom from Whitehorse. Eikelboom wanted to run under one hour 10 minutes in the half-marathon while Dunfee, having a cavalier attitude, played along and said he would be satisfied with a time in the 1:13 range.
'I never expected to be recognized'
Dunfee, 26, told Eikelboom he would lead them on the course and try to cut some of the wind for his opponent, but six kilometres into the 21.1-km race, Dunfee began to pull away from Eikelboom. Dunfee ran the first 10 km in a personable best 33 minutes 46 seconds (3.22 per km) and the final 11.1 km in 36:57 (3:19) to post a winning time of 1:10:44.
"When we turned at five [km] we had someone [in the crowd] yell, 'Oh, that guy's an Olympian," recalled Dunfee, who broke Lanni Marchant's Canadian female half-marathon record of 1:10:47. "We both kind of laughed and Dave came up to me after the race and asked: 'What's your last name?'
"I never expected to be recognized. For me, the fact [Eikelboom] did piece things together was pretty cool. It shows how much progress our [race walking] event has made and how much I've been able to do for the event this year makes it pretty special."
Dunfee hadn't incorporated cross country and road races into his training schedule since running with the cross-country team at the University of British Columbia several years ago, and didn't run more than 50 km per month in the four years leading into Rio.
'With a better race, a better course, with some more training, I wonder what I would be capable of if I committed to this [full time].' — Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee on running half marathons
While the technique from race walking is automatic, Dunfee was forced to remind himself how to run on Sunday.
"I started feeling bouncy and had to focus on my technique. Every couple of minutes I would mentally check in how I felt and what that good feeling should be," said Dunfee, noting he experimented with changing the tilt in his hips and moving his neck back. "It was not the most efficient method but it worked."
Dunfee, whose Rio clocking of 3:41:48 is a Canadian record, performed well enough on the weekend to pique his curiosity.
"I think with a guy in front of me [in a half marathon] I could run maybe a minute quicker," said Dunfee, who ran Sunday's race at 156 pounds, 13 more than his race weight in Rio. "With a better race, a better course, with some more training, I wonder what I would be capable of if I committed to this [full time]. But I have bigger fish to fry."
Dunfee will return to regular training in December as he looks ahead to the world track and field championships next August in London, UK and the Commonwealth Games in April 2018.
"I was saying to my buddies [on Sunday] if I win gold [at the 2020 Olympics] in Tokyo then maybe I can take 2021 off [to run]," said Dunfee, who will fly to Australia in January for a six-week training camp. "I will have accomplished everything I want to accomplish with one sport.
"I could start to think about picking up another or maybe switch to winter sports and see how my cross-country skiing is."