Track and Field

Trevor Hofbauer overcomes cramp to successfully defend Canadian men's marathon title in Toronto

Trevor Hofbauer earned a second straight Canadian men's victory and third of his career at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday morning while fellow Kelowna, B.C., resident Malindi Elmore was the first Canadian woman to reach the finish line in her national marathon debut.

Fellow B.C. runner Malindi Elmore is Canada's top woman in national marathon debut

Trevor Hofbauer of Burnaby, B.C., repeated as Canadian men's champion at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday, completing the 42.2-kilometre race in two hours 11 minutes. The 30-year-old posted a 2:09:51 personal best at the 2019 event. (Alex Lupul/Canadian Press)

Trevor Hofbauer had nearly a four-second lead over fellow Canadian runner Rory Linkletter through 26 kilometres of Sunday's Toronto Waterfront Marathon when he felt a stomach cramp. Focused on breathing, he went one step at a time and fortunately the pain subsided quickly.

"It's easy to overreact and hit the brakes," he said hours later in a phone interview with CBC Sports. "Thankfully, it worked out."

It sure did as the native of Burnaby, B.C., earned a second straight victory and third of his career among elite Canadian men's runners at the World Athletics Elite Label road race that doubles as the national championships.

Hofbauer, running on his own for much of the final 10 km, pounded his chest three times with his right fist after the final turn of the 42.2 km race, blew a kiss and raised his right arm before reaching the finish line in two hours 11 minutes.

The 30-year-old was fifth overall on the men's side, topping his previous high of seventh from 2019 when Hofbauer set a 2:09:51 personal best to meet the 2020 Tokyo Olympic standard before COVID-19 wiped out in-person competition each of the next two years in Toronto. He was also top Canadian male in his 2017 Toronto Waterfront Marathon debut.

"The most painful of the three," Hofbauer said of Sunday's performance before having dinner with his cousin Nicole, who made the trip from Michigan. "I had a couple of rough patches in my training and I felt I was prepared enough to run this time today."

A month ago, he missed about a week of training to nurse a strained left quadriceps muscle. To compensate in hopes of avoiding a setback, Hofbauer "hit the gym hard" for two weeks to strengthen his body to handle the rigours of marathon running.

I felt like I was fighting the air for the last seven kilometres.— 3-time Canadian marathon men's champion Trevor Hofbauer on the physical challenges late in Sunday's race

Despite a healthy lead over Linkletter late in Sunday's race, it was never a sure bet the 2020 Olympian was guaranteed a win as the physical challenges took their toll on the first-year psychology student at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus in Kelowna, where he has lived since moving from Calgary in November 2021.

"The marathon is a humbling distance," said Hofbauer, who set the men's Canadian course record at the Boston Marathon on April 18 in a time of 2:10:52 to finish 15th. "After 35 kilometres [on Sunday] we were into that headwind a bit and my body was getting sore. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get my legs to move faster.

"I felt like I was fighting the air for the last seven kilometres."

Top 5 Canadian men

  • Trevor Hofbauer, 2:11:00
  • Rory Linkletter, 2:13:32
  • Mohamed Aagab, 2:15:19
  • Lee Wesselius, 2:16:51
  • Sergio Raez Villanueva, 2:18:04

On Oct. 29, Hofbauer will represent the UBCO Heat at the Canada West Championships in Langley, B.C., ahead of the Nov. 12 U Sports cross-country national championships in Halifax.

Long-term, qualifying for the men's marathon at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris is Hofbauer's top priority. His grandmother died the day before he flew to the Olympics in Japan in the summer of 2021, making it "impossible" to achieve his top-20 goal in Sapporo. Hofbauer placed 48th in 2:19:57 in his first Olympic marathon.

I'm looking forward to Paris ... and I'm going to do everything in my power to get there. I'm all-in.— Hofbauer on the 2024 Summer Olympics

"My grandmother was an incredible human being that I leaned on for the majority of my life," said Hofbauer, who wants to be an elementary school teacher. "She was a huge supporter of me, and it was a goal for the both of us to be on the Olympic stage. I really wanted her to watch it on TV.

"[Competing] didn't feel the same because I didn't have an opportunity to grieve and I was just trying to hold in my emotions for two weeks. Basically, the whole time I was there, I wanted to go home and deal with my loss.

"I'm looking forward to Paris," continued Hofbauer, who trains mostly on his own under the guidance of Richard Lee at BC Endurance Project. "I still have the belief in myself that I am a top-20 individual on the world stage, specifically at the Olympics, and I'm going to do everything in my power to get there. I'm all-in."

'I didn't come here to finish second'

The Calgary-born Linkletter, now based in the United States, was second among the elite Canadian men on Sunday. The 26-year-old stopped the clock in 2:13:32, an improvement from his 2:16:42 Toronto debut in 2019 but over three minutes off his 2:10:24 PB from this past summer at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore.

"I didn't come here to get second," he told Kate Van Buskirk of Canada Running Series. "I didn't feel good [around the 22 or 23 km mark] but my objective was to run the race. I put it out there until I couldn't to see if something [would change].

"I'm proud of my decision-making and it was a great way to celebrate a strong year."

Linkletter, who was joined in Toronto by his wife Jill and 14-month-old son Jason, opened his season in January taking down the Canadian men's half-marathon record in 1:01:08.

Meanwhile, Malindi Elmore, who coaches the UBCO cross-country squad, was the first elite Canadian woman to reach the finish on Sunday in 2:25:14, the second fastest of her five marathons and good for fourth overall in her debut Canadian marathon.

"So hard," is how the 42-year-old mother of two sons described the last five kilometres.

"There was a bit of uphill [running] and my calves and stomach started cramping," said the former 1,500-metre track runner and triathlete, who is coached by her husband Graham Hood, a former national record holder in the distance.

Elmore made her Olympic debut in 2004 and was 37th in Athens. She retired from professional running in 2012, only to return seven years later after reinventing herself as a marathon runner. In January 2020, she set the Canadian record in her second race, clocking 2:24:50 in Houston to clinch her spot on the Olympic team for Tokyo.

She placed ninth in Sapporo, the best Olympic marathon finish by a Canadian woman in a non-boycott Games.

Her time on Sunday fell two minutes shy of the national women's record her good friend Natasha Wodak lowered to 2:23:12 on Sept. 25 in Berlin.

"I think I'm in a good place to have a really strong next two years of being fit and healthy," Elmore, who was paced by Canadian coach and runner Kevin Coffey on Sunday, told CBC Sports last week. "Toronto is kind of a building block for the ultimate goal of [competing in] Paris.

"In the big picture of what I want my running legacy to look like, being able to have good performances and cap if off with a strong run [at the 2024 Olympics] is more important to me than chasing the record."

Top 5 Canadian women

  • Malindi Elmore, 2:25:14
  • Dayna Pidhoresky, 2:30:58
  • Sasha Gollish, 2:31:40
  • Victoria Coates, 2:39:09
  • Leanne Klassen, 2:42:53

Dayna Pidhoresky of Tecumseh, Ont., entered the weekend as defending Canadian women's champion and the Vancouver resident usually competes 10-12 times a year, but Sunday's race was only her third of 2022.

Her 2:30:58 performance was good for second to Elmore among Canadian women and seventh overall, but nearly two minutes slower than her previous Toronto marathon. The 35-year-old said she never felt great during the race.

"I was hoping to have that magic of 2019 [and] it was a bit of a comparison game in my mind, but I never felt I was running fast," said Pidhoresky.

"It was a character-building day. I wasn't on my A game but I was proud how strong I ran in the second half."

Yihunilign Adane of Ethiopia (2:07:18) and Antonina Kwambai of Kenya (2:23:30) were the overall men's and women's winners, respectively, and among a combined 22,000 participants in the 5K, half-marathon and marathon.

WATCH | Kwambai captures overall women's title in Toronto:

Kenya's Antonina Kwambai wins Toronto Marathon

4 months ago
Duration 1:08
The Kenyan raced to a personal best time of 2:23:22 to capture the title.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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