Track and Field

Canada's Rachel Cliff proud of consistency after half marathon, marathon records fall

Distance runner Rachel Cliff is looking ahead after her Canadian records in the half marathon and marathon were broken in Houston on Sunday. Consistency in the half could see the 2019 Pan Am bronze medallist reach another level in quick order, says her coach.

Tokyo Olympic hopeful shows well in Houston race ahead of altitude training camp

Rachel Cliff placed 23rd in Sunday's half marathon and watched fellow Vancouver resident Natasha Wodak break her Canadian record. Still, Cliff was encouraged by a fourth consistent performance in the half marathon in two years. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF/File)

Rachel Cliff could have relaxed Monday, dwelled on a race she didn't win and questioned why she's no longer the Canadian-record holder for women in the half marathon and marathon.

Instead, the determined distance runner happily boarded a plane to attend a second altitude training camp in two months in Flagstaff, Ariz., as part of her 2020 Olympic pursuit.

"I'm excited. I was also here for six weeks in November and December," Cliff told CBC Sports. "It's been nice to have the opportunity to utilize altitude training."

The 31-year-old raced in Houston on Sunday and in a matter of hours watched fellow Vancouver resident Natasha Wodak and Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, B.C., break her national records.

Wodak, 38, crossed the finish line in one hour nine minutes 41 seconds to become the first Canadian woman to eclipse the 70-minute mark for the half marathon. Last month, Cliff clocked 1:10:06 at the Sanyo Ladies' Half-Marathon in Okayama, Japan, beating her previous record of 1:10:08 she achieved in March 2018 in Woodlands, Texas.

Hopefully the results by others will be a wake-up call and three to four weeks [running] at altitude will get her over the hump.— BC Endurance Project coach Richard Lee on Rachel Cliff's Canadian records being broken
"It was interesting to be part of [Sunday's] race. Natasha and I were up front together during the first 15K [of 21.1] with some of the top American runners," said Cliff, who placed 23rd of 7,431 women's finishers in 1:10:13. "I'm proud to have been one of the Canadian contenders performing with some of the best athletes in North America."

While it wasn't the breakthrough performance Cliff was hoping for, she and her coach were impressed by a fourth consistent half marathon in two years after clocking 1:10:08, 1:10:28 and 1:10:06.

'Tough day'

"Usually, that [type of range] is a good sign that an athlete is ready to jump to a new level," Richard Lee of BC Endurance Project said. "Hopefully the results by others [on the weekend] will be a wake-up call [for Cliff] and three to four weeks at altitude will get her over the hump."

Wodak is confident Cliff isn't finished setting records in the half marathon and marathon.

"Rachel was so kind and gracious after [the race]," Wodak told Postmedia. "It was a tough day for her, to see both of her records be broken. We had lunch after. She's handling it very well."

Wodak is coming off a sensational 2019, winning the Canadian 10K and 10,000-metre championships along with a Pan Am gold medal at Peru in August and running a 5K PB of 15:36 on March 16, 2019 in Vancouver.

Natasha Wodak and Cliff finished first and third, respectively, in the 10,000-metre final at the 2019 Pan Am Games. Cliff has yet to reveal publicly if she'll pursue the 10,000 or marathon in her Olympic bid. (Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images/File)
Cliff has yet to publicly announce if she plans to pursue the marathon or 10,000 in her Olympic bid. In March 2019, she completed the Nagoya Women's Marathon in two hours 26 minutes 56 seconds in Japan, where she met the 2:29:30 Olympic qualifying standard and shattered Lanni Marchant's Canadian women's mark of 2:28:00 that stood since Oct. 20, 2013.

She's also a threat on the track in the 10,000 after finishing ninth in her Commonwealth Games debut in April 2018 and posting a 31:54.88 PB at the Payton Jordan Invitation last May in Palo Alto, Calif. Cliff later earned Pan Am bronze in the 10,000 and failed to qualify for the 5,000 final at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, as a late addition to Team Canada.

Elmore's story 'inspirational'

Elmore all but booked her spot on the 2020 Canadian Olympic squad by running 2:24:50 on Sunday, a full two minutes faster than Cliff's record. Not bad for the former 1,500 runner, 2004 Olympian and triathlete who debuted in the marathon a year ago at the same Houston race in a time of 2:32.15.

"Malindi's story and athletic background is truly inspirational," Cliff said. "She's always been an athlete I look up to and someone who's very kind and supportive towards other Canadian runners.

"It's really exciting to see Canadian running moving forward at such a fast rate. We had some strong performances on the men's side as well."

Top 100 Canadians in Houston

Half marathon: Rory Linkletter (15th), Cam Levins, the Canadian-record holder in the marathon (31st), Tristan Woodfine (41st), Phil Parrot-Migas (51st), Kevin Coffey (73rd), Chris Balestrini (76th) and Adam Hortian (78th).

Marathon: Trevor Dickie (85th) and Nick Kayler (97th).


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 Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc


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