Road To The Olympic Games

'Smart decisions' led to Canadian Rachel Cliff's strong debut marathon

Rachel Cliff executed her debut marathon to perfection on Sunday in Berlin, says head coach Richard Lee, who believes training for the 42.2-kilometre run should only help the Vancouver runner remain competitive on the world stage in the 10,000 metres.

Vancouver runner missed national record by 53 seconds after setting half marathon mark in March

Vancouver's Rachel Cliff clocked two hours 28 minutes 53 seconds in her debut marathon at Berlin on Sunday, finishing 11th among women and 53 seconds shy of Lanni Marchant’s national record of 2:28:00 from 2013. (Twitter/@AthleticsCanada)

When Richard Lee noticed Rachel Cliff running "relaxed and easy" during a 25-kilometre tempo run in training, the longtime track coach was convinced she was ready for the next step.

Five weeks later, the Vancouver distance runner debuted in the marathon, leading a group of five Canadians in Berlin in two hours 28 minutes 53 seconds on Sunday for 11th place among women, finishing less than a minute shy of Lanni Marchant's national record of 2:28:00 from 2013.

Cliff, 30, shattered Marchant's Canadian mark in the half marathon (1:10:08) in early March at Woodlands, Texas, a result that left both athlete and coach striving for more.

They relied on Cliff's track and field fitness — she completed her track season in the 10,000 metres at the NACAC championships a month ago in Toronto — during a short build for the 42.2 km Berlin Marathon.

Rachel Cliff averaged three minutes 30 seconds per kilometre in Sunday's race. "I get a sense she can go a long way at that effort level," says Cliff's coach, Richard Lee. (Twitter/@alnbrookes)

"She made smart decisions rather than press the pace," Lee said of Cliff's performance in the German capital. "It sounds as though the wheels came off for her around 38 kilometres but she managed the fatigue rather than fight to try to break the Canadian record."

Running in ideal conditions, Cliff averaged 3:30 per kilometre and executed her race plan to perfection, according to Lee.

"What stands out is how efficient she is at that pace," said the head coach of the BC Endurance Project. "We call it having great running economy, a smooth, fluid stride and not wasting energy. I get a sense she can go a long way at that effort level."

Watch Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge's journey to a world mark:

Watch the 2018 Berlin Marathon 1:39:39

Cliff admitted to being nervous at the thought of maintaining a 3:30 pace in a marathon but trusted Lee and early in the race chose to hang back rather than running a second or two faster.

"I didn't know how that would play out later in the race," she recalled. "At 35 kilometres it got pretty tough which, I think, is inevitable in your first marathon.

6 personal-best times in 2018

"My coach was very confident I could run under 2:32 as long as nothing went wrong and on a good day could run under 2:30, and that's what I set out to do. I think I was patient and that really paid off."

Cliff, who enjoyed pasta and pizza post-race in the company of her parents and husband/runner Chris Winter, is happy to not have to be fit for a while, with Lee adding she won't run another marathon for at least a year.

Including her half marathon and marathon efforts, Cliff's spectacular season featured six personal-best times. She also shone in the 5,000 (15:20.66), 5K (15:51), 8K (26:23) and 10K (32:23).

We believe she can still be very competitive on the world stage and this marathon should only help.— BC Endurance Project head coach Richard Lee on Rachel Cliff

She is spending this week in Prague with her parents before returning home. Cliff will resume training with an eye towards running the 10,000 at the world track and field championships in Doha, Qatar, next September. She raced the event four times in 2018 with a 31:56.86 PB at the Payton Jordan Invitational on May 3.

"We believe she can still be very competitive on the world stage and this marathon training should only help," said Lee, adding he would like to see Cliff lower her half marathon PB to under 1:10.

Averaging 145-153 km a week in her Berlin build, noted Cliff, should enhance her pain tolerance in longer races and "make the 10K feel a lot shorter."

With a good recovery from Berlin, she could compete at the Canadian cross-country championships on Nov. 24 in Kingston, Ont., which doubles as the Canadian trials for the 2019 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Denmark on March 30.

About the Author

Doug Harrison

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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