What an incredible day at the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM). It was the 30th anniversary, Canadian Championships, and Canadian Tokyo 2020 Marathon Trials. I’m going to be bold to say it was the distance race of the year for Canada.
I’ll do a brief recap on the overall winners of the race because this is about CANADIANS. And I’m going to start with the women’s side because I’m tired of always first seeing men’s results. Magdelyne Masai-Robertson, aka “Mags,” struggled getting to Canada from Kenya due to visa issues and then a missed flight. But it didn’t matter. She set the course record, and Canadian soil record (by 1 second!), winning the race in 2:22:16, which was a 4-minute personal best. Philemon Rono, aka “Baby Police,” also from Kenya, returned to Toronto for redemption and was successful with a surge near the end of the race, winning his third STWM (2016, 2017, 2019) in a time of 2:05:00. It was also a course record and Canadian soil record. Both Kenyans will take home $80,000 for their outstanding performances. It was not only a big payout for Alan Brookes’ Canada Running Series and Scotiabank, but a significant surge for this race on the international stage. Expect to see this race continue to bring in the world’s top athletes.
Now let’s get to the most exciting part, C A N A D A !
DAYNA PIDHORESKY AND TREVOR HOFBAUER ARE GOING TO THE 2020 OLYMPICS!
Why is this particularly exciting? In order for a Canadian racing the 2019 STWM to be guaranteed selection for the Tokyo 2020 team, she/he would have to be first Canadian, and place top 5 in the IAAF gold label race or run the standard of 2:29:30/2:11:30. Both Dayna and Trevor were top Canadians and well under the time standard with their respective 2:29:03/2:09:51. They did both in one race. The current selection process is entirely different than ever before.
In the past, the top three women and men with the time standard on an approved course within the qualifying period, would be named to the team. If you ran the standard early, you had to wait to see if you would hold your spot. This was the case when I ran 2:29:38 in Rotterdam in 2015, well ahead of the end of the qualifying period of May 2016. Only Lanni Marchant bettered my time, and we joined Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis in Rio, leaving one female and one male spot empty. Dayna and Trevor can take a deep, deep breath and enjoy their well-earned secured spot for the 2020 Olympic Games. It’s clear that Canada will be sending a full team of three women and three men, given the depth and talent of our athletes.
I had the privilege of being on the this year’s broadcast team with Geoff Wightman and Michael Doyle. Having raced the Berlin Marathon a few weeks ago, it would give me something to look forward to in my downtime. And if not racing the STWM, it’s the next best way to be involved in my most favourite race in the world. Not only was it my most enjoyable broadcast experience, but also my most emotional. You see, the race wasn’t won by the athletes many of us predicted. Both Kinsey Middleton and Cameron Levins returned as defending Canadian Champions after their outstanding debut respective 2018 performances of 2:32:09 and 2:09:25. Cameron broke a 43 year Canadian Marathon record. With Malindi Elmore’s unfortunate withdrawal from the race due to injury just sustained on an easy run the week before, Kinsey and Cameron were the obvious race favourites. In fact, when doing the broadcast we often referred to the Canadian men’s camera as the “Cam Cam.”
We expected another Kinsey-Cam show. Also, the men’s race wasn’t won by the more experienced Olympians, Dylan Wykes and Reid Coolsaet or the debuting youngsters, Rory Linkletter and Evan Esselink. There was a lot to be said about many of these athletes in pre-race interviews and stories. Instead, the race was won by two individuals who had been quietly grinding the kilometres behind the scenes, on their own, going after their big dreams. It was won by two athletes without shoe/apparel sponsors who had not previously run within even 5 minutes of the standard. It was won by two Canadians who did not appear on the stage at the press conference (because the field was so deep and the stage could only fit so many people, a good problem to have). And it was won by each of them running 7 minute personal bests. Lastly, it was won by two people who had the race of their lives at the perfect time on the perfect day, earning them their biggest paycheque of $13,000.
We were thrilled to announce Trevor’s victory as he crossed the line, self-coached and not wearing a watch, becoming only the second Canadian man to run 2:09. He had a perfect training build, went by feel in the race, and in his post race interviews firstly thanked those who supported him at home before speaking much about anything else.
When it came to Dayna’s finish, I was speechless and overcome with emotion, not necessarily ideal when the microphone is on you for this epic moment during the live broadcast.
True to her style, Dayna started at an aggressive pace, with a 1:12:56 half, something that hasn’t always worked in the past. Early on she jumped ahead of the Canadian pack that split at the planned 1:14:02. Due to technical difficulties, it was nearly 30 minutes into the broadcast before we were able to see our lead pack of Canadian women. I understand the difficulty of those on motorcycles with video cameras trying to identify key individuals but was also concerned that we weren’t adhering to our plan of equally covering the four main groups: lead overall women, lead overall men, lead Canadian men, and lead Canadian women. Once we tracked the women’s group down, I was able to speak about those in the group: Kinsey Middleton, Emily Setlack, and Tarah Korir. Then I noticed that Dayna was missing. I quickly turned to my laptop to learn that she was well ahead, running at a potentially risky projected finish time of 2:24 after her first 10 km at 34:09. She was joined by the same pacer who paced her at this spring’s Ottawa Marathon where she was disappointed with her 2:37:19 and sixth place finish, one spot from the top 5 at a gold label race. It was even more upsetting because she believed her fitness was within the 2:29:30, which proved unattainable on a warm and humid day.
In fact, Dayna nearly considered not continuing to pursue her dream of making the Olympics after this heartbreaking race, like after a few other races. We know that for every outstanding performance, there can be an equal underperformance. Dayna was elated to make the 2017 IAAF World Championships team in London, England but was in tears after the race with a time of 2:56:15 and 70th place finish. It was not something you would necessarily expect from the 4-time Around the Bay 30 km winner with a 1:11:46 half marathon time from as early as 2011. She DNF’d (did not finish) the 2016 Houston Marathon and 2018 Chicago Marathon due to illness. And after leading much of the 2016 STWM Canadian Championship, she suffered to the finish, placing third with a sacral stress that would take much time to heal.
But she didn’t turn away. She got back to work. When she got to the start line on October 20, 2019, she knew that anything could happen with the marathon, like many times before. This time it proved to be exactly everything she needed on what would be her perfect day. I wasn’t the only one in tears when she was given the Canadian flag and embraced her husband and coach, Josh Seifarth.
While Dayna and Trevor can put their feet up, the rest of us are collecting our thoughts to determine our next marathon. On the women’s side, Rachel Cliff’s 2:26:56 and Lyndsey Tessier’s ninth at the World Championships give them the standard. So with Dayna, that could be the full team. Emily Setlack’s 2:29:48 from yesterday as second Canadian, will move her up in the points ranking system. On the men’s side, it is more open as no one other than Trevor has the standard. Tristan Woodfine was the second Canadian male and had an impressive personal best of 2:13:16. And many other men have more to prove. It’s definitely an exciting time for the sport to see what might happen in the next seven months before May 31, 2020: the final qualification day.
It’s the marathon. Anything can happen.
A huge congratulations and thank you goes to Alan Brookes and his entire team for putting together a stellar event with a talented international and Canadian field. When an athlete is well cared for, they perform well.