Still Great Late: Reid Coolsaet Says the Future of Canadian Marathoning (and his own) is Bright

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    Image courtesy of New Balance.

    When an injured metatarsal in his left foot flared up during a run on January 1st, Olympian Reid Coolsaet somehow found a way to view the incident in a positive light. Only a few weeks prior, Coolsaet ran what he proclaims as his best marathon in Fukuoka, posting a 2:10:56 finish and threatening Jerome Drayton’s Canadian record of 2:10:09 set on the same course four decades prior.

    “Because I dealt with injuries leading into Rio, which didn’t go as great as I wanted it to, I was just really happy to get back into the swing of things and have a great race in December to close out the year,” Coolsaet explains.

    Given how long the injury has now lasted, forcing Reid to opt out of competing in the spring of 2017, the Hamilton resident and new dad takes solace, noting, “If the injury flared up in November or December, that could have meant eighteen months without a good race, so my last good performance would have been in 2015 at Berlin.”

    With such a long layoff and gap between solid performances, “I would have found myself questioning if I could ever compete at that level again.” That performance in Berlin (2:10:28), the second fastest by a Canadian man, was preceded by an abdominal muscle ripping off the pubic bone in 2014, so there’s been a path forward from injury in the past.

    The veteran’s perspective and the happy distraction of newborn son Louis (Lou-ee not Lew-is) helped Reid keep his sanity, especially in the early stages when he found himself unable to even crosstrain and felt that all momentum had ceased. “I couldn’t even think about running because a good result felt so far away,” Reid recalls.

    The morning we speak via phone, things are beginning to look up, and Reid happily reports a 15 kilometre run following shockwave therapy to loosen up that left foot. Continuing to feel out the recovery process, Reid’s hope is that a productive summer will lead him back to the marathon in the fall of 2017.

    Now 37, Reid’s legacy in Canadian distance running is cemented. He owns three of the five fastest marathon times run by a Canadian man and has punched his card to the Olympics and World Championships on multiple occasions, but still feels he has more to give at what he considers his best distance. “My 5K and 10K PBs are a decade old and I wouldn’t run a PB if I were training at those distances now, but I think I can still do it at the marathon,” Reid says.

    At 37, Reid still believes he is capable of a PB at the marathon. Image courtesy of Reid Coolsaet.

    Before we speak, I pledge to myself that I will not use the phrase “2:10,” figuring that Reid’s had enough of that topic and won’t especially care to address it in the midst of an injury. But he goes there before I do.

    Reid’s philosophy is, “If I’m not mentally motivated to train at the level needed to be my best or if I’m injured to the point that I can’t train, then I’ll know it’s no longer for me.” At the moment however, “I think that I can run faster and that really motivates me. 2:10 has been a number I’ve been wanting to break for a long time.”

    After having come as close as he did in Fukuoka, running without a pack or pacers, Reid is optimistic that, “If I can have a productive summer and get into a race with pacers, then I feel I can do it.”

    Though he considers himself far from finished, Reid will eventually have to make his curtain call as an elite marathoner, as will Eric Gillis, also 37, with whom Reid has owned the Canadian men’s marathon field for the last decade.

    Reid and Eric Gillis (left) have owned the marathon distance for men for the last decade, but Reid sees a strong pool of talent coming up.

    While acknowledging the outstanding performances the two have turned in so consistently, there’s also been an acknowledgement of the field’s lack of depth in the years during which Reid and Eric have reigned supreme. Reid is encouraged, however,  that successors will emerge and that the excitement he and Eric have provided will sustain.

    Especially with Athletics Canada modifying the standard for the men’s marathon to 2:19 from 2:12 in previous years, Reid believes, “Guys who are breaking 29 minutes at the 10K will have some incentive to move up. There are lots of guys at those distances capable of training for and running a 2:15 marathon, but that requires so much work and they’re not going to do it for a pat on the back.” A berth at Worlds provides a much more enticing reward.

    Recent performances by Thomas Toth (2:18:58 at Hamburg) and Blair Morgan (2:22:14 at Prague) are examples of what Reid hopes will be a coming trend of strong talent moving up to the marathon.

    As his own future is concerned, Reid is motivated by a curiousity around the limits of his mind and body and feels fairly certain that a good marathoner can conquer 100 miles. There’s certainly precedent for top marathoners moving up to ultras. Alberto Salazar claimed victory at the 1994 Comrades Marathon, spanning 90 kilometres between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, long after stepping away from the marathon.

    “I want to know what it’s like to physically and mentally push myself to a distance like 100 miles.” Image courtesy of New Balance

    “I never get tired of the trails and just love being lost in my thoughts. It’s good to be out there,” is Reid’s response to my query about what aspect of running he still loves the most. “Moving from the 10K to the marathon is a huge leap and there are questions you can’t answer until you’ve been there. I want to know what it’s like to physically and mentally push myself to a distance like 100 miles,” he adds.

    When he first encountered coach and mentor Dave Scott Thomas 20 years ago, it was Dave that Reid says, “really believed in my ability.” “When I wanted to break 15 minutes in the 5K, he believed I could break 14 if I really worked at it. He also has a great way of keeping you motivated and bringing people together to bring each other to their best,” Reid says of his mentor.

    With two decades of competition under his belt, Reid now seems to be his own biggest motivator. Injuries, especially later in one’s career, can sometimes invite premature obituaries. Reid, however, is still in the midst of composing more chapters in an already incredible story, and he may just be a Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens of long distance running, producing many late masterpieces.

     

    • Ravi Singh