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Canada’s Reid Coolsaet Closing on Olympic Marathon Berth

‘Coolsaet Close to Olympic Berth’ by Paul Gains

 Reid
Coolsaet never imagined he’d be on the brink of an Olympic Games berth
when he ran cross country for Hamilton’s Westdale Secondary School back
two decades ago.

A
mediocre athlete, whose goal was nothing more than joining his
girlfriend in qualifying for the provincial high school cross country
championships, Coolsaet finished 18th in the 1997 race. In the absence
of scholarship offers he joined coach Dave Scott-Thomas at the
University of Guelph. The partnership has certainly paid off.

 

A
year ago he dipped under Athletics Canada’s Olympic qualifying standard
with a time of 2:11:23 to finish 10th in the Scotiabank Toronto
Waterfront Marathon. At this point he is the only Canadian to have
achieved the standard but there’s a catch. The IAAF announced after the
race the qualifying period wouldn’t start to January 2011.

 

Now all he needs is a strong effort at this year’s Toronto race October 16th – anything under  the
IAAF standard of 2:15 will do – to earn his place at the London 2012
Olympics. And, he must ensure he is amongst the first three Canadians
capable of achieving the standard. The competition for the three Olympic
spots with Simon Bairu, Dylan Wykes and his Speed River Track Club
teammates Eric Gillis and Rob Watson is something he welcomes.

 

“It
definitely motivates me and keeps me on top of it because I have goals
to run faster this fall,” he reveals, “I want to improve upon  2:11:23
like anybody would want to get a p.b. But having guys to keep me in
check definitely raises the bar a little bit and gives me incentive and
motivation.”

 

With
the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfrot Marathon scheduled three weeks later
than in previous years Coolsaet is in the midst of a fourteen week block
of training which has seen him put in 210 kilometres a week. It hasn’t
all been smooth sailing though.

 

In
July as he began the buildup for Toronto he caught a cold, experienced a
flare up in a shin problem then had to have a broken tooth extracted. A
course of antibiotics also wore him down. Now he says training is going
well. He drives up to Guelph twice a week to run with Gillis and
Watson.  The remainder of the time he runs alone
near his parents’ home in Hamilton or with Kenyans Josephat Ongeri and
David Karanja who are also Hamilton residents.

 

Despite
Coolsaet’s success last year he admits his decision to run in Toronto
was by no means automatic. He was expecting to go for a faster time at
the London marathon last spring but he stepped on a rock during a
training run last fall and the resulting injury  caused a lengthy interruption.  Last
March he went through with a month of high altitude training in Kenya
although he spent the first weeks running alone until he could get fit
enough to join the Kenyans. Nevertheless the experience was enough for
him to plan a return trip.

 

Coolsaet
also considered running at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea
(the men’s marathon is scheduled for September 4th) but decided against
it because of the expected heat and humidity. He does have experience
in hot weather championships having represented Canada in the 2009 IAAF
World Championships in Berlin where he ran a then personal best of
2:16:53 for 25th place.  All things considered he believes the decision to run in Toronto was his best option.

 

“Its
really nice to run a marathon where people are cheering for you and you
hear your name and you don’t have to travel far,” he explains. “The big
advantage for us in Toronto is that (race director) Alan (Brookes) will
cater to our pace and he’ll listen to how fast we want to run and
provide rabbits at that pace. If we went to another North American
marathon we probably wouldn’t get that sort of attention from that
marathon.

“If
we went to New York or Chicago we would probably be asking other people
what they were doing and trying to figure out what pacemakers to go
with versus here where, if you want to run 2:09:45, you can get someone
running that.”

 

Coolsaet
is not one who is easily distracted from his goals. Minor injuries that
would send other straight to the tipping point are glossed over. He
cycles or swims when necessary and gets his physiotherapy between
workouts. Indeed, his good nature has come in handy during a career that
has seen him win nine Canadian titles from 5,000m to the marathon –
including, most impressively,  the 2009 marathon and 10000m championships with six weeks between them. Sometimes he has been involved in practical jokes.

 

As
a student he walked in to the University of Guelph athletics centre to
discover a Hall of Fame portrait of him had been doctored to enhance the
size of his ears, lips and nose then hung back on the wall. Hundreds of
students writing exams in the centre enjoyed a laugh at his expense.
But Coolsaet says it goes with the territory.

 

“It
was actually in retaliation for a joke I had played,” he says laughing.
” A girl had left her number on my roommate’s desk. I called her and
pretended to be him. So she approached him in class the next day
thinking she had talked to him. It was a really awkward conversation. At
that point he got me back.”

On
another occasion he passed through customs with an electronic device
which gave unwitting victims a shock when they shook hands with him.
Fortunately the customs agent had a sense of humour and he wasn’t
arrested.

 

When
he lines up in Toronto the Olympic qualifying will be first and
foremost in his mind. Achieving a personal best is also a goal. And he
is fully aware that Scotiabank and Alan Brookes, in their unlimited
attempts to raise the standard of Canadian marathoning, have put up
$36,000 in bonus money ($1,000 for every year) for any Canadian who can
break Jerome Drayton’s longstanding national record of 2:10:09.

 

“Obviously
we are trying to make a living out of the sport and that would be a
huge pay day for a Canadian marathon,” he admits, “But it’s not
something I think about. As much as I want to run fast you can’t focus
on it. So it’s definitely an added bonus but it’s not a day to day thing
I think about.

 

“I
actually don’t have a time goal this time. Last time I trained for a
marathon I had a time goal in my head but as my training progressed it
kept on changing. I don’t think you can force your thresholds to get
down there so much. I am going to try and maximise my training. Last
year I went into marathon training thinking sub 2:13 then on race day I
wanted to run 2:10. I really thought I was going to run 2:10 high.
Obviously I missed it. So I would like to say I can run a 2:10 flat.
Maybe it goes down. Maybe I feel like going for a 2:10 high again.”

 

On his schedule is the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia on September 4th. A victory in the  Acura
Toronto 10 mile race (August 14th) in 48:34 is a good indication he is
ready. These two races will give him a better idea of his fitness level.
Then he will advise Alan Brookes of the pace he’d like a pacemaker to
take him along the streets of Toronto.

 

Coolsaet
is in the enviable position of having satisfied Athletics Canada’s high
performance standard. But he can’t afford to run a mediocre race on
October 16th. With an Olympic Games place on the line the stakes are
just too high.

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