By Paul Gains
April 16, 2013
As Canadian distance running continues to enjoy a surge in quality, prospects for a competitive 2013 Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal have also risen.
For the sixth straight year this Canada Running Series race will see the Canadian half marathon champions crowned. Eric Gillis, who spent seven weeks in Iten, Kenya over the winter will surely have his hands full on April 28th as he defends his men’s title.
Leading the contenders are Giitah Macharia, who represented Canada at the 2009 IAAF World Cup Marathon (along with Reid Coolsaet and Gillis), and Athletics Toronto club member, Rejean Chiasson.
The latter has just returned from nine weeks of his own high altitude training in Ethiopia just in time to capture third place in the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8km. His time of 24:36.1 over the very hilly course was respectable but the native of St. Isadore, New Brunswick was a little disappointed.
“After being in Ethiopia I wasn’t used to running on pavement,” Chiasson said following the race in Toronto’s High Park, only half joking.
“I was disappointed. I went into the race with winning as my goal. I haven’t had a real racing season since last spring, so I was very motivated, even too motivated. I wasn’t interested in racing, I wanted to turn this into a solo effort and act like I was in a league of my own.
“Unfortunately going out too hard, mixed with calves that weren’t ready to handle pavement, after not touching it for 9 weeks, and a tough course, made this a tough race, but another good learning experience.”
The majority of his running in Sululta – at 2,700m (8,000 feet) elevation – was done on dusty dirt roads where he learned the art of evading rocks and potholes. Still he was able to experience some sessions with a group of Arabic athletes from Qatar, Sudan and Algeria who were staying at the same training site. He also covered as much as 200 km a week at that camp. No doubt his fitness is best suited for the longer distances – like the half marathon.
A year ago Chiasson was 3rd in the race with a personal best time of 1:05:03. But he has returned from his Ethiopian training camp with renewed vigor, confidence and fitness. Boldly, he expects personal bests in every distance.
“The half marathon in Montreal on April 28 that will be my big race for spring,” the 29 year old Chiasson declares. “I did my personal best of 65 minutes there last year.
“I want to race smart, make it a painful pace early on, have my best performance possible, and, if that happens, I can win. Anytime Eric is on the start line I know it won’t be an easy race. He’s one of the guys I need to beat to get to the next level, and I’m going to throw everything I have at him. I’m racing this race to win.”
The course record of 1:03:55.2 was set in 2009 by Ethiopia’s Asamenew Yeshanew and if conditions are good the record could fall.
The Athletics Toronto club member is certainly a force these days and is an intimidating sight also. Tall and thin he is covered by tattoos mostly painted while he was in the Canadian military.
“Last time I had a tattoo was in 2006 just before I got out of the military,” he explains. “It’s on my right arm, a full sleeve a crayfish, a heart and a sparrow bird and I have some Chinese letters along my spine. I can’t say they necessarily mean anything. At the time I thought they looked cool and kind of ‘badass.’”
Meanwhile, Gillis, has been in marathon buildup mode as he prepares to race the Ottawa marathon.
A nagging inflammation of an ilio-tibial band delayed his marathon preparations and he withdrew from the Boston Marathon then agreed terms with the Ottawa marathon folks. By his own reckoning he will be in fine shape but he may be vulnerable in Montreal because of the large amount of mileage he’s been putting in the past three months.
A great supporter of the Canada Running Series, Gillis is looking forward to testing his fitness in Montreal. If the weather conditions are good, he says, a fast time is entirely possible on the course part of which takes in the Gilles Villeneuve Formula One race course.
“I usually do a half marathon before a marathon,” he explains, “and this one I have done before its part of the CRS so it’s a good chance to get some more racing experience before Ottawa. I will get some Series points. It’s a fun race too, not too much pressure.”
“I don’t really care about a time per se, just feeling good and winning the race.”
He plans to take the train up to Montreal and enjoy the weekend. As for the bold challenge of Rejean Chiasson he refuses to get drawn into a battle of words allowing only that he is ready to defend his title.
“I feel good for (Rejean),” says Gillis. He’s been working hard as of late, he’s spent some time in Ethiopia I heard. I am happy that it’s paying off for him.”
The Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal promises a great battle in the men’s race.