Can Reid Coolsaet Break the 40-Year-Old Canadian Marathon Record (2:10:09) in Rotterdam?

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By Jonathan Gault
April 10, 2015

Jerome Drayton became the Canadian record holder in the marathon on October 19, 1969, and for the past 45 years, five months and 22 days, he has held onto that title. After breaking Robert Moore‘s record by almost seven minutes (taking it from 2:18:55 to 2:12:00) at the 1969 Motor City Marathon in Detroit, Drayton broke it again two months later, winning the Fukuoka Marathon in 2:11:12. He won Fukuoka for a second time in 1975, lowering the record to 2:10:09, and that is where it has stood ever since.

We live in a golden age for marathoning. From the beginning of time to 2005, a grand total of two men broke 2:05 for the 26.2-mile distance. In the past 10 years, 29 men have done it. The world record has been broken five times in the past eight years. Which makes it all the more amazing that Drayton’s mark has stood the test of time.

“When Jerome ran 2:10:09 in 1975 that was a very solid record, not many people had broken 2:10 by then,” said Reid Coolsaet, whose 2:10:55 pb puts him third on the all-time Canadian list. “You would think that someone would have come along in the past 40 years to improve it. For some reason a bunch of our best 10km guys didn’t pan out to be sub-2:10 marathoners.”

Indeed, in 1975, the Canadian 10,000 record stood at 28:05.64 by Dan Shaughnessy. Since then, that record has been broken six times, most recently by Simon Bairu in 2010, who currently holds the record at 27:23.63. But Bairu, who officially retired last year, only finished one career marathon (2:19:52 at Houston in 2012). It’s a similar story for former 10,000 record holders Paul Williams (2:13:59 marathon pb) and Jeff Schiebler (2:14:13 marathon pb).

Coolsaet at the 2011 NYC Half

Coolsaet at the 2011 NYC Half

Coolsaet, who runs for Speed River Track Club in Guelph, Ontario, is one of three men in recent years to have threatened Drayton’s record. Coolsaet and teammate Eric Gillis (2:11:21 pb) have combined to run between 2:10:55 and 2:11:49 six times in the past six years. Vancouver-based Dylan Wykes has come the closest of anyone to the record, running 2:10:47 in Rotterdam in 2012, but Wykes has run just one marathon since, placing 20th at the 2012 Olympics in 2:15:26.

“After 2011 (when Coolsaet ran his pb in Toronto) I thought myself, Dylan Wykes or Eric Gillis would have knocked it off by now,” Coolsaet said. “In 2012, I only ran the Olympic marathon and in 2013 I had a good shot at Fukuoka but I went out at 2:07 pace for 17km and ended up with 2:11. Last year I had an injury and only ran one marathon (2:13).”

Coolsaet’s latest shot at the record comes on Sunday in Rotterdam, but a recent injury makes it hard to know what to expect from the 35-year-old Hamilton, Ontario, native. Coolsaet put in two stints at altitude in Kenya as part of his buildup (one in December/January, another in March/April; you can read about both in his blog), during which time he was able to train with several Kenyan pros including Evans Ruto (2014 Mumbai champ; 2:07:49 pb), Gilbert Kirwa (2:06:14 pb; running Paris this weekend) and Silas Kipruto (59:39 half marathon pb) as well as twins Jake and Zane Robertson of New Zealand. He also ran 63:36 to win the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, Ontario, on March 1 in 20-degree temps.

Coolsaet said that his training had been as good as any other buildup but he twisted his ankle on April 1 and strained his peroneus muscle in his leg, which caused him to miss several days of training last week. With the help of physiotherapist Jeroen Deen, Coolsaet was able to get back running this week and rain pain-free on Wednesday and Thursday (though he said he still felt some tightness). When he toes the line in Rotterdam on Sunday morning, the biggest adversary is likely to be his head, and not his leg.

“The injury occurred after all the hard work was done, so fitness-wise there isn’t much concern,” Coolsaet said. “It’s just my head that has to come around. Not being able to run six-seven-eight days before a marathon is a little stressful and instead of being excited one week out I was worrying if I was going to be able to start the race.

“I prefer to run with a pack and I still plan on running with the same group even though I won’t know the specific pace plan until the technical meeting. I think it will be about 65:00 through halfway, it’s up to the Dutch runner, Abdi [Nageeye, 2:11:33 pb], to make that call.”

Drayton’s record is always in the back of Coolsaet’s mind (“I believe I can run 2:09,” he said) but on Sunday, his chief goal is to hit the standard for the 2016 Olympic Games. Unfortunately for Coolsaet, it may be several months until he knows whether he’s achieved that goal. The IAAF hasn’t announced the 2016 qualifying standards and Athletics Canada, which often imposes a faster qualifying time on its athletes, is waiting until that announcement before making its own (in 2012 the IAAF A standard was 2:15:00 and the Canadian standard was 2:11:29).

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Whether or not Drayton’s record goes down on Sunday, it’s amazing to think it has lasted this long. Coolsaet himself can’t quite explain why no Canadian has been able to break 2:10.

“I guess I don’t really have a good answer,” he said, when asked why he thinks no one has been able to beat it.

Running 2:10:09 in the marathon is not easy (only two Americans have bettered that mark in the past two years), and when Drayton accomplished the feat, he was among the world’s best marathoners. Track & Field News ranked him as the world’s #1 marathoner in 1969 and he won Fukuoka, the unofficial marathon world championships in those days, three times. In addition, he won the 1977 Boston Marathon, finished sixth at the 1976 Olympics and took home the silver medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. It’s an incredible career for the man who was born Peter Buniak in Munich in the final months of World War II before becoming Jerome Drayton after moving to Toronto at age 11 in 1956.

Drayton’s record won’t last forever. If Coolsaet, Gillis (age 35) or Wykes (31) can’t break 2:10:09, it seems inevitable that it will fall to the next generation of Canadian runners, including 26-year-old Cam Levins (27:27.96 10,000 pb) and 24-year-old Mo Ahmed (27:34.64). Of course, it once seemed inevitable that Bairu would break the record, too, and that never happened. For now, all we can do is wait and see if someone has what it takes to break the unbreakable record.

*2015 Rotterdam Marathon men’s preview

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