By Paul Gains
Following a sublime race in the Rio Olympic marathon Eric Gillis has confirmed he will run the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16th.
This will mark his sixth time racing in this IAAF Gold Label race but, on this occasion, he will start as one of the co favourites.
The 36 year old from Antigonish, Nova Scotia finished 10th in Rio, the best performance by a Canadian man in the Olympic marathon since Jerome Draytonís 6th place at the 1976 Games in Montreal.
Since the 1990ís however the dominance of the East African athletes has been well documented. Indeed, six of the top ten finishers in Rio were born in East Africa making this performance by a Canadian even more remarkable.
Not lost on Gillis, a three time Olympian, was the fact most of the elite athletes ran between three and four minutes slower than their best times on a course that twisted and turned under the hot Brazilian sunshine. Now Gillis, who is known for being pragmatic, if not cautious, will chase a fast time in Toronto. Rio, he agrees, was his best marathon effort ever.
"I would agree with that," he declares. "I think this is where the consistency over the years comes in. This is where I have strength, not just the race in Rio, but in terms of going to run in Toronto. I know how to run a 2:11 in Toronto. I know what that feels like I have been consistent at it. I kind of know where to risk it a little bit more in terms of getting a faster time. And, if I am going to do that, I certainly having had the best race of my life it only helps my confidence that I can do that in Toronto. Definitely.
"And it was a different type of race in Rio. It was really for placing; it wasnít for time. So it was a different challenge that way. It was still a great race. I had to be fit, I had to be ready to go. And I like the fact Toronto is more about time. It gets me fired up to do this again so quickly."
Gillisí personal best time came at the 2014 STWM where he ran 2:11:21. Most of his Toronto appearances have been marked by the necessity of qualifying for a major championship. Not this time. Now heíd like to throw caution to the wind and go out at 64:45 for the first half and see where that gets him.
"I know I am in great shape but I did run a marathon (recently) and have got to see what the conditions are like in Toronto and play the field out," he explains. "Last year I got really lucky with someone to race with right to the end and that was really awesome."
Since there are just six weeks until Toronto Waterfront Gillis will approach the race much differently than previous marathons. For a start, there will be no half marathon race between now and then to serve as an Ďindicatorí of fitness, though he will race Canada Running Seriesí Vancouver Eastside 10k on September 17th.
"Right now the main emphasis is more about me managing every day," he reveals, "being more flexible on a day to day basis and less about hitting weekly mileage goals because they are not going to look that impressive. They are going to be average. If anything they will look kind of low but having extra recovery in there and feeling like thatís what I need to be able to set up this Toronto race and keep the curiosity going."
Recovery from the Olympic marathon was swift. There was the usual soreness in his thighs for a few days afterwards but a series of late nights, including his attendance at the Olympic closing ceremonies, after which he got just three hours sleep before an overnight flight home to Toronto, left him more tired than the marathon. But already he has done a couple of serious workouts and is back on track for the buildup towards the marathon.
It has been almost four years since Gillis received money from the Athlete Assistance Project. Though he remains grateful that he received money to get him to his first two Olympic Games he understands his advanced age means most will see him as on a gradual decline and therefore not a good bet. He smiles at that thought.
"My plans had always been to carry on after Rio for at least a couple of years and take a shot at a faster time or another championship race or a couple of marathons I have never done before," Gillis responds. "I feel that I am able to put what I have learned over the years into better practice but I can actually use it in my training and use if more often and use it to set up races and take bigger risks.
"I am excited for a couple of years to do that. All that experience is right across the board in terms of staying healthy, knowing how to get fit, handling the pressure and enjoying it more. They are all things I have had to put a lot of work into and now I am still putting a lot of work into it but starting to reap the benefits."
Jerome Draytonís Canadian record of 2:10:09 was set in 1975 and is the oldest record in the books. Scotiabank has put up a $41,000 bonus - $1,000 for every year the record has stood. If Gillis has targeted this he will not say.
"I'm sticking to the same formula that worked leading into Rio," he allows, "focusing on setting up each day to have success the following one, and ultimately the most on October 16th. What that exactly looks like, I won't know until the finish line. I'm not ruling anything out. I can say, if all goes well, I'd like to have my best Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to date."
For more information and to join Eric Gillis and other world class runners: STWM.ca.