By Paul Gains
As he crossed the finish line of the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in fifth place, Eric Gillis knew he had capped off a brilliant year.
The 36 year old Guelph, Ontario resident won both the Canadian championship and the overall Canada Running Series title with this performance in Toronto. And, coming just nine weeks after a superlative 10th place finish in the Rio Olympic marathon, it signaled he has more running in his legs - not to mention a little more cash in his bank account.
The CRS overall winner earns $5,000.
"As soon as I finished Toronto (Waterfront) I assumed that my points would have been enough from the three races to probably win (the CRS title)," the three time Olympian admits. "It was on my mind. It was one of the reasons I went out to Vancouver to race the Eastside 10k in September. Credit to (race director) Alan (Brookes) for putting the series together and for putting that amount of money up for winning the overall series. I feel really fortunate to be the overall champion.
"There is not a lot of guaranteed money in this sport. Until I finished that race in Toronto - you have to finish all three races - so you canít take anything for granted. It gets myself out racing on Canadian soil which I enjoy. Itís definitely a help to have that $5,000."
Along with scoring the maximum 60 points by winning the Canadian marathon championship as well as the Vancouver Eastside 10k, Gillis emerged the victor at the Toronto Waterfront 10k which he used to gauge his fitness going into the Olympics. His total points score of 180 easily beat second place Kip Kangogo.
Kangogo, the Kenyan born Lethbridge resident, who gained his Canadian citizenship two years ago, finished with 142 points on the strength of his silver medal Canadian Marathon Championship performance in Toronto (9th place overall) and a pair of victories at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon and Banque de Scotia 21k de Montreal. The latter two events were lesser weighted in terms of point value than the three events Gillis won.
The Toronto Waterfront Marathon, for instance, is an IAAF Gold Label event the highest international level awarded by athletics governing body. Kangogo, who is equally supportive of the Series, earned $2,000 for finishing second.
The womenís overall winner was another Olympian, Krista DuChene. She topped the table with 165 points having won the Canadian Marathon title and the Toronto Waterfront 10k, which were both worth 60 points. Her victory at the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal earned her an additional 45 points.
This isnít the first time DuChene has emerged at the top of the CRS points standings. She also won the overall CRS title in 2012.
"The funny thing is the first time I won it I didnít even know," the 39 year old from Brantford, Ontario says laughing. "Now obviously, having run with Alan all these years, first of all itís an honour, I never take my competition lightly. So to win the series overall is an honour.
"I think the three races that I won, that allowed me to win the series, all three were pretty important. The Montreal Half Marathon was where I proved my fitness to get the (Athletics Canada) stamp of approval for Rio. And it was the first time I had run the course since I broke my leg on the course. So that was pretty special."
"And the 10k was the first time that race had been run. So that was exciting to run and win it for the first time. Toronto (Waterfront Marathon) was the icing on the cake after coming back from becoming an Olympian and winning a national title. I couldnít ask for a better season really."
On January 9th DuChene will turn forty and has her eyes set on beating some of the Canadian masters records as well as improving her personal best times. No shopping sprees are planned so the $5,000 CRS prize will help pay down the mortgage on her house.
The Canada Running Series also recognizes the achievements of the countryís best masters runners too. Kevin Smith (Mississauga) by the slimmest of margins (93 to 91) beat Jerry Ziak of Vancouver to the overall menís masters title. He earns $1,000 while Ziak takes $500 for second. The pair never met in head to head competition.
Montrealís Sandra McLean was overall womenís masters champion taking maximum points at the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal (45 points) and at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (60 points).
While the Canada Running Series serves runners of all ages and abilities there is also an incredible fundraising initiative which accompanies the program. In 2016 more than 53,000 runners raised a total of $5,595,834 for 342 mostly local charities. That translates to roughly $104 for every participant in the series.
The 2017 Canada Running Series launches April 8th with the Race Roster Spring Run-Off 8km an annual tradition in Torontoís High Park for almost forty years. Some exciting changes lie ahead for the Series including the inclusion of both a 5km and 10km with the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal an initiative designed to give more runners an opportunity to participate in a spring time event.