By Paul Gains
Using the 2017 London Marathon as its selection event, England Athletics has chosen six athletes to represent the country at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, October 22nd.
The special relationship between the sports’ governing body and this IAAF Gold Label race has existed for more than a decade.
"It is very important to us," says Charlotte Fisher, Road Racing Coordinator for the national federation. "We are trying to provide a proper international quality opportunity for our elite road runners and we are trying to link to our own England national championship so there is an incentive there for athletes who perform well at our national championships.
"It is an important stepping stone for our elite athletes of the future. For somebody like Anna Boniface or Tish Jones, it provides them an experience of competing abroad and all that goes with that, the travel, and preparing yourself for a proper championships with a view to hopefully seeing them on England and GB international teams in major championships in the future."
The fact that Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront is an IAAF Gold Label race is heavily promoted amongst English international athletes. The team are treated as elite athletes and as such are entitled to their own specific fuel positions on the elite tables during the race. They also eat their meals with the large contingent of international stars at the race hotel.
"Some of the athletes that go hone that experience of being on the elite start line, dealing with water stations and the fact that it has that status definitely is a factor," Fisher continues. "I think just that whole thing with dealing with traveling to the other side of the world and with a view of preparing people for future championships is important."
Named to the team bound for Toronto are Anna Boniface, Tish Jones, Jonathan Poole, Lee Grantham, Ben Johnson and Keith Gerrard. The latter, who represented the Isle of Man at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, is one to keep an eye on. He hasn’t really begun to explore his marathon potential having run the half marathon in 63:39. At present he is preparing for Toronto from his training base in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Tracy Barlow is an example of how the relationship with Toronto has benefited English athletes. Two years ago she ran 2:38:49 in Toronto as part of the England team, a 13-minute personal best. Earlier this year she was picked to represent Great Britain at the 2017 World Championships after improving to 2:30:42 at London Marathon in April.
Boniface, who is fairly new to the marathon, knocked almost nine minutes off her personal best at London with a time of 2:37:07. The Reading Athletics Club athlete has the benefit of being able to ‘gather intelligence’ from her personal coach Rob McKim who was England team coach last year in Toronto.
"I am still quite young for a marathoner. I am 26 I have only done two marathons," she admits. "The big things I am still learning are the feeding strategy, and also the pacing strategy. I went into London with more of a kind of a racing target and thinking about my splits. I was just there to race it. It was more of a risky strategy.
"So, for Toronto, I might have to think differently about how I target it. Because I am in the elite field - one of the first times I have done that - I will be thinking about drink stations rather than having to load myself down carrying the gels and things. You actually get to have designated athlete drink stations to work off, so I am going to be looking at changes in my training."
Possibly the most anticipated performance is expected to come from Tish Jones who ran 2:36:13 in her debut to win the Cape Town Marathon last September. Then, in her second marathon this Spring, she ran 2:33:56 in London. A member of Belgrave Harriers she has traveled the African continent in recent years before settling in South Africa.
"It was a delight to be selected to represent England at such an established event," she said recently. "My goal would be to run under 2:35 if I am in good form. The experience of participating means a huge deal to me. I love to travel and I love to run. To visit this part of Canada and to race will be an amazing achievement for me."
Jones will be easily identified: she bears a tattoo down her right forearm with the words ‘to travel around the world’ written in the language of all the countries she has visited.
Although there will be the usual contingent of East African stars lining up in Toronto the England team will more likely be competitive with the next generation of Canadian marathoners during the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon.
At this point Canadian women will include the previously announced 2016 Canadian Olympian Krista DuChene, debutant Lyndsey Tessier, who recently won the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon, Melanie Myrand and Arianne Raby. The latter ran 1:15:56 to place third at the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal this year.
Leading Canadian men include Speed River Track Club’s upcoming duo Rob Winslow (2:19:00 at the 2015 Rotterdam Marathon) and John Mason whose personal best is ‘only’ 2:22:35 but who recently ran an encouraging personal best of 67:41 at the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal. Fellow Speed River athlete Trevor Hofbauer has a personal best of 64:30 for the half marathon and will make his much awaited 42km debut after representing Canada in the IAAF World Cross-Country in Kampala, Uganda in March.
While the battle for prize money will invariably be sorted between the East African stars at the front, this England - Canada confrontation represents a splendid sub plot.
For more information & entry to this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half & 5K STWM.ca.