TORONTO (18-Oct) -- During his career at Brigham Young University under coach Ed Eyestone, Rory Linkletter competed at distances from 800 to 10,000 meters, on indoor and outdoor tracks, and on more than a dozen cross country courses. Yet the 23 year-old, who was born in Calgary, Alberta, but competed in high school in Utah, has never run a road race at any distance. That will change in a big way on Sunday when he makes his marathon debut at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon here which will also serve as the Canadian Marathon Championships and 2020 Olympic Trials.
PHOTO: Rory Linkletter of Hoka Northern Arizona Elite in advance of the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"I always knew I wanted to run my first marathon here in Toronto before this was going to be a trial," Linkletter said at a press conference here this morning. He continued: "I knew my first one was going to be in Toronto. I'm very excited about it."
Linkletter's transition to marathon running may be rapid, but it's also organic, according to his Hoka Northern Arizona Elite coach, Ben Rosario. Linkletter, who finished first at the 2019 NCAA West Region Qualifying Round 10,000m last May, joined the group out of college because it's marathon-focused. He told coach Rosario that he wanted to move up to the distance right away, at least in part because being the top Canadian at Sunday's race here means earning a protected spot on the 2020 Canadian Olympic Team. Rosario was happy to oblige his new recruit after seeking Eyestone's opinion.
"I knew he wanted to do this when he joined the group," Rosario told Race Results Weekly in an interview here today. "I talked to coach Eyestone and coach Eyestone told me he was ready, and that's as good as gold because coach Eyestone knows what he's talking about, obviously. So, once we knew we were going to do it that it was just a matter of, you know, having a very basic segment that prepared him for the distance, for a debut. Nothing too crazy."
Linkletter's build-up was on the short side because he ran on the track last summer. Placing third at the Canadian Athletics Championships in the 10,000m on June 13, Linkletter earned a spot on the national team for the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, where he placed sixth in the same discipline on August 9. With only about 10 weeks between his final track race and the marathon here in Toronto, Rosario had to ease Linkletter into his marathon segment.
"He took some time off after the Canadian 10,000m Championships in June, and then we started building slowly in July," Rosario explained. "He ran the Pan Am Games 10,000 in August, and I would say after the Pan Am 10,000 things got very specific for the marathon. So, very specific for the last eight weeks or so."
Flagstaff, which sits at 2106 meters (7000 feet) of altitude, offers an enviable combination of trails, smooth paved roads, and a track at a lower altitude nearby in Sedona. Linkletter did most of his marathon-specific work on Lake Mary Road, the legendary stretch of highway south of Flagstaff used by marathon champions like Ryan Hall and Shalane Flanagan to build up for their big races.
"I mean, really, all we're doing is a lot more strength-based workouts," Linkletter explained. "Not spending a lot of time on the track, spending a lot of time out on Lake Mary Road running marathon-specific efforts for as long as is maintainable in training. You know, just trying to get as ready as possible for the distance, training the body to run hard on tired legs, fast on tired legs, and I feel like I've done a good job at that."
Because Linkletter has no experience racing on the roads, never mind 42.195 kilometers, he will have to keep his pace in check in the early kilometers of the race. Compared to track racing, running at a 2:11:00 or 2:12:00 marathon pace (between 3:06 and 3:08 per kilometer) will feel slow, and Linkletter could get antsy. He said he is ready for that, even if he ends up running by himself.
"We wanted to go into this with, like, what do you think I can do and be ready to run 26.2 miles all alone if I had to," Linkletter told Race Results Weekly. "You know, that's not the ideal, but we'll talk over it again after the technical meeting. But, I think my best race is to run what I am capable of and we feel like we've got enough data to say we can run 66 minutes through half-marathon and, if it's a bad day, we can slow slightly but not blow up. If it's a great day, we might be able to get under and chase that Olympic standard."
To gain guaranteed selection for the Canadian Olympic team, Linkletter would need to be the first Canadian to cross the line on Sunday, then either run 2:11:30 or better (the IAAF/World Athletics Olympic marathon time standard), or be high enough in the IAAF points rankings by the end of the qualification period next year to earn an invitation. The 2019 Canadian champion is assured of a team spot and cannot be bumped by athletes who run faster at a later point during the qualifying period.
Winning the Canadian title will be a tall order given that Canadian record holder, Cam Levins, is entered in the race. Levins, 30, made headlines here last year when he broke one of the oldest records in all of athletics, Jerome Drayton's Canadian marathon record of 2:10:09 set in Fukuoka in 1975. Levins clocked 2:09:25 last year in his debut at the distance, and didn't look tired when he crossed the finish line adjacent to City Hall. Sitting on the podium this morning just three seats down from Linkletter, Levins offered his younger rival some wisdom.
"The big thing I took away was not to be afraid of the event," Levins said of his race here last year.
Linkletter, who's 28:12.42 10,000m personal best is equivalent to a 2:11:41 marathon according to one popular conversion formula, didn't sound afraid.
"Obviously, I'd like to compete with the best of these guys up here and be in the picture for a spot in Tokyo," Linkletter said, looking at his opponents including Olympians Levins, Reid Coolsaet, and Dylan Wykes during the press conference. "No matter what that means, if it's winning the national championships then that's great, that's automatic. Or, if it's just putting together a good performance that gives me a chance. I know what fitness I'm in, I know I've put in the work. I'm ready to fight."