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On heels of 10th place finish in Rio, Gillis takes aim at Canadian record

Canadian Eric Gillis crosses the marathon finish line and qualifies for the 2016 Rio Olympics during the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in Toronto, Sunday, Oct, 18, 2015. Gillis will take another stab at Canada's longstanding marathon record on Sunday, but this time he's got nothing to lose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marta Iwanek
October 14, 2016 - 8:46 AM

TORONTO - Eric Gillis will take another stab at Canada's longstanding marathon record on Sunday, but this time he's got nothing to lose.

The 36-year-old from Antigonish, N.S., will make his sixth appearance in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but already armed with an impressive 10th-place finish from the Rio Olympics eight weeks ago, a solid result this weekend would be a "bonus."

A bonus potentially worth $41,000.

That's $1,000 for every year that Jerome Drayton's record of two hours 10 minutes nine seconds — the oldest record on the Canadian track and field books — has stood.

"This year more than any other, it's the best chance I have to (break the record) in Toronto, of any year that I've raced here," Gillis said. "There are no guarantees, it's me being curious and thinking 'Nope, there's no excuses for me not to think that this is the best chance.'"

The national record isn't merely about money. It's managed to elude Canada's world-class crop of marathoners for years, including Gillis and his training partner Reid Coolsaet.

But in past years, Gillis has had to play it relatively safe. Last year, for example, it was all about securing his spot on Canada's Olympic team. So when he suffered a calf cramp at the 23-kilometre mark, he eased off rather than risk pushing the pace.

"This year, I won't be so focused on 'I need to conserve to make sure that I get a certain time in,'" Gillis said. "There won't be any conserving out there. Things will have to go well, but I'll also have to risk a bit more, and be like 'I've got a tight calf, I'll relax for 500 metres instead of 5K, and then pick it up again. I can't lose any time out here.'"

Gillis's 10th place in Rio was Canada's best in the event since Drayton finished sixth at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

His fastest time in Toronto was the 2:11.21 he ran in 2014.

Coolsaet came within 19 seconds of Drayton's record last year, when he ran 2:10.28 in Berlin.

Coolsaet raced to 23rd at the Rio Olympics and then took some time off. He and his wife Marie Soehl became parents to son Louis on Sept. 20. He'll run as a pace-setter on Sunday.

It's rare for runners to race two marathons within eight weeks, but Gillis said it'll be a learning experience, both for his future racing and later when he gets into coaching.

"I decided a month and a half out from Rio that Toronto would be a good challenge for me, no matter how Rio went," Gillis said. "And if (Rio) went well, it would just be bonus. It's curiosity to see what I can do, try and bring that fitness over that I had from Rio, and get in another marathon."

Krista DuChene, a mom of three from Strathroy, Ont., will be Canada's top-ranked woman racing just two months after her Olympic debut.

Duchene hadn't thought about her racing plans past Rio.

"I wanted to wait to see how I felt after Rio," she said. "I didn't say anything to anyone that I was thinking of this race as a possibility, because I didn't want this race to be a way out if Rio got tough. I didn't want to say 'Oh, I've got Toronto, I'll give my all there.'

"But then after I finished and thought 'Wow, I feel so good,' I took five days off, and thought 'Oh yeah, this is going to happen.'"

DuChene finished 35th in Rio.

She hasn't ruled out the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"I feel it's more how long you've been at it, not how old you are. I'm 39, and I still don't feel like I'm exhausted and tired," she said. "And my kids (aged 10, eight and five) are in school, it's only the second year they've been in school full-time, so training's never been easier, so that's a draw for me."

Canadian masters star Ed Whitlock, the owner of numerous national and global records, has another record in his sights. Now 85, Whitlock is gunning for the world record in the 85-90 age class on Toronto's flat and fast course. He needs to run under four hours 35 minutes.

"I would expect I'd be able to get under four hours, actually," Whitlock said.

Whitlock, from Milton, Ont., was hampered by injuries last year, and so the celebrity runner held the tape at the finish line in the Toronto race.

"I keep inventing new ones over time," Whitlock said when asked the particulars of his injuries. "My chronic problem is my knees, somehow on occasion I get running in a long groove and they flare up and start to hurt, and the only thing I can do that seems to get rid of it is to take a rest."

For the first time in two years, though, he's been able to ramp up his mileage to three-hour runs, and so is hopeful for a strong race Sunday.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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