By Seth Marcaccio
I was sitting in my favourite breakfast restaurant this past Friday, thinking about the 36K long run from earlier when the text came in: “You should go for world standard this year.” I didn’t think much of it until I saw the Athletics Canada standards announced on Twitter: 2:19:00 for men, 2:45:00 for women. My reaction was one of excitement for Canadian marathoners as a whole.
Some people may argue that the softer standards will lead to us sending a weaker team to the world championships. I have a different perspective. I believe that we could be on the cusp of seeing an influx of depth in our country’s marathon scene. There are so many athletes who are on the fringe of success, but were not quite fast enough for the tougher Rio standards. With the revitalized standard, the men who are in the 2:17-2:22 range, and the women in the 2:32-2:45 range, could finally have the breakthrough that they need.
These athletes who are on the fringe work extremely hard. They work for the chance to compete internationally and to have the honor to one day represent their country. They also happen to be on the receiving end of the tough standards. As I’m sure everyone has already pointed out, the marathon is not a distance that someone can race every weekend. Rather, it’s something you train exponentially hard for and have only a few shots at every year. In my opinion, the previous standards may have turned away potential athletes from making the jump from the track up to road racing. The risks are just too high. There are only a few chances to achieve the time in the qualifying period and there are so many things that could potentially go wrong. If the weather is bad or your fuelling is off, the outcome of the race could be drastically affected.
With the new standards though, I think we could see an increase in the number of elite Canadian marathoners. From what I’ve observed in my experience running, there’s too much of an emphasis on running fast on the track. When I tell people that I’m running the marathon this spring and aiming for 2:17 or 2:18, I’m met with the same response. It goes something like this: “You’re too young, improve your track times and only do the marathon when you are old”.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing amiss with chasing fast times on the track, but I have seen athletes who could develop into phenomenal road runners but they are too focused on the 1,500m or 5,000m. Getting into the marathon game is just too high stakes. But now, the 2:19 and 2:45 standards could lead to these types of athletes actually seeing an opportunity and finally making that jump to the roads earlier on. This could ultimately lead to greater depth and some incredible battles over the 21.1K and 42.2K distances.
There’s something else to consider here too. The timing of these newly revised standards couldn’t be better. With the Rio Olympics now in the rear view mirror, the time is perfect for some inexperienced athletes to get that chance to compete internationally to become better prepared for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. With the valuable experience of competing at a world championship event, we could be sending a young– but better experienced– team of marathoners to compete on the world’s stage in a few years. This will help give these athletes confidence and could lead to strong results not just for the 2020 Olympics, but for other international competitions down the road.
I’m excited. I’m also optimistic about the future for our marathoners with the new standards. I hope that we’ll see a larger number of athletes realizing the opportunity and making the move up to the marathon. There will be some fast times recorded this spring and now the athletes on the fringe will finally have the chance to represent Canada at a world championship. As for myself, I’ll be doing everything I can to be one of those athletes.