They stunned us with feats of endurance; they amazed us with their courage to push the boundaries of their abilities and they taught us lessons in compassion. The winners of Canadian Running‘s 2010 Golden Shoe Awards might appear to be superhuman by doing things like running 250 marathons in a year or setting age-group records at the age of 80, but they are just real people trying hard to be their best. Their legs and lungs are strong, but more than anything else, it’s their hearts that won us over.
Martin Parnell: Mega-Marathoner
By Michal Kapral
Is this guy crazy, or what? That’s what many people were asking when Martin Parnell announced in late 2009 that he would attempt to run 250 marathons in 2010. Parnell, a semi-retired mining engineer in Cochrane, Alta. had a goal of raising $250,000 for the humanitarian group Right to Play and although he may fall short of that (with about half that amount tallied at press time), Parnell’s Marathon Quest 250 will go down as one of the 2010′most courageous charity running endeavours.
Parnell originally planned to run a marathon every single day in 2010. Luckily his doctor, an accomplished adventure racer and mountain climber, convinced him to back off a bit from the original plan and instead run a marathon “only” five days a week, to give him a couple of days a week to rest.
The Marathon Quest was much harder than Parnell expected. It was -30 C when he ran the first of his 250 marathons on January 1, and the bone-chilling weather continued for another five weeks. On marathon No. 28, Parnell suffered a muscle strain in his ankle and had to take off two-and-a-half weeks, forcing him to use up all of his 12 spare days only a tenth of the way through his goal. Parnell walked the next eight marathons and then started up a run/walk program. Parnell was looking forward to the summer, but in early July, he fell twice and injured both knees and his right hip. “Well at least I’d have some nice weather,” Parnell thought. “No – it was wet and cold and horrible,” he says. “We hit September and I thought, ‘well, that’s it, winter will start now.’ But then things turned around. I had great weather from mid-September. Several sessions of acupuncture sorted out the sciatic nerve and I started running back at the schools.”
Every Thursday, Parnell ran the 42.2K distance at school in the Calgary area, and encouraged the kids to join him for a few laps around the track. “The kids have been incredible,” Parnell says. “I never realised how important they would be in keeping my spirits up. By the end of the year I will have run at 60 schools with over 12,000 students. They really want to help the “other kids” and have given me many donations as we run around the soccer field 100 times.”
When he wasn’t at the schools, Parnell mostly ran the route of the Cochrane Foothills Marathon near his home, and also included some other major marathon as part of his 250, including the Boston Marathon. The highlight for Parnell was marathon number 188 at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, which he raced in 3:43 and qualified for Boston.
Parnell says people can still make donations after the quest is complete. “The objective is to reach $250,000 and I think we can do it with a little help.”
What’s next for Parnell? “I have to admit I have already registered for a race in 2011. The Comrades Marathon, in May, in Durban, South Africa.”
Geneviève Lalonde: Young Gun
By Michal Kapral
When we profiled Geneviève Lalonde in our Honour Roll high-school running section in April 2009, she was excited about the possibility of competing in the World Juniors in her hometown of Moncton, N.B. And what a show she put on. Competing in the 3000m steeplechase, in the qualifying heats, the 19-year-old ran a Canadian junior record of 10:03.88, nearly 30 seconds faster than her previous best time and the fourth-fastest qualifying time of the competition. The crowd went crazy as Lalonde jumped straight into the lead in her heat and stuck with Ethiopian Bertukan Adama until near the end.
Two days later, in the final, Lalonde followed up the gutsy qualification round with another aggressive run. Surging with the sizzling pace of the leaders from the gun, Lalonde ran near World Junior record pace to keep herself in contention, and despite falling back from the lead, she hung on to place sixth in a new PB of 9:57.74. That time not only improved the Canadian junior record, but also set a new area record for the NACAC (North American, Central America and the Caribbean). “Anyplace else in the world, it wouldn’t have been the same,” she said of the hometown crowd. “It helped me push a little harder.”
Lalonde’s coach Joël Bourgeois also finished in sixth place at the World Juniors, back in 1990 in Bulgaria, and he went on to compete in two Olympic Games, in 1996 and 2000. Bourgeois still acts as Lalonde’s coach, working with coach Dave Scott-Thomas when she’s at school in Guelph, Ont.
“Geneviève is a world-class competitor by nature – the merit is hers,” Bourgeois says. “That being said, there’s a particularly strong energy that flows between both of us. It can’t be summed up in one line, but the fact that I’ve been myself through every stage Geneviève goes through, and that I still train and compete at a higher level, makes me much more credible, and much more connected.”
Bourgeois praises Lalonde for having a good attitude when it comes to training and competing. “There’s a right kind of balance between solid work ethic and detachment,” Bourgeois says. “It’s hard to explain – and harder still to acquire as an athlete. Geneviève definitely has that sensibility.”
Erin van Wiltenburg and Reuben Jentink: Community Leaders
By Jim Finlayson
She bounds up the hill in a way that would have satisfied the great running coach Arthur Lydiard; alighting with the minimum pressure to stay afloat, her foot striking at its midpoint and abducting, rubber torquing underfoot, tearing away against concrete, against rock and clods of dirt. A week and she is through them. Seven days and the outsole of her shoe beneath her little toe is worn through to EVA and she needs a new pair. But when her workout is finished, she jogs over and is barely breathing. She gives you a sweet smile and asks you about your day.
He runs like a wild animal, muscles thinly wound cables, all coil and flight. Runs like he is dancing. Steps out of bed and out the door and maybe he didn’t sleep, maybe he came straight from a shift, but already he is in full stride and he will keep it going, count on him, even when he is ready to break. He’ll look at you straight and you will know this is true.
They are Erin van Wiltenberg and Reuben Jentink and they aren’t your average runners.
But then, what they are doing isn’t your average run, and your average runner would blanch at the thought of their endeavour. This is 600K spanning the entire length of Vancouver Island. Five marathons per week for three weeks, straight down the highway.
It’s hard to imagine someone finding the motivation to do this. To find two of them wanting to run it together suggests a rare friendship built on mutual respect and inspiration. They have run like this before. In 2008 Erin and Reuben ran across Africa, raising funds for education projects in each of the countries they traversed. That time, they completed 100 marathons in 20 weeks.
In September of this year they started their second such project. Their deadline was the Victoria marathon weekend. They were running to create awareness and to raise funds for research for multiple sclerosis. They were running in honour of me.
Over the first three days they assessed their ails. Erin’s hip was sore before they started and it was only holding. Reuben’s knees hurt. They turned it into a joke and laughed through the pain. On their fourth day they were hit by high winds and 200 cm of rainfall in 24 hours, with thunderstorms and flooding. More humour. Eleven marathons to go.
At times, the pain in Erin’s body was so intense that she “couldn’t hear or eat or even fathom lifting my leg to get into the car,” and then she would realize that it was Monday and there were still four or five runs remaining that week. “That was only the second worst part of the run”, she said. The worst was watching Reuben suffer the same.
On October 9, they arrived in Victoria and were met by an awed and inspired, dressed-to-run crowd for the penultimate leg of their journey. They took up an entire lane of the highway as they ran into town, under supportive signs on overpasses. They ended at the Frontrunners store on marathon weekend, their busiest shopping day of the year. Cue their victory song on the stereo and amidst the throng of shoppers they danced until they had fallen into fits of laughter.
But that wasn’t the end. On October 10, they tied their shoes and in their final run, amongst 4,000 other runners, they negative-split the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.
“Reuben is the kind of friend you only believe is possible when you watch the Care Bears and you’re four years old,” Erin said about her running partner. “It’s like he emits life from his belly and you know when you’re standing beside him that together you can tackle any kind of trouble. I can’t run a marathon without him. I may come up with an idea, but Reub gets us to the finish line. He’s it.”
Simon Bairu: Canadian All-Star
By Michal Kapral, with files from Mihira Lakshman
Struggling with injuries leading up to the 2008 Olympics, Simon Bairu wasn’t able to compete in the Games, but the 27-year-old from Regina returned to form – and then some – this year, setting the Canadian 10,000m record of 27:23.63 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in California and an astonishing 13th place in the World Cross-Country Championships, widely considered to be the most competitive race on Earth. A relaxed but focused Bairu kept his nerves in check during the lead-up to his marathon debut in New York City on November 7, refusing to his anticipated performance either up or down, amid speculation that he could finally shatter Jerome Drayton’s 2:10:08 Canadian marathon record from 1975.
To add to the pressure, Bairu would be joined at the line in New York by one of the deepest men’s fields ever assembled in the marathon, including world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie, 2009 World Cross-Country champion Gebre Gebremariam, Kenyan 2:04 runner Abel Kirui and defending champion Meb Keflezighi. None of this seemed to faze Bairu, who trains with the Nike Oregon Project in Eugene, Oregon, with coach Jerry Schumacher. “I have the utmost respect for Haile [Gebrselassie], but I’m not afraid of anyone,” he told Canadian Running in the weeks leading up to the race. “In any race I enter, I go out to win.”
Bairu also shines off the track and the race course, acting as a Big Brother and also as a mentor to younger runners, including up-and-coming Canadian Mohammed Ahmed, who placed fourth in the World Junior 10,000m final.
Born in Saudi Arabia to an Eritrean father and an Ethiopian mother, Bairu’s family moved briefly to Greece and then on to Regina when Bairu was four. Those who have been following Bairu’s journey are now familiar with the story of how he got into running. After getting into one too many fights at school and punching the quarterback in the head during a football game, the scrappy Bairu’s teacher gave him two options: go to detention or run with the cross-country team. You can guess which option he chose.
Leading up to the New York City Marathon, Bairu wrote blog posts for the New York Times and was featured in a series of videos produced by Kimbia Athletics called Rookies vs. The World, covering his story, along with training mates Shalane Flanagan and Tim Nelson, Americans who were also making their marathon debuts. With the recent Canadian record of 27:23 in the 10,000m converting roughly to the 2:08 marathon, speculation was rampant that Bairu might break the long-standing mark on his first try at the 42.2K. But he wouldn’t be the first to fall well short of the predicted marathon time. In 2001, then Canadian 10,000m record-holder Jeff Schiebler also made his marathon debut in New York, and despite have a half-marathon best of 1:01, only managed to run a 2:14.
So Bairu lined up in New York, with some running experts pegging him for a possible top-3 performance. Running in the lead group for the first 25K, he had tucked himself smartly at the back of the pack, but by mile 20, he was suffering badly from depleted energy and just past the 22-mile mark he collapsed and was taken off in an ambulance.
But despite the DNF in NYC, Bairu maintained the attitude of a champion, post-race. “I wouldn’t change anything and would run same way again. We had some 4:40 [miles] and then some five-O [miles], and crazy pace changes, but that is what a championship race will be like,” he said. “That’s the tough thing about the marathon – you train for one race and the season is over. It’s a really valuable lesson.” Bairu plans to give the marathon another try in 2011.
Maurice Tarrant: Age-Group Champion
By Christopher Kelsall
Victoria, B.C.’s Maurice Tarrant celebrated his 80th birthday in January 2010, and then promptly began re-writing the Canadian age-group record books at distances from the 1500m to the half-marathon. He smashed 10 Canadian records and set the 15K world record of 1:13:28
Tarrant has been besting Canadian age-group records since he was in his 50s. In all, he has set 58 Canadian age-group records, at distances from one mile to the half-marathon. At 58, he ran a half-marathon in 1:16:20, which equates to a 1:04. Fifteen years ago, he took the 65-69 10K record, finishing in 37:29, which translates to 29:22 and a 90-per-cent age-graded performance. At 75, Tarrant ran a 5K that according to the WAVA age-grade calculators works out to a 14:17 – 19 seconds faster than the course record of 14:36, held by Olympic gold- and silver-medallist, Simon Whitfield.
Since he began competing in the Vancouver Island Race Series in 1988, Tarrant has won his age group in 230 consecutive races. For his efforts, Tarrant recently took home an award that had already been named after him – the annual Maurice Tarrant Performance Award, voted on by his peers.
A native of Devon, England, Tarrant had an active upbringing. “By the age of 18,” he says, “I was playing rugby all winter and rowing summers in bow position for coxed fours. We trained six days a week and were well coached, resulting in several successful years. Another factor was that my family never owned a car. I walked or ran everywhere. Including home from school at the age of 10 to deliver newspapers.”
At 21, Tarrant joined the Royal Air Force and the following year someone convinced him to enter a half-mile race. He finished second, which convinced him that he should keep racing. Tarrant ran competitively in cross-country, track and road, and represented Devon in an inter-county meet at White City. This early conditioning likely gave him the ability later in middle age, to make a smooth transition back to running in his early 50s, when he increased his mileage to 80K per week with a long run of up to 32K.
As with many successful senior runners, Tarrant incorporates regular exercise into all aspects of his life. “Running is a lifestyle for me;” he says. “I enjoy the fitness and the companionship of others during training or racing, keeping to regular training with at least three runs-a-week with rest days – this could be weight training or rowing or carrying out projects like gardening or home improvements. In other words, staying active.”
For a possibly overlooked aspect to Tarrant’s longevity one only has to look closer to home – he and his wife Phyllis have been married for 59 years. “I could not have stayed fit without the support and love from my partner-in-life,” Tarrant says. “Phyllis not only supports my running but she keeps me healthy by cooking nutritional meals and has plenty of fruit in the home at all times.”