This is what I have in common with elite runner Krista Duchene:

— We both have young kids
— We’re both in our mid-thirties (she’s 35, I’m 36)
— We both love to run
— Last March we both ran Hamilton’s 30k Around the Bay race in under three-hours (okay so she won it for females)
— In April, Krista ran a 2:32:06 marathon in Rotterdam, Netherlands. I am married to someone whose last name comes from the Netherlands.
— In less than two-weeks we’re both going to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
— At that marathon Krista will try to break the Canadian female marathon record  (Sylvia Ruegger’s 2:28:36). Post-race I will try to break the world record for head-kicks or, in the very least, feel like I’ve been kicked in the head.

Last Friday afternoon I hung out with Krista. I went to her house for a chat when her one-year-old was napping and her older boys were in school. And this is what struck me about her – She’s  so nice and just so normal.

I’ll admit it — before Friday, my idea of how an elite runner got to be, well, an elite runner, involved talent for sure,  but also a rigid life governed by a strict adherence to a training plan, a very tight diet, an extreme focus on nothing but running and other-worldly self discipline. And yes, Krista is very dedicated to her sport. She runs 160km a week – a good portion of that on a treadmill while her daughter is in day care at the gym – she cross trains, she eats well, she talks to her coach daily. What’s more, many mornings she’s up by 5am so that the bulk of her training is done before her kids get up and her husband goes to work.

But here’s the thing. When she gets home from those workouts she’s not all protein shakes and split-time analysis. She’s mom. She’s making breakfast, packing lunches, letting the dog out for a pee and making sure her kids have enough clean clothes so that they have something to wear to school.  She loves to talk about her running, but just as much about her kids, her husband, her job (she works one afternoon a week as a dietitian) and her life.

And so when we got down to the nitty-gritty of her race day plan for the Waterfront marathon, it didn’t come as a complete shock when she told me she didn’t really have one.

“Some athletes analyze the course turn by turn,” she told me. “I might know that there’s a big hill here or there, but that’s about it. I know there are 42.2km and I have to run at a certain pace. That’s about the extent of my plan.”

Unbelievable for someone of her running caliber, but her relaxed attitude also extends to her attempt to break the Canadian Women’s marathon record.

“I don’t feel pressure to get the record at Scotia,” she says. “I want it. Badly. But if I don’t get it there’s still time to improve.”

What’s more, After getting an Olympic qualifying time in Rotterdam, but being denied a spot on the Canadian Olympic team, Krista wasn’t heartbroken.

“Of course I was disappointed, but it wasn’t my original plan to go for the London Olympics,” she explains. “ The idea came about after running such a great Around The Bay. My coach and I thought, if I can run that time, why not go for it? So the London Olympics were really only in my head for a couple of months. The plan was always to go for Rio in 2016.”

So Rio’s the plan, but between now and then Krista would like to have another kid, she might take on some more hours at work and wants to see where life takes her. Ultimately for Krista, running is not so much about the records and the medals, but about what she can do with it. Funnily enough, she looks to the woman whose record she’s trying to break for inspiration.

Sylvia Ruegger uses her running career to inspire people and for her charity [Start 2 Finish]. That’s what running is for me. An amazing sport yes, but also a platform to do good things. That’s where I want to take it when I’m done.”

And as for this mom/runner/blogger? I’ll be cheering her on the whole way.

A self portrait of Krista and I at her house
A self portrait of Krista (that's her on the right) and me at her house

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15 Comments

  • Dan says:

    This is a really great article. Good luck to you both!

  • John Warner says:

    Great stuff! You’re looking strong Rebecca…..go for your ‘world record’ at the Toronto Waterfront!

  • Elizabeth Warren says:

    Fantastic article Becks!

  • Rachelle says:

    You are an inspiration Becky, and I love reading your blogs. Keep it up girl!

  • nancy bowe says:

    Is was SO great to meet you at the Run for the Toad. I had a crappy run, but a really fun day!

  • Andarg says:

    I like your article. With out any doubt descipline is one of the key factorof athletes’ success.
    But, I am wondering why Canadian athletes are not just aggressive when it comes to truck and field compitiotions? I am orginated from Ethiopia and I have been a sport journalist for more than 15 years. I am not really sure about geographical situation of Canada, but I guess,there will have a high altitude areas(example, Calgary at 1000m at the airport (but about 1300 on the far west side) is the highest major city in Canada. Advantage? Clean air and very low humidity, intensely blue skies). If we take Nairobi, Kenya is around 1500km above the sea level. Lijiang area in Canada has about 2400m altitudes. My advise is if Canadian athletes go to those areas and working out some endurance exercises, then they will be at least as successful as others.

    • Rory Gilfillan says:

      Andarg,

      This is a fair point. Interestingly enough the T and F Olympic trials were held in Calgary, at altitude which, gave sprinters an advantage while penalizing distance runners. Seems ironic.

      I agree that training at altitude would help Canadian distance runners but a few things come to mind.

      First Calgary is an excellent place to train part of the year but the winters there can be harsh. Additionally, (and my experience of Calgary is dated) the last time I was there, the only indoor running facility was the speed skating oval which had an 8 lane track that became 1.5 lanes after about 100 meters. Not ideal.

      Second, I think altitude training is only part of the reason that Kenyans are successful and Canadians, for the last several years, are not.. A larger part of the reason may have to do with fact that Kenyans train together and push each other. Canadians used to do this as well and many of the clubs that Canada’s top distance runners came from were grassroots organizations which gave athletes a venue where they could be pushed. The moment that we moved away from this model marked the beginning of our international decline. The fact that Canadian men qualified for the Olympics this year likely has a lot to do with Dave Scott-Thomas’ returning to this model with the Speed River Team.

      Finally, a whole lot of Kenyans run because of the prestige associated with the sport in that country. What this means is that there are a whole lot of people vying for a limited amount of spots on the Olympic team. The men and women that we see winning the New York or Boston marathon are a rarefied sort of elite. I think Canadians feel something similar about hockey and we do well in the game because a lot of people play but also, and more importantly, because we care deeply about the sport.

      I think Canadians used to feel differently about running than they do now.

      Today running is merely part of an active lifestyle for most people and this blog is an honest representation of this significant and influential demographic. It’s also telling that when a Canadian wins Around the Bay or the Sporting Life 10km it is rarely reported in the sport’s section of the paper but relegated, if printed at all, to the Life section.

      I hope that the Canadian men competing in the Olympics and Ms. Duchene’s on-going efforts will encourage others to engage in the sport competitively.

      Rory

  • Chris says:

    I don’t know where your perceptions of elite runners came from. From your description of Krista’s regimen, she does fit the profile of a competitive elite marathon runner. 160km/week is a job in and of itself. Elites are not robots. For example, Paula Radcliffe still won NYC 6 months after giving birth.

    I also hope your impressions don’t stem from Rory Gillfilan. Although he is not elite, he is a very dedicated runner. However, he doesn’t drink protein shakes and he, too, has a family life as he stays at home to raise his two kids.

    On another note, I’m happy you got to spend time with someone like Krista. I’m sure she offered you insights to the sport that are beneficial and which hopefully you take with you in your future races.

    Good luck at Scotiabank.

  • Rory Gilfillan says:

    The Canadian Standard for the Olympics was 2:29:55. This is different from the International standard which was several minutes slower. Therefore it is possible to make standard and not make the team.

    I agree. This is ridiculous.

    I have spent some time on this question. I feel that if we have people that hit the world standard we should send the top three who makes this grade. Loads of improvement happens when out athletes compete against the best the world has to offer.

    Athletics Canada has a much more limited view. Basically, their angle is that they only want to send athletes who have a chance to be competitive, i.e. make the top ten. It’s interesting to note that Duchene’s PR would have put her in the middle of the pack amongst the best in the world, which in my opinion is enough evidence for the AC to change their policy.

    I have no problem with AC setting a high standard so long as it comes with a whole lot of support to ensure that our athletes achieve that standard. Distance runners like Duchene may receive some funding but for the most part they are left to their own devices until they make the team. Once they hit the standard things improve markedly but to me, this is like telling a young hockey player that the NHL is the benchmark and then suggesting they give them a call should they make it that far.

    Millions of Canadians run and yet our development system at the highest end of the sport is more or less non-existent.

    Rory

  • Jane says:

    Unfortunately this “limited view” is driven by basic economics – there simply is not enough money to send everyone. Sporting bodies are under extreme pressure to produce or they risk having their funding reduced. Athletics Canada has a limited budget requiring them to focus on athletes who have the greatest chance to succeed especially in an Olympic year. Placing in the middle of the pack amongst the best in the world just isn’t a good return on their money right now. I agree loads of improvement happens when athletes complete against the best – in a perfect world every Canadian athlete who makes the International standard should make the Olympic team but unfortunately money does not grow on trees.

    • Rory Gilfillan says:

      Jane,

      It’s not even really about sending the athletes if they hit the Canadian Qualifying time but supporting them in hitting the time.
      The US has invested in their distance program and, despite their disappointing Olympic showing, it has, for the most part paid off.
      Meanwhile in Canada we hold our trials at an elevation that pretty much makes it impossible for endurance athletes to make the team. The response from AC is that runners should have not have left their qualifying until…the Olympic Trials.
      As I have written numerous times, running isn’t a fringe sport in this country but one practiced by millions. Success in this sport ought to be a primary objective for Athletics Canada and the fact that they feel they can hang back and wait for someone to hit their standards strikes me as not meeting their mandate. Canada is a G8 nation. We have resources and distance running isn’t exactly costly. Collectively, the AC and Canadians as a whole need to decide that competing in running matters.
      If we were this mediocre in hockey or hell, even curling there would be some kind of Royal Commission convened.
      Thank God we got a gold in trampoline. At least we have that.
      Rory

      • Jane says:

        I hate to say this but I don’t think you understand the basic economics here – I don’t think you appreciate just how very little money is actually available to individual sporting bodies to achieve their mandate. It would be extremely enlightening for you to speak to the Executive Director of Athletics Canada to really appreciate the business side of athlete development and the tough decisions that have to be made.

        • Rory Gilfillan says:

          I have been in contact with them a few times and it’s been enlightening. I have also talked to high level endurance athletes

          The “business side of government” is something new and I would love to see a break-down of their numbers. In the business of sports, and the Leafs are an exception to most rules surrounding success (as they make money even when they lose), failure to field a competitive team results in someone, usually the coach, or GM losing their job.

          Government isn’t a business with the same kind of accountability that most businesses have. Canadians more or less disappeared from contention for forty years and a marathon record set in the 70s still stands and from the best the AC can offer is a shrug. It’s hard to fathom any business model that could sustain this kind of indifference.

          This isn’t entirely the fault of AC and is part of a much larger malaise that celebrates recreational jogging to the exclusion of the competitive side of it. I sympathize with the plight of an organization that is forced to work with limited resources but this doesn’t explain the last forty years.

          In the mid-90s, when hockey, came to the belated realization that they were providing gritty character players but very few talented players and that Canada’s presence on the international stage was in danger of decline, they didn’t shrug and wait for things to change. Instead Hockey Canada got together. They looked at what other countries were doing. Looked at what worked and what didn’t and changed the way we practice and play hockey. Success in the women’s game and men’s gold in the last 2 of three Olympic Games can be directly traced to this re-examination.

          AC could do the same but in light of a population that isn’t interested in holding them to account in the same way they are when it comes to Canada’s national game, I am not holding my breath.
          Rory

    • Jamie says:

      I come from Australia. A country of roughly similar economics and size to Canada. We had a nationally coordinated, largely volunteer run athletics program called ‘Little Athletics’ which has been around for many years. Most of our successful T&F athletes have been through the system, which starts in earnest after about age 6. My own kids are that age now, and I have been surprised that here in Canada, we have no such system. The Athletics clubs seem to compete with each other at an administrative level: politics, splinter groups etc etc. Municipalities have seemingly almost no role in coordinating structures or facilities and as for a provincial or national strategy, forget about it.

      This is as much about attitude as funding. So much money gets wasted by uncoordinated administration and poor communication. All the kids need is some space to run/jump/throw and some volunteer coaches with access to solid coaching guidelines. That takes dedication, focus and coordination. In other words, attitude.

      If all it took was money, the Leafs would win every Stanley Cup.

  • Jane says:

    Well Rory wouldn’t that make for an interesting blog – how you would suggest what AC could or should be doing to ensure “competing in running matters” in Canada. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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