Here at Canadian Running, we’ve started a new series, entitled ‘The Moment That Changed Everything.’ In these stories, we take an in-depth look at a momentous race, event, or happening in the career of a runner that has helped shape them into the athlete they are today.
First off is Olympian and 3:34 1,500m runner Charles Philibert-Thiboutot. This week, ‘CPT’, as he’s known in the Canadian running community, opens up about his first CIS (now U Sports) championship on the track: the 3,000m.
As told to Alex Cyr
“I was in Sherbrooke[, Que.] and it was March 2011. I was a 19-year-old rookie in the CIS [Canadian university sport system], never having run at a meet of such importance. This was my first real big track event.
“We arrived on the Vert et Or campus a few days in advance. I remember walking out onto the track for the first time, and I could not wait to compete. I watched high-calibre athletes from teams across the country warm up and prepare for their events. My anticipation was growing stronger each day. Because I had never been to a national track championship before, I felt like I was in such good company. There was so much positive energy around the track.
“I was there to run the 3,000m and the 4x800m for Laval University. I failed to qualify in the 1,500m, and had only squeaked into the 3,000m because Anthony Berkis of the University of Windsor, who was ranked ahead of me, elected not to run and instead focused on other races. So, I was ranked near the bottom of the field. I looked at the start list, and realized I would be racing guys I looked up to – guys I considered CIS legends. There was Kyle Boorsma and Alex Genest of the University of Guelph, and Dave Weston of the University Windsor, among others. I knew these guys just by looking at their results over the years, and now I had to race against them. I was star struck.
“The race itself was eye-opening. With 600m to go, I blew up. Those last three laps [of 15] around the 200m track were the most painful I had ever run. I had nothing left. Overall, I ran terribly. I think I finished ahead of one runner. (Editor’s note: he did in fact beat one finisher, placing 10th out of 11.) Even fellow rookies beat me, handily. Paul Janikowski, a then first-year runner from the University of Windsor, beat me by six places and 13 seconds. My result was pretty forgettable.
“It’s funny now. I look back at my first national university championship as such a positive experience. Honestly, the only negative part of my time at the 2011 CIS championship was the race itself. I had so much fun over the weekend, and my time in Sherbrooke made me realize that running would become a part of my life – it might, to some extent, define my life. Since then, I’ve been 100 per cent invested because the journey to get to Sherbrooke was awesome, and I always want to relive the feeling. Whether it was about qualifying for the CIS championship then, or making national teams or the Olympics, it’s the same. Elite running is a privilege; not many people get the chance to do what I do, and live these moments.
“It has been seven years since that CIS championship, and I enjoyed a steady progression until 2016. I got to live so many great life experiences through running. I went to the Olympics, ran PBs, and travelled the world. Last year (2017), however, things grew difficult. I didn’t have the year I wanted, in part due to injuries and stress management. I had to perform and qualify for national teams while running through pain. I did not attain the results I wanted, and now that I am a professional runner, that brings a great deal of disappointment.
“When I ended my season early in summer 2017, I wondered what I ran for. That questioning took me back to 2011, back to when I had fallen in love with the sport. It helped me remember how much I enjoyed qualifying for races, competing, and doing my best. When I think back to that moment, I realize how much I love my sport.
“My first CIS championship constantly reminds me of how grateful I am to live this life. I still want to get the most I can out of track and field. To run for teams at national and international events is not forever, and life can take it away in a second.”