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Chris Balestrini: Run Your Way

For the Canadian 50K record holder, running is a reward at the end of a challenging day

Chris Balestrini Photo by: Nick Iwanyshyn

Chris Balestrini does it all: trail running, road running and track running. “Pretty much all types of running,” he laughs. “I guess I could say, I’m an outdoor enthusiast.” That downplays his accomplishments: Balestrini is a New Balance-sponsored athlete who holds the Canadian 50-kilometre record, but also runs a smoking fast 10K (29:22). He just finished second at the Vancouver Marathon. And he’s getting his PhD while training as a pro athlete.

“My first memory of running was Grade 3 cross country,” he says. “I remember I wanted to be on the team because all my friends were on the team. I absolutely did not love running at that point.”

A stress fracture early in his high school running career led him to cycling, and he grew to love life on two wheels. But the time commitment for being a pro cyclist was too much once he entered university, so he made the shift back to cross-country running. The engine he built from cycling and the strength built from a few years off to let his bones recover and develop allowed him to make the cross-country team at Western University (but just barely); then he was off and running.

“From there, my love of running kind of came back and grew,” Balestrini says. “I realized that, maybe if I keep if I keep pursuing this, I can do something positive with it.”

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Running even lends itself to chasing a doctorate degree, he says: “With running, there’s quite a bit of flexibility in training, when you’re doing experiments and when you’re writing,” he says. “You can find those nice parts of the day to get out and run, compared to when I was in medical school, and it was much more time-consuming. Then, it was harder to fit in training. Sometimes we’re sleeping at the hospital two to three nights a week, and working quite often. So you really have to prioritize running to make it happen. Luckily, I always viewed running as the the treat at end of the day, not something I had to do. That helped my mental health and my energy levels in the hospital. Viewing running as a reward makes a big difference in your outlook.”

He was good at short distances, but as a cyclist, longer durations were intriguing—and that’s where the 50k came in. “From my background in road cycling, the races were always longer than two and a half hours, which is the marathon time,” he says. “I naturally looked at the trails and got my feet a little wet going into the 50K races, then started looking at the 50-milers. The Squamish 50 miler was my debut in that distance last summer and I enjoyed being out all day. I enjoy the more the undulating terrain and not knowing exactly if you’re on pace. On the road, you have splits every kilometre and you have a more strict race plan. If you’re falling off, then it might be a bad day. But on the trails, you can have a bad 10 kilometres and then come back in the next stretch. And I think that really appealed to me, because it’s more of a long-term battle within your body, and also your mind, as well as with the competitors on the course.”

Chris Balestrini
Chris Balestrini. Photo: Nick Iwanyshyn

“When I’m looking for a race, I typically want it to be competitive,” he adds. “I want to be able to have not only the course push me, but to have competitors push me too, to explore those deep dark places within yourself.”

“I think “run your way” means to run any surface, any distance, and just go out and put forth your best effort,” Balestrini says. “In the last five years, I’ve raced a 1,500m on the track. I’ve raced marathons. I’ve raced 50-milers on the trails. And when I when I think about those events, I’ve gained experience and I’ve gained happiness. I think it’s important to not pigeonhole yourself into to one event or one distance, or even one type of running, and to just explore everything that running has to offer.”

 

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