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How Rachel Cliff came back from a shaky marathon buildup to set a Canadian marathon record

Canadian women are rewriting the record boards. Here's the newest addition, a 2:26:56 marathon for Rachel Cliff

On Sunday evening, Rachel Cliff ran a new Canadian women’s marathon record, shattering the old record held by Lanni Marchant at 2:28:00. Cliff’s new record of 2:26:56 at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon is another huge step forward in Canadian women’s distance running, and follows in the footsteps of the three Canadian women who have collectively broken six records in the first 10 weeks of 2019. Gabriela Stafford has broken both the mile and 5,000m indoor records, Jenna Westaway broke the 1,000m and 800m indoor records and Jess O’Connell broke the 3,000m indoor record.


RELATED: Rachel Cliff shatters Canadian marathon record

But before Sunday, it wasn’t cut and dried that this record would go down. Cliff says she wasn’t entirely confident the record would happen. “After I was so close in Berlin, I knew the record was something I wanted to chase. But my build didn’t start off well, so after my build felt so shaky I refocused and placed more emphasis on the training as opposed to the big goal of a Canadian record.” Cliff ran her marathon debut in October 2018 at the Berlin Marathon, only 53 seconds off of the previous record.

The recovery from Berlin took longer than she’d expected, both physically and emotionally, as Cliff was coming off of a full 2018 outdoor season. Her tune-up race before Nagoya was the Marugame Half-Marathon in early February, and her result there gave her confidence heading into Sunday’s race. “Training wasn’t going great in December. Things really turned the corner in mid-January and so I was pleased to be in a much better place and able to run my second best half-marathon ever [at Marugame].”


During Sunday’s race, Cliff had two options: go with the pacers at 3:25 per kilometre pace or run alone. She decided to go with the pacers, and stayed with them for the bulk of the 42.2K, only pulling back at 27K. “There were two pace groups, paced by women who train with the Melbourne Track Club. The first group was led by Camille Bucsomb and the second by Sinead Diver. Diver actually went through 30K, which was amazing.” Diver is the W40 world record-holder in the half-marathon.

RELATED: Sinead Diver runs W40 half-marathon world record

By 30K into the race, Cliff was pretty certain she was in the clear for the record. “There was a hill at 33K, so I was reminding myself to get up the hill and re-evaluate. I scaled back at 27K and ran alone anticipating the hill, but ended up feeling ok. I started doing the math and I knew I was in a good spot for the record.”

Getting to the point of running a Canadian marathon record has been a real progression for Cliff. After running personal bests in every event from the marathon through the 1,500m on the track in 2018, she knew she was in a great spot heading into 2019. But being in a good spot and preforming on the day are two different things. “After your first marathon there’s always room to grow and learn. The training was pretty consistent heading into Sunday, but the biggest piece is that I just had more experience.”

But the new record-holder jokes, “Your second marathon is also a double-edged sword because there’s less fear of the unknown, but also more fear of the inevitable pain.”

RELATED: Rachel Cliff debuts the marathon only 53 seconds off the Canadian record

Cliff knew she had more left after her debut in Berlin, and is very content with her effort from Sunday. “It was about pushing the boundary and finding my line–and I think I did that. There are always ways to improve, you always want more, but I cannot deny that the last 2K sucked. I wouldn’t have wanted to go out any faster.”

Cliff will head back to B.C. tomorrow and take two weeks away from structured training. She still really wants to have a crack at a summer track season, and is hoping she will recover quickly enough from Nagoya to make that happen. But first, “I need to have some sushi before I leave Japan. I still haven’t had any sushi.”