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Rachel Cliff on going from the marathon back to the track

Cliff is running the 5,000m at this weekend's national championship, and looking for a spot on the World Championship team in an event that's an eighth of her Canadian record distance

Rachel Cliff has had an amazing 2019. The 31-year-old set a Canadian record in the marathon in March, running a 2:26:56 in her second-ever 42.2K.

She followed that race up with a very impressive track season, just missing out on the 10,000m world championship standard at Payton Jordan but hitting the 5,000m standard on Saturday at Heusden.

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Seasons best, 2nd fastest 5k ever and IAAF World Standard last night in Huesden ✨ This time last year I forfeited a summer of racing to train for my first marathon in Berlin – I never regretted that decision and wouldn’t have had it any other way – but I hoped that the next summer I’d have the opportunity to run a few shorter races back on the track ✨ It hasn’t been a seamless return, but in the past month my speed in workouts has come back and last night I got to make the most of a strong field and a fast track; which is exactly what I’d hoped for this summer! #OnRunning #BCEP #BCAthletics #teamtotal #VanRunCo #lovetherun #trackandfield #summertrack #leuvenit #huesden 📸 @kirstenklee

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Cliff has always said that she wanted to have a proper track season this summer, and she’s making it happen. But it hasn’t been easy: “Changing from the track to the marathon, I did notice a difference in my strength and my speed,” she says. “The marathon gives you real confidence in your strength, but your speed can suffer. It’s been a lot tougher than it used to be to go fast. I can’t go out too hard any more, but I am very confident in my ability to hold a pace.” The Canadian record-holder also says that while the marathon training has made speed a little more difficult, it has helped with her patience.


Cliff turned down the spot she was offered on the World Championship team earlier this year to compete over the marathon distance, hoping to be able to make the team on the track. “The marathon is a big build and it would’ve meant that I couldn’t have the summer season on the track. It was kind of sad to say no to a world team, but it was the right decision for me.”

2018 10,000m champion

She continues, “I was really hoping to qualify in the 10K [for worlds], but those fast races are tough to come across.” Cliff was just shy of standard in the 10,000m but achieved standard just last week over 5,000m. She says if given the opportunity to run at worlds over the shorter distance, she would love to run. “In the short term I’m focusing on Pam Ams, but then we’ll see how nationals goes–if I end up making the worlds team or not.”

The Canadian women’s 5,000m is extremely competitive right now. Andrea Seccafien has been so consistent around 15:11 and looks like she’s ready for a big breakthrough, and Jess O’Connell is a very strong championship racer who always finds herself in the mix. Throw in Cliff, fresh off a great race in Europe, and you’ve got a very competitive field.

Cliff has traveled a ton this year. She ran her Canadian record in Japan and has also been to California and Europe for track races. She said flying is a real phobia of hers, but she’s getting better at unwinding. “My advice for pre-race travel is to try not to stress about the little things, for example, food. Food is something that can really stress out an athlete, but long as you don’t have anything too extreme, you can really eat anything. For me I find that tofu and rice are two things you can get about anywhere in the world, so I’ve gotten used to eating those two foods.”

Rachel Cliff runs national marathon record. Photo: Instagram

She says she takes the same approach with sleep. “Sleep when you can, and try and sleep enough, even if it’s at strange times. The only thing that matters is that you’re not sleep deprived.”

For this weekend’s championship, Cliff is really excited to watch the women’s 1,500m and 800m. “It’s been awesome watching Melissa [Bishop-Nriagu] come back from having a baby and also exciting to see the new crop of 800m runners come up. Lindsey Butterworth is running so well–that’s a race I’m really excited to watch.”

As for her own championship goals, she’s happy with where she’s at and excited to compete against a strong group of Canadian women. “Running the [world] standard in a track event after the marathon is something I’m very happy about. I’m so glad I can come back to the track after the marathon and still find my speed.”