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Revised worlds standard gives new life to aspiring Canadian marathoners

This weekend will see some potentially major performances for two of Canada's developing long distance runners, Seth Marcaccio and Blair Morgan.

Seth Marcaccio

Athletics Canada, the nation’s governing body of running, decided to revise the 2017 IAAF World Championships marathon standard back in February. That has opened the door for a crop of up-and-coming runners in this country. The qualifying standard time for both men and women have now slowed rather significantly.

Two runners this weekend have their eyes set on running faster than 2:19 including Blair Morgan and Seth Marcaccio. Both are under 25 and hail from southern Ontario. Each have prepared differently on the all-important mileage spectrum.

Marcaccio, who just turned 22, will run Sunday’s Pittsburgh Marathon, one of North America’s most popular spring road races. Morgan will run Prague in the Czech Republic the same day, albeit at different hours taking into account the time zones.

“Hitting worlds standard is the main goal for the marathon,” Morgan says adding that he would have focused on the world university championships (FISU) had Athletics Canada not slowed the marathon standard. “2:19 is an attainable goal for a debut for me but I think the old, faster standard requires some experience in the marathon to hit.”

Until recently, only three Canadian men had run the IAAF marathon standard for London 2017: Reid Coolsaet, Eric Gillis and Rob Watson. After this weekend though, that number could increase to six as unheralded Thomas Toth ran 2:18:58 in Hamburg, Germany adding to the list of usual suspects on the Canadian distance running scene. However, Coolsaet told Canadian Running he won’t race worlds and Watson isn’t expected to run the London championships either.

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Morgan has averaged 160-170K per week, the focus being consistently “getting in weeks at the highest end” of his previous mileage. “I didn’t want to ramp it up to 200K a week for the first one and leave myself not a lot of room to increase in the coming years,” he said. Prague is a world-class event, with an IAAF Gold Label, the highest certification of road racing. Morgan will race in a pair of lucky pink socks featuring flying pigs– his tradition for the past four years.

Marcaccio, who too will be making his marathon debut, has averaged 210-250K in his build. (Running 250K in a week, his max, is a leg-aching 35K per day.) “Prior to starting this build, I knew I wanted to run a lot more mileage,” he says. “When I started running, I knew that the longer the distance, the better. I hate running on the track.”

It should be noted that Athletics Canada can send up to three athletes in the each of the men’s and women’s marathons so qualifying may require more than narrowly breaking 2:19 or 2:45, respectively. Now, runners in the 2:12:50-2:19 range (men) and 2:29:50-2:45 range (women) are at least eligible for selection whereas before they would have been on the outside looking in. (The IAAF, the world’s governing body, has a set of standards while individual associations, like Athletics Canada, have the discretion to set tougher marks. For the marathon, AC’s and the IAAF’s times now are equal.)

The Pittsburgh-bound Marcaccio set his ‘A’ goal as sub-2:19 while also citing sub-2:20 and sub-2:22 as secondary goals depending on the day. His preparation has gone well with one small hiccup, a minor foot injury, in March. He sees fuelling as a key hurdle to overcome on race day and staying “mentally and physically” strong through the race’s middle 10 miles (16K).

Marcaccio says he had been targeting a spring 2017 marathon since last March (14 months ago) so Athletics Canada’s revision of the world standards to the IAAF mark didn’t play a significant role in planning his marathon debut. Still, making the world team is something that crosses his mind, he says, and his ‘A’ goal reflects that aspiration. (Marcaccio wrote a recommended read on the standards for Canadian Running in February.)

Sunday’s races come at the tail-end of an action-packed weekend as the BMO Vancouver Marathon, GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon, Mississauga Marathon and Nike’s Breaking2 attempt in Italy all scheduled to run.

Marcaccio’s and Morgan’s attempts are just the latest in the intrigue that is Canada’s potential squad for London 2017 in August. With a May 31 cut-off date, Ottawa and Calgary become two of the last opportunities for runners to run the standard for London 2017. In Ottawa, Dayna Pidhoresky will look to move further up the rankings for the top three spots for worlds as Rachel Hannah, Lanni Marchant and Krista DuChene currently occupy those positions. Arianne Raby, targeting 2:40, could also hit worlds standard in Ottawa.