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Amidst hail, no fuel, Thomas Toth qualifies for worlds by just two seconds

The unheralded 25-year-old becomes the fourth Canadian male to qualify for the 2017 IAAF Championships in London in his marathon debut in Hamburg.

Thomas Toth
Thomas Toth
Photo: Norbert Wilhelmi.

Thomas Toth is quietly becoming one of Canada’s more intriguing distance runners.

In early 2016, Toth, seemingly out of nowhere, ran 1:04:26 at the Houston Half-Marathon. Since, he’s won the Canadian Half-Marathon Championships and represented Canada at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships.

On Sunday, in Germany, the 25-year-old ran 2:18:58 at the Hamburg Marathon, his debut for that distance, to join a very exclusive club: Canadians who have run the IAAF World Championship men’s marathon standard. He got under the necessary mark by just two seconds.

Amidst hail, 3 C temperatures and strong winds, Toth finished 15th overall in a field that included Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich. His original goal was 2:15-2:16 based on what he and his coach figured was realistic.

But there were mix-ups with the placement of bottles for the elites at certain aid stations which meant Toth’s fuelling plan went out the window mid-race, and he resorted to drinking water on two notable occasions from the stations for recreational runners. He opted to skip the race’s final two water stations after water went into his lungs the first time and went up his nose the second time.

“When I got to the start line [and the conditions worsened], you almost have to laugh it off,” he says when asked how he stayed focused despite the conditions. “You’re already here so at that point, it’s all about who was going to tough it out. Coach put a lot of effort, my wife has been so supportive and there’s other people you do it for.”

The Lakefield, Ont. native who resides in Plaistow, N.H. is not supported by an apparel or shoe company. “It’s been a tough road from that perspective,” he says. (He does, however, work with ProMix Nutrition though the bottles weren’t available on course.) Toth sees all of the challenges and unexpected changes in Hamburg as a learning experience. “The main takeaway is that the marathon is really painful,” he says. “The marathon is a lot more than I expected.”


Only three other men – Reid Coolsaet, Eric Gillis and Rob Watson – have managed to run sub-2:19:00 within the eligible qualifying period for the London 2017 IAAF World Championships. That trio includes Canada’s fastest active marathoner (Coolsaet), an Olympic 10th-place finisher (Gillis), and a Pan Am Games and Worlds participant (Watson). Up to three athletes with standard may be selected. (Watson, who ran the standard at the 2016 London Marathon, has since “retired” from competitive running and his status is unclear.)

“I can’t say I’m confident in this position, I’m only two seconds under the standard,” he says. “I got by with a sneeze. I would love to represent Canada with any of those three because they were all influential in me moving up to the marathon.”

When asked what’s next, Toth says “mastering going up and down stairs” before regrouping. He got in a few kilometres on Monday, the day after the race, and will be prepared if he ends up being selected for the IAAF World Championships.

Canadian Tarah Korir also raced a marathon in Europe last weekend. She, too, hit the IAAF World Championships standard. Korir, who was the top Canadian at the 2016 Ottawa Marathon, ran 2:39:46 at the Vienna Marathon in Austria. The Kenyan-based Canadian’s PB is 2:35:46.