On Sunday, Evan Esselink ran the fourth-fastest half-marathon time ever by a Canadian (1:02:17) at the Houston Half-Marathon. The only men to go faster are Canadian marathon record-holder Cam Levins, Canadian half-marathon record-holder Jeff Schiebler and Simon Bairu. That’s keeping pretty good company.
Esselink made a big move in the fall of 2018, heading to Vancouver in October to train with coach Richard Lee and the B.C. Endurance Project after spending several years living and training in Guelph, Ont.
His race plan was pretty simple for Sunday’s half-marathon: get into a group that’s running on 61:30-62:30 pace and stay there. “My coach told me to sit in with the Americans, and if I could hang with the guys going 61:30 pace I should stay with them. The group that I found myself with was going about 62:30 pace which was better for me than the group that was going 60 flat. That’s a little out of my reach right now.”
The workout that tipped him off before Houston was three by two miles. Esselink averaged 9:11 per two miles, which is roughly 4:35 per mile. That’s approximately a 28-minute 10K on the roads if you string it all together. For context, a 28-minute 10K would have landed Esselink the top spot in the Canadian rankings for the distance in 2018. And he ran this in a workout. “The goal was to average around 9:20 per interval, but I went faster than that and it felt really effortless. That’s when I knew Houston was going to be good.”
Esselink knew he was in really good shape going into Houston, and the Canadian record was in the back of his mind. “I knew I was able to have a breakthrough if my headspace was right that day. Sub-62 was a potential outcome if everything was perfect. The last workout I did going into the race was one of the best workouts I’ve ever had.”
“There was this small part of me that was worried that I’d maybe tapered too early, and that that workout was my big effort, but obviously that didn’t end up being the case.” Esselink moved from Guelph to Courtice, Ont. in July and trained alone for the bulk of his summer season. But he quickly felt like himself again once he moved out west. “I was working out better than I had in years almost as soon as I got there. I can handle training on my own but I’d rather have a team. Having people to push me makes a huge difference. Very few at this level can tough it out solo.”
Up next for the runner are the NACAC Cross-Country Championships in Trinidad and then the World Cross Country Championships in Denmark in March. Esselink is hoping to be ready to go for cross-country and then take it down for a couple weeks before launching into his spring and summer seasons. He plans to run the 10,000m on the track this summer.