On October 20, 2019, the country’s best road runners lined up at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to fight for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. The race provided two and a half hours of excitement for everyone present, and by the end, Trevor Hofbauer and Dayna Pidhoresky were crowned Canadian champions, officially booking their tickets to the Tokyo Olympics. Canadian Running spoke with the pair of soon-to-be Olympians and looked back on that day one year ago and the race that ultimately became a career highlight for both runners.
In the months leading up to STWM, Pidhoresky says her workouts indicated that she was capable of winning the Canadian title and running the Olympic standard of 2:29:30. When it came time to race, though, she says didn’t let herself think of these outcomes. “For me, I race best when I don’t pile a bunch of pressure on myself,” she says. “So at the start, I wasn’t thinking of winning or running standard, I just tried to be grateful to be there and have fun.” Had she not adopted this mindset, Pidhoresky says she believes the race could have gone much differently for her. “It’s really hard to get the most out of yourself when you’re putting that pressure on yourself as well.”
With goal splits written on her hand, Pidhoresky checked to see how she was doing every 5K. She got to the first checkpoint a bit faster than anticipated, but she didn’t worry too much. Five kilometres later, she says she was very far ahead of schedule. “I was like, ‘Well, there’s nothing you can do now, so just keep going and try to find that comfortable pace where you can just shut your mind.'” At that point, she was about 30 seconds ahead of the next closest Canadian women, and by halfway, she had extended her lead to more than a minute.
“I didn’t go out trying to break away from the other women, it was just the rhythm I found myself in,” she says. She says that was the best she has ever felt midway through a marathon, and she told herself not to be scared and to instead trust in her abilities. At about 33K, things got a bit harder for Pidhoresky, but looking back on it now, she says she “never really had any rough moments.” Well ahead of second-place Canadian Emily Setlack, Pidhoresky cruised through the final 9K, crossing the line in 2:29:03, well under Olympic standard.
She says the race is easily the highlight of her running career. “I wouldn’t even care if nothing else trumped that. Obviously I hope I can run faster, but I think it’s hard to replicate a race like that.” Now, nine months out from the postponed Tokyo Olympics, she says she will focus on speed for the next while, with plans to take a run at her 5K PB in January. After that, she says her schedule is up in the air with the ongoing global uncertainty. “Whatever happens, we’ll try to do what we can so I feel prepared going into Tokyo.”
Hofbauer’s mindset going into the Canadian Championships was similar to Pidhoresky’s: he believed that he could win, but he didn’t let himself focus on that too much. “The only expectation I had of myself was to cross the line knowing I’d done my best,” he says. “I knew I was super fit and that I could run around 2:10, and I definitely wanted to be that first Canadian, so in training, I fixated on it and made sure I was in the best possible shape to make that happen.”
Choosing to trust his body and run at whatever pace felt right, Hofbauer didn’t wear a watch for the marathon. “I knew what I was capable of, and I knew if I was pushing too hard or not,” he says. “I went out a little quick, but it wasn’t that bad.” Like Pidhoresky, Hofbauer says there were no extreme lows or dark moments in the race. “At no point did I think, ‘Oh, here comes the sting.’”
He passed through 10K in 30:45, running alongside Canadian marathon record-holder Cam Levins and 1:02 half-marathoner Evan Esselink. By the 30K mark, Esselink had fallen off the pace, and Hofbauer and Levins were left to duke it for the Canadian championship. Hofbauer eventually managed to pull away from Levins, and he can recall an internal conversation that he had with himself with about 7K to go.
“At a decent clip, 7K is about 21 minutes,” he says. “I asked myself, ‘What’s 20 minutes of pain in the span of hundreds of thousands of minutes you live throughout your life?’ It’s pretty easy to shut your mind off then. I wanted to finish strong and I left it all out there.” After he dropped Levins, he knew he was in the position to win the Canadian championship, but without a watch, he had no sense of time. It wasn’t until he came around the final turn and saw the clock that he realized he was about to run a sub-2:10 marathon. He crossed the line in 2:09:51—the second-fastest marathon in Canadian history (behind Levins’s 2:09:25).
Even though he didn’t let himself worry about the marathon beforehand, Hofbauer says he believed that he would win the race starting four months earlier in June. “When I go into race blocks, I develop the mindset first and I stick to it,” he says. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t accomplish those goals. I believed in June, even when I wasn’t very fit, that I’d be the top Canadian in October.”
Just like Pidhoresky, that race is the highlight of Hofbauer’s career. “Nothing can beat that,” he says. He’s currently working on his plan for the end of 2020 and the start of next year, but he says he isn’t too concerned with his schedule ahead of Tokyo. “I know that I’m a better athlete than I was last year,” he says. “And I know that over the next months ahead of the Olympics, I’m going to improve even more.”