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The Canadian running renaissance of the late 2010s

Canada's going through a running renaissance right now that's showing no sign of slowing down

The Canadian record board has seen almost a complete rewrite in the past two years. Every event from the 400m hurdles through the marathon has seen best-ever marks for our nation, and that’s something to celebrate. Records being broken is a feat to marvel at, but in 2017 a shoe emerged that tainted those records for some running fans (particularly the road records). Nike released their Vaporfly 4% shoe in June 2017 (the first of its carbon-plated kind to be released commercially) and it changed the running game. But when you examine the record boards of countries that aren’t Canada (or Kenya, or Japan–we’ll explain later) the road records aren’t falling at the same rate.

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%

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By 2018, runners recognized that the Nike shoe provided an advantage, by 2019 it was all anyone could talk about, and by 2020, people were hoping the shoe would be banned from the sport (side note: neither the original shoe, nor its contemporaries were banned).

Because of the turmoil in the running community right now, it’s easy to chalk these Canadian performances up to the new technology, but if the technology was the only factor, records would be falling at a similar rate everywhere in the world that people care about running (which is almost everywhere).

Cam Levins breaks the tape at Canadian Marathon Championships, STWM 2018. Photo: Todd Fraser, Canada Running Series

While recognizing that all of these runs (with the exception of Levins’s) have been run in Nike shoes, it’s important to point out that what’s happening in Canada is special–it’s not just a technology renaissance, it’s a running renaissance. Here’s a look at the national records from some of the biggest players in running (for the sake of this comparison, only the half-marathon and marathon record were examined though some countries saw 10K and 5K record that were presumably run in Nike shoes).

What other countries record boards look like

China hasn’t seen a national record on the road since the early 2000s. Its national records currently stand at 1:02:51 (run April 2009) and 2:08:15 (run October 2007) on the men’s side and 1:08:40 (run October 2004) and 2:19:39 (run October 2003) for the women.

The Norwegian women’s records have been untouched since the 80s, but both the men’s half and full records were broken in 2017. Ingrid Kristiansen owns almost every women’s distance record, and her road records for the half and full were set in 1987 and 1985 respectively. On the men’s side, Sondre Nordstad Moen owns both the half and full records at 59:48 and 2:05:48.

2016 New York City Marathon
Sally Kipyego, Mary Keitany and Molly Huddle after the New York City Marathon. Photo: NYRR

America hasn’t seen any change in its record boards (in the half or full) since Molly Huddle in 2018 (she’s a Saucony athlete, so that was a Nike-free record). Beyond Huddle, the American distance records have remained untouched. Deena Kastor’s marathon record still stands from 2006 at 2:19:36, and the men’s half and full haven’t even been flirted with in years. The men’s half record belongs to Ryan Hall at 59:43 (from 2007) and the marathon record to Khalid Khannouchi, who ran a 2:05:38 in 2002 (Hall ran a 2:04 in 2011 at Boston, but it wasn’t record eligible).

Australia has seen a national half-marathon record in the past three years (Brett Robinson in 59:57) but the men’s full and both women’s records remain. On the women’s record boards, the half record was run by Kerryn McCann in 2000 at 1:07:48 and the full by Benita Johnson in 2006 at 2:22:36. On the men’s side, the marathon record is from 1968 by Robert De Castella in 2:07:51.

The Irish men’s records are from 2011 in the half-marathon and 1990 in the full. On the women’s side, neither record has been touched since 2002.

Canada, Japan and Kenya are outliers (three records since 2017)

These countries have seen a lot of movement on their record boards and have seen more than three records broken over the half and full the past three years.

Kenya is home to both Brigid Kosgei and Eliud Kipchoge, the world record-holders in the marathon (and Kosgei in the half as well). Japan has seen more movement in its record boards, with both the men’s half and full and the women’s half falling in the past three years.

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While Canada isn’t home to any distance running world record-holders, our record board rewrite is internationally impressive. Between the half and full alone, Canada has seen seven records in two years and two additional close calls. The women’s half-marathon record has been broken four times in the past two years (Cliff, Cliff again, Wodak and Seccafien) and the women’s marathon broken twice (Cliff, then Elmore).

Trevor Hofbauer wins 2019 Canadian Marathon Championships. Photo: Maxine Gravina

On the men’s side, Cam Levins took down the 42.2K record in October 2018 and Trevor Hofbauer was only 26 seconds behind that time, one year later. Even the men’s half, one of the oldest records in the Canadian books, was threatened (16 seconds off) three weeks ago by 24-year-old Rory Linkletter.

This is an exciting time to be a Canadian runner and it’s equally important to point out that while shoe technology has improved, so have our runners.