Laval University’s Antoine Thibeault is one of Canada’s rising stars in the 3,000m steeplechase, arguably the most intriguing of all athletics events.
The 23-year-old, for the second consecutive year, won the Canadian university 3,000m championships in recent weeks. He added a silver in the men’s 1,500m at the event officially known as the U Sports Track and Field Championships. The Quebec City resident though, for the most part, competes in the steeplechase, an event in which athletes must hurdle four barriers per 400m and clear an additional water pit on each lap. The obstacle-style setup requires both the fitness of a long-distance athlete and the technique of a hurdler.
Canadian Running caught up with Thibeault, who notably sports a man bun while racing, recently to get to know him and his background a bit better.
Personal coach: Pierre Thibodeau
University coach: Félix-Antoine Lapointe
What’s your weekly mileage like? What’s your favourite workout?
Depends but typically between 120-130K per week. Currently, I’m not doing as high of mileage as I’m focusing more on interval training. There’s generally three workouts per week, one short workout for 1,500m speed, a second workout focusing on 3K/5K stuff and a third 10K workout. I’m a big fan of shorter repetitions, 1Ks for example, but at a high intensity, specific for the steeplechase.
How did you first get into the steeplechase?
My coach, Pierre Thibodeau, used to be the coach of [Olympian] Alex Genest, who was one of the athletes I looked up to growing up. I wanted to be like him and I was motivated to make my first national team in the steeplechase, which I accomplished in 2011. I progressed from there qualifying for world juniors in 2013. Just before the Canadian Junior Championships in 2013, Genest Skyped with me to give me some tips and pointers for race day. I ended up winning that race and won silver at the 2013 Pan American Junior Championships.
What are you studying at Laval?
Physical education to one day be a teacher. I’m currently in my fourth year; I don’t know if I will return for a fifth year in 2017/2018, it will depend on results.
What’s your craziest race story?
The U Sports men’s 3,000m. I was very confused as the officials rang the bell (signalling the race’s final lap) 200m too early. All the coaches were yelling that the lap counter was wrong and so I figured out there was still two laps to go. I looked at the big scoreboard and saw the time and knew that the error was true. The guys from Western and Guelph, Jack Sheffar and Connor Black, sprinted all out and I figured I would stay close to them. When I saw them stop [at 2,800m], I knew that I needed to keep going. When I saw that no one followed me, I just tried to stay focused for the final lap.
Congrats @titoine_track on your superior running+math skills. That was weird.
— John Lofranco (@jtlinmtl) March 11, 2017
What do you prefer, cross-country or track?
Cross-country is not my favourite event mostly because it’s in September, October and November. I like to have a long summer of racing on the track so cross-country is a short period compared to racing track. Usually, cross-country is preparation for the winter. (Thibeault finished an impressive fifth and helped Laval win the national university championship in Quebec City last November.)
What’s your ideal post-run snack?
Usually a Clif Bar with some Gatorade. Almonds, bananas and apple sauce are also a go-to.
Earlier this year you ran 4:00.12 in the mile (1,609m) at Boston University. Did you know you were that close to breaking 4:00 when you crossed the line?
I definitely wanted to go sub-4:00 in that race and the pace early on was very good. The last laps were all out and when I crossed the finish line, I thought I had broken the barrier. I’ll try again next winter!
When and where will you race again?
I will try to race at the Payton Jordan Invitational [at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.] on May 5. If I get accepted, I will run the steeplechase there as that’s where I set a personal best last year. After that, maybe the Hoka One One Invitational in Los Angeles and then some meets in Europe. Making the IAAF World Championships is for sure one of my goals. My best is 8:36.42 and Canada’s standard for worlds is 8:32.00.
Do you see yourself continuing to run after university?
For sure, that’s the goal. (Thibeault has one year of additional eligibility for university athletics, if he chooses to compete again in 2018.)
This interview has been edited for clarity.