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Coolsaet Close to Olympic Berth

Reid Coolsaet aims at Olympics

Reid Coolsaet aims at Olympics

Reid Coolsaet never imagined he’d be on the brink of an Olympic Games berth when he ran cross country for Hamilton’s Westdale Secondary School back two decades ago.

A mediocre athlete, whose goal was nothing more than joining his girlfriend in qualifying for the provincial high school cross country championships, Coolsaet finished 18th in the 1997 race. In the absence of scholarship offers he joined coach Dave Scott-Thomas at the University of Guelph. The partnership has certainly paid off.

A year ago he dipped under Athletics Canada’s Olympic qualifying standard with a time of 2:11:23 to finish 10th in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. At this point he is the only Canadian to have achieved the standard but there’s a catch. The IAAF announced after the race the qualifying period wouldn’t start to January 2011.

Now all he needs is a strong effort at this year’s Toronto race October 16th – anything under  the IAAF standard of 2:15 will do – to earn his place at the London 2012 Olympics. And, he must ensure he is amongst the first three Canadians capable of achieving the standard. The competition for the three Olympic spots with Simon Bairu, Dylan Wykes and his Speed River Track Club teammates Eric Gillis and Rob Watson is something he welcomes.

“It definitely motivates me and keeps me on top of it because I have goals to run faster this fall,” he reveals, “I want to improve upon  2:11:23 like anybody would want to get a p.b. But having guys to keep me in check definitely raises the bar a little bit and gives me incentive and motivation.”

With the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfrot Marathon scheduled three weeks later than in previous years Coolsaet is in the midst of a fourteen week block of training which has seen him put in 210 kilometres a week. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though.

In July as he began the buildup for Toronto he caught a cold, experienced a flare up in a shin problem then had to have a broken tooth extracted. A course of antibiotics also wore him down. Now he says training is going well. He drives up to Guelph twice a week to run with Gillis and Watson.  The remainder of the time he runs alone near his parents’ home in Hamilton or with Kenyans Josephat Ongeri and David Karanja who are also Hamilton residents.

Despite Coolsaet’s success last year he admits his decision to run in Toronto was by no means automatic. He was expecting to go for a faster time at the London marathon last spring but he stepped on a rock during a training run last fall and the resulting injury  caused a lengthy interruption.  Last March he went through with a month of high altitude training in Kenya although he spent the first weeks running alone until he could get fit enough to join the Kenyans. Nevertheless the experience was enough for him to plan a return trip.

Coolsaet also considered running at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea (the men’s marathon is scheduled for September 4th) but decided against it because of the expected heat and humidity. He does have experience in hot weather championships having represented Canada in the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin where he ran a then personal best of 2:16:53 for 25th place.  All things considered he believes the decision to run in Toronto was his best option.

“Its really nice to run a marathon where people are cheering for you and you hear your name and you don’t have to travel far,” he explains. “The big advantage for us in Toronto is that (race director) Alan (Brookes) will cater to our pace and he’ll listen to how fast we want to run and provide rabbits at that pace. If we went to another North American marathon we probably wouldn’t get that sort of attention from that marathon.

“If we went to New York or Chicago we would probably be asking other people what they were doing and trying to figure out what pacemakers to go with versus here where, if you want to run 2:09:45, you can get someone running that.”

Coolsaet is not one who is easily distracted from his goals. Minor injuries that would send other straight to the tipping point are glossed over. He cycles or swims when necessary and gets his physiotherapy between workouts. Indeed, his good nature has come in handy during a career that has seen him win nine Canadian titles from 5,000m to the marathon – including, most impressively,  the 2009 marathon and 10000m championships with six weeks between them. Sometimes he has been involved in practical jokes.

As a student he walked in to the University of Guelph athletics centre to discover a Hall of Fame portrait of him had been doctored to enhance the size of his ears, lips and nose then hung back on the wall. Hundreds of students writing exams in the centre enjoyed a laugh at his expense. But Coolsaet says it goes with the territory.

“It was actually in retaliation for a joke I had played,” he says laughing. “ A girl had left her number on my roommate’s desk. I called her and pretended to be him. So she approached him in class the next day thinking she had talked to him. It was a really awkward conversation. At that point he got me back.”

On another occasion he passed through customs with an electronic device which gave unwitting victims a shock when they shook hands with him. Fortunately the customs agent had a sense of humour and he wasn’t arrested.

When he lines up in Toronto the Olympic qualifying will be first and foremost in his mind. Achieving a personal best is also a goal. And he is fully aware that Scotiabank and Alan Brookes, in their unlimited attempts to raise the standard of Canadian marathoning, have put up $36,000 in bonus money ($1,000 for every year) for any Canadian who can break Jerome Drayton’s longstanding national record of 2:10:09.

“Obviously we are trying to make a living out of the sport and that would be a huge pay day for a Canadian marathon,” he admits, “But it’s not something I think about. As much as I want to run fast you can’t focus on it. So it’s definitely an added bonus but it’s not a day to day thing I think about.

“I actually don’t have a time goal this time. Last time I trained for a marathon I had a time goal in my head but as my training progressed it kept on changing. I don’t think you can force your thresholds to get down there so much. I am going to try and maximise my training. Last year I went into marathon training thinking sub 2:13 then on race day I wanted to run 2:10. I really thought I was going to run 2:10 high. Obviously I missed it. So I would like to say I can run a 2:10 flat. Maybe it goes down. Maybe I feel like going for a 2:10 high again.”

On his schedule is the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia on September 4th. A victory in the  Acura Toronto 10 mile race (August 14th) in 48:34 is a good indication he is ready. These two races will give him a better idea of his fitness level. Then he will advise Alan Brookes of the pace he’d like a pacemaker to take him along the streets of Toronto.

Coolsaet is in the enviable position of having satisfied Athletics Canada’s high performance standard. But he can’t afford to run a mediocre race on October 16th. With an Olympic Games place on the line the stakes are just too high.


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