There aren’t many athletes who can say they’ve seen the back of the banner across the Ottawa Marathon finish line, stretched across the posts for the winner to run through and tear down.
Yet this year, there were almost two men who broke the banner at Sunday’s marathon. In the last few hundred metres, Ethiopian Dereje Abera Ali burst into a faster stride and chased down the leader, Kenyan Laban Moiben, nearly breathing down his neck at the finish line. But Moiben held onto his lead, finishing with 2:10:17 – barely a second ahead of Ali, but good enough for the win.
“[I’m] happy. Very happy,” says Moiben of his win.
Maybe even happier than usual, since Moiben was the runner-up last year. But instead of bragging, he says the race was a struggle, calling his energy “90% there” due to high humidity and wet terrain.
Lucas McAneney of Toronto, the top Canadian finisher at 11th place, says he knows all too well the struggles even elite athletes face with the most famously brutal test of human endurance. He thanks his training for the win, not just for the physical preparation but for motivation to continue the race.
“I’ve done it so many times before. 42K is not really much in comparison to what I’ve done in training on a weekly basis, so to get out there, grit my teeth – I mean, I’ve done it in -20 weather, I can do it today in 15-degree weather,” says McAneney.
McAneney says he’s been running an average of 180 kilometres a week for the past three to four months. He uses interval training, which alternates between short, high-speed runs and runs with a high mileage.
Dylan Wykes from Vancouver, who finished ninth at Saturday’s 10K, uses a similar strategy. For him, it’s 160 kilometres a week, ranging from what he calls “easy runs” – as little as five kilometres – to longer runs at 30 kilometres. He says a mix of half-marathon and short track keeps him prepared for 10K.
Yet the 24 hours before the start gun goes off is nothing like their gruelling training. Wykes says he tries to “relax as much as possible” and eat five hours before the race. His winning pre-race meal?
“A big stack of pancakes,” he says.
As for McAneney, he says he’ll “eat pasta, anything that’s easy to settle – and lots of carbohydrates.”
With months of training and a day of rest behind them, these elite athletes line up for their respective races’ start lines. During the race, runners like Moiben may feel the sting of unpredictable and unfavourable weather. Other runners may choose to enjoy the scenery. This year’s races traced a new course that took them past Ottawa landmarks and through neighbourhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown, a result of the organizers’ hope to draw more spectators.
But for McAneney, there were only a few fans in his eye.
“Gosh, I see my parents out there [at] like, 32K, and my dad started crying and I almost started crying,” he says, “and then my girlfriend, I saw there – I got really emotional.”
Emotional or not, these athletes’ impressive times speak for themselves.