Eric Gillis withstands pain to claim Canadian marathon title

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

TORONTO — Eric Gillis of Guelph wasn’t at his best in Sunday’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but it was good enough to win the Canadian men’s championship.

“I got a little locked up there in my right knee and it was sore for the second half,” the New Balance Speed River Track and Field Club member said. “It’s just one of those things that can happen, I don’t think it was because of Rio or anything. I learned a lot from the build-up and it was a good experience. I bounced back pretty quickly. I knew it was not something that I’d recommend doing every time, but I thought my head space was pretty good and I decided that I would do it.”

The Waterfront Marathon was held seven weeks after Gillis finished 10th in the Rio Olympics.

“I’ll take more from the build up than I did from the race because the last 15k just wasn’t fun and I really don’t like to remember that a lot next time around,” he said. “It wasn’t like I wasn’t fit enough to run faster than my finishing time, it’s more like ‘Ah, I’m not moving well enough. I’m sore. My knee is sore and I can’t get the power out.’ That happens a lot and it hasn’t happened to me much so for it to happen now, I don’t like it but I can’t complain because it’s part of the sport.”

Gillis finished fifth overall in the marathon in a time of two hours, 13 minutes and 42.6 seconds. Philemon Rono of Kenya won in 2:08:25.4 and he was followed by Seboka Dibaba of Ethiopia second in 2:09:45.0, Albert Korir of Kenya third in 2:10:21.0 and Ishhimael Chemtan of Kenya fourth in 2:12:19.8.

Second Canadian was Kip Kangogo of Lethbridge who was eighth overall in 2:22:13.0.

Gillis left the race feeling disappointed, but not discouraged.

“I had alignment troubles, a sore knee. It doesn’t feel good to have that when you can’t get your fitness out which is the exact opposite to Rio where I got all my fitness out and I was able to just be consistent and really be in control,” he said. “Today I wasn’t. I tightened up and got stiff out there. Who knows why? It wasn’t muscular, it was more like ‘Ah, my knee is sore.'”

The weather conditions didn’t bother Gillis, likely because he was more concerned about his knee. The race was run under cloudy damp and humid conditions that were not conducive to a fast time.

“The little bit of rain at the start kind of cooled things off,” Gillis said. “I didn’t feel the humidity, it was more the wet pavement that was different. It was similar to Rio, but I was going at a much faster pace so maybe that had something to do with it. It wasn’t overall a fast day, but I felt good going in so I thought I’d give it a go. If I want to feel good the whole race and just run for the best time I can on the day, I’d probably approach it a bit different, but I wanted to give that 2:10 a go. How much of the issues I had in the last 10k was a result of that. No regrets. It’s just another experience.”

But Gillis was encouraged by managing to record the standard for next summer’s world championships that are to be held at London in Great Britain.

“I’m glad that I managed the adversity there that I had as well as I could and finished under 2:14,” he said. “There’s an IAAF standard of 2:14.10 that I wanted to be under for sure.”


There was also a Guelph connection for the top Canadians in the women’s field.


University of Guelph graduate Krista Duchene won the national championship by finishing fifth, a little more than half a minute ahead of Rachel Hannah who moved to Guelph earlier this year and lives here five days a week. She stays in Toronto the other two days as she works there as a dietician.

“I wasn’t concerned at all about the rain or the wind, I knew it was going to be the humidity,” Duchene said of the conditions. “I have done this race before with high humidity and I took it lightly and suffered immensely for it. I think just with my experience, this being my 13th marathon, that I was going to be patient and wise and just take it out at a pace that felt comfortable because humidity is like a silent killer in a marathon.”

She was clocked in a time of 2:33:59.4, good for 21st overall.

“I don’t know that there really is much you can do to prepare for (the humidity),” Duchene said. “Maybe it was my Rio training that helped me, but it just pulls so much from you that it becomes about surviving in the end and not fast times, unfortunately.”

During her time in the Royal City, Duchene was a housemate of current Guelph Gryphons varsity women’s hockey coach Rachel Flanagan when both played for the team.

“There was a reunion this weekend that I missed because I was here,” Duchene said. “I loved the campus and the city itself and my experience there was incredible.”

Shure Demise of Ethiopia won the women’s race as she was 10th overall at 2:25:15.3. Tadelech Bekele of Ethiopia was second, 13th overall, at 2:26:28.8, Rebecca Chesir of Kenya third, 16th overall, at 2:28:52.0 and Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia fourth, 20th overall, at 2:33:15.0.


For Hannah, sixth in the women’s class and 22nd overall at 2:34:34.0, the race was her fourth ever marathon. She was the bronze medalist in last year’s Pan-Am Games on another humid day.

“Like Krista said with the humidity, I think you have to adjust your expectations,” Hannah said. “I was really happy with the way that I paced. I was quite even right through halfway and feeling really good.”

She kept Duchene in sight throughout the marathon.

“I was really even in terms of my pace and halfway I was right where I wanted to be,” Hannah said. “It was nice to have Krista there to work with and after about 32 or 33k, the humidity really started to take hold and take a toll. Overall I’m happy with my goal, given the temperature and conditions.”

Hannah had set goals of getting a podium finish in the Canadian championships and to record a time somewhere in the 2:31:30 range.

“I was a little way off, but halfway I was on pace,” she said. “I’m very, very happy with it. Coming second to Krista is quite the accomplishment.”

Hannah will continue competing in marathons and will figure out her schedule for them.

“We’ll sit down and figure out when my next one will be. I’ll definitely do another one, of course,” she said. “I’m going to be doing some cross-country in November, the Ontario championships and the nationals. That’s the next thing on the radar.”

Also in Sunday’s marathon, Calum Neff and his four-year-old daughter Ally set a Guinness world record for completing the marathon pushing an occupied stroller. They finished 18th overall in 2:31:21.5.

“That was our first marathon,” said Neff, a Canadian who lives in Houston. “In February, my youngest daughter, Holland (11 months), we set the Guinness world record for the half marathon of 1:11.26. We’ve run pace-wise faster, but this is our farthest run and this is the farthest I’ve pushed a stroller.”

To train for the race, Neff and his daughter hit the roads a couple of times a week.

“We knew we were going to be running with the stroller and having Ally prepared was as much a part of it as well,” he said. “It was actually a real good bonding experience being with my daughter all that time.”

Ed Whitlock of Milton also set a world record at the race. The 85-year-old finished the event in 3:56:33.2, the first person his age to ever finish a marathon in less than four and a half hours.

The marathon attracted a field of 4,516.

Among the finishers were 23 who listed Guelph as their hometown. They included Brad MacNeill (165th in 3:09:20.6), Tyler Harrison (945th in 3:49:33.6), Paul Grant (1,028th in 3:52:13.4), Andrea Hanna (1,140th in 3:55:15.5) and Leigh Hanna (1,157th in 3:55:52.0). Pat Murphy of Fergus was 1,014th in 3:51:47.1.

Kindi Asefa of Toronto won the half marathon in 1:08:34.2 while Matthew McNeil of Halifax was second in 1:08:45.6.

Robert Brouillette of Cambridge, who works in Guelph, was seventh in 1:12:14.4.

Top female finisher in the half marathon was Erin McClure of Waterloo, 41st overall in 1:20:40.4.

The half marathon attracted a field of 11,384 participants including 80 finishers from Guelph. Fastest of the bunch was Will Ruddock who was 150th in 1:28:30.5 while top female of the group was Tara McDonald, 100th in the women’s race and 627th overall in 1:39:53.8.

The meet’s five-kilometre race attracted a field of 7,852 participants including 23 finishers from Guelph.