PRR First Half - Men's Preview
BC Athletics, in partnership with a dozen road races in the province, have joined together to form a circuit known as the “BC Super Series”. The BC Super Series is aimed at increasing both general participation and high-performance competition on the road racing circuit. I have to say I’m impressed at the effort they are putting into high-performance distance running. There is no other province coming close to this type of support for competition in Canada.
The thing about investments like this is that if they don’t prove their merit they can be quickly taken away. As a fan of the sport, and with many vested interests in it, I feel obliged to assist in whatever small way I can to help this series be a success. Without the finances to help fund something like this I figured that I might be able to at least draw some eyeballs to each race via pre/post race reporting (and perhaps some more “live” coverage in the future).
The Pacific Road Runners First Half marks the “unofficial” start to the competitive spring road-racing season here in Vancouver. It also serves as the second race in the BC Super Series (the first being the Harriers Pioneer 8k). Over the years there have been a number of Olympians and elite-level runners that have raced this event, but this year is shaping up to be one of the more competitive on record. There is also a lot more on the line than usual with large bonuses for course records, overall prize money, series points, and world half-marathon spots for the taking. I wanted to take the time to give followers and in-depth take on various sub-plots brewing for this weekends race.
As of writing, the current ranking in the chase for the 3 World Half-Marathon Championships spots in Canada are the following:
Let's start by taking a look at the elite men’s start list this year. It is pretty clear that this is going to be a 3-horse race for the win at the front. Eric Gillis, Rob Watson, and Kip Kangogo have a list of PBs and a track record that towers over the rest of the field. However, anything can happen on race day. A younger dark horse, like Kevin Coffey, who has been spending this winter training in Vancouver could always pose an upset. Last year Trevor Hofbauer came into the race relatively unknown and posted a 1:08 to finish second (by about a minute) to 2012 Olympic Marathon runner Dylan Wykes.
Seeded in the top spot (although Bib 2, as Wykes will not start due to injury) is Vancouver resident Rob Watson. Rob has won this race 2 of the last 4 years. Rob knows this course. Rob trains on parts of this course multiple times per week. I have also heard reports here-and-there that his approach to training has changed over the last few months and it seems to be benefitting him. As an aside, I personally think a shift to lower volume and more quality (relative to his history) is a very smart thing and may pay huge dividends soon. An athlete with a decade or more of mega volume doesn’t need to keep doing that... they can draw on those miles while working the quality side of the equation.
Looking at his recent results I’d say he is in very fine form, especially at this time of year. A win in January at a very competitive Harriers 8k (beating Lord, Winter, Wykes) followed by a quick 63:58 in Houston bodes well for the spring. Not to mention the first 10km of that Houston race was covered in a ridiculous 29:38 (62:30 pace). Rob is currently sitting second in the ranking for the World Half Champs in Cardiff and intends on running the London Marathon in April. He is also sitting pretty in the lead for the BC Super Series (winning the series nets an additional $1000). Look for him to mark Eric and Kip to preserve that 2/3 position and his trip to Wales. With them not being BC residents it is unlikely, but not impossible, that they would continue to travel and race here to take the overall BC Super Series.
Two-time (and likely three-time) Olympian Eric Gillis will dawn bib 3 this Sunday. I’ve never met Eric, but seeing his results over the years makes me draw one big conclusion. This guy doesn’t race as much as the rest, but when he starts you better take him seriously. I can’t recall a single sub-par race out of him... this man shoots to kill. This is further shown in his recent results... there aren’t really any. I’m fairly certain he hasn’t raced since the Toronto marathon last October. That said, he got his 2016 Olympic qualifier (2:11.31) and in his 5 finishes in Toronto he has never been slower than 2:12.08. Eric has his graduation photo in the dictionary next to the term “consistent”.
Aside from the overall win on Sunday ($800), Eric is likely looking for a World Half Champs qualifying time. With Brandon Lord not declared, and Wykes injured, that time currently sits at the 64:28 by Thomas Toth in Houston. This is surely within his capabilities even though the course is tougher than most. It will, however, require a near course-record performance. Running under 63:58 would also bump Watson to third, which may have interesting implications later. Dylan currently has the course record at 64:21 from 2012, the year he raced the Olympic Marathon. A course record would net a nice $1500 bonus... so why not?
The last big contender will wear bib 4 on Sunday. Hailing from the land of oil (Alberta) we have Kip Kangogo! Kip has been around the Canadian running scene for a very long time. He's always a tough competitor so you can never count him out. I recall being at the Yonge Street 10k years ago when he was dueling Reid Coolsaet to the line with a final 1km around 2:40. Kip comes into this race having run the Pan-Am Marathon last summer representing Canada followed by the Toronto marathon in October in a PB 2:15.26. That’s a quick double marathon. I couldn’t find any notable results since then, but then again only BC athletes care about race results in Dec-Jan ;).
Like Eric, Kip is in need of a World Half Champs qualifying time. This is where things get interesting. Eric and Kip both need a time under 64:28 to take that third spot on the World Half team, but they also need to beat one another. Further, if they both are to take a spot they need to run under 63:58. This would bump Watson off the team and put them both on it. With Watson being in the race I don’t expect him to go lying down. The strategies might play out similar to a cycling race, where Watson simply sits and waits for one of these two to falter and ensure his spot in Cardiff. There are a lot of balls in play here (pun not intended, noticed during editing!).
After the three favourites above there is a distinct break in the abilities of the remainder of the field. The only exception could possibly be Kevin Coffey. I have no idea what shape he is in, but I do know he has spent the last month+ here in Vancouver training and avoiding the Ontario winter. I’ve heard that he has hung on to Dylan and Rob during workouts, which bodes well for his fitness. With no recent results he is the definition of a dark horse.
With the field set we are in for a solid race on Sunday. There is a fair bit on the line in terms of money and World Half Champs spots, which is bound to produce fireworks. The race itself pays 5-deep ($800, $500, $300, $200, $100), plus the $1500 bonus for the first finisher sub-64:21. There are also BC Super Series points on the line, which adds to an athletes total at the end of the year if they place in the top 4 ($1000, $500, $300, $200).
With the currently ranked 2nd-4th athletes in the BC Super Series not racing this weekend it looks like Watson should further extend his current lead. Current men's ranking for the BC Super Series after race 1 are the following: