'This is a profession, not a hobby': Canadian runners scramble as race schedule in limbo

CBC

When organizers of the Tokyo Marathon in February restricted the event to elite runners because of increasing cases of the coronavirus in Japan, Canada's Krista DuChene prepared for the worst-case scenario for her next race a month later.

On Tuesday that happened when the 43-year-old Olympic hopeful was among 25,000 runners notified that Sunday's 15th running of the New York City Half Marathon was cancelled due to the rapid developing virus.

"Although my husband and I don't rely on my race income to live, it is a disappointment," says DuChene, who was set to compete at her second NYC Half with fellow Canadians Natasha Wodak, Jen Moroz and Melanie Myrand. "I'm staying positive and able to see and appreciate that there are far worse things in life."

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The coronavirus situation seems to be worsening in the United States as the number of cases had reached at least 1,000 by Wednesday morning, including at least 31 deaths, according to CNN.com. New York and other states have declared emergencies while the number of people infected worldwide has topped 115,000 with more than 4,200 deaths.

Canadian runner Kinsey Middleton, who pulled out of the New York race this week after experiencing tendinitis in one of her shins during a hill workout, understands the precautions event organizer New York Road Runners had to take to keep athletes safe.

"I know they did not make this decision lightly," said the native of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who holds dual citizenship as her mother was born in Guelph, Ont. "As athletes, we relish every opportunity to showcase our fitness and hard work. We are all nervous about how this will affect our [running] plans this spring."

Some sports cancelled outright

Marathons in Barcelona (March 15), Rome (March 29), and Paris (April 5) were previously cancelled along with the world half marathon championships in Poland on March 28.

Qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics this summer are being cancelled or postponed daily, and time is running out for athletes to prove they meet the standard. On Tuesday, the rowing federation cancelled two World Cups and the final Paralympic qualifier. A day earlier, the International Judo Federation cancelled all Olympic qualifiers through April 30.

Other sports as diverse as weightlifting, swimming and badminton have also been postponed indefinitely or cancelled outright.

It's brutal and heartbreaking but all you can do is continue to train.' — Canadian distance runner Natasha Wodak on the increase in cancellation of sporting events due to the coronavirus

Canada's Evan Dunfee, a 2019 world bronze medallist in the 50-kilometre race walk, points out rescheduling Olympic qualifying events will be of little use since endurance athletes require weeks of recovery between races.

"If athletes have to race in June, you'll be putting all your eggs into the qualifying basket and wouldn't be able to recover in times for the Games [scheduled to begin July 24]," Dunfee wrote on Twitter this week.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/File
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/File

Wodak, who is trying to meet the Olympic standard in the 10,000 metres, figures marathons in Rotterdam (April 5) and London (April 26) will be next on the chopping block.

"There goes the chance [for a lot of runners] to try to reach the Olympic standard. It's brutal and heartbreaking but all you can do is continue to train," says the 38-year-old Vancouver resident, who ran 1:09.38 on Jan. 19 at the Houston Half Marathon to become the first Canadian female to eclipse the 70-minute mark.

"I had been training for [NYC Half] but it's not the be-all, end-all race. This was a race more for fun than anything. I wanted to run hard, make a bit of money and have a fun weekend in New York City. It's not a fast course so I wasn't going after the Canadian [women's] record or using it to qualify for anything."

'Big goals' for London Marathon

The 2016 Olympian, who plans to shift her focus to 5K and 10K races for the balance of the season, will run a 5K on Saturday in Vancouver.

Middleton has "big goals" planned for the London Marathon if she's healthy enough to compete. The top Canadian woman at the 2018 Toronto Waterfront Marathon has yet to qualify for Tokyo in either the 10,000 or marathon.

"It's very nerve-wracking to not have control of your racing schedule," she said, "especially during the Olympic qualifying window. This is something I've never dealt with so I'm just continuing to put in hard training and keeping my fingers crossed that my goal race won't be cancelled."

DuChene is hoping to run the Boston Marathon for a third consecutive year on April 20. She put on a late charge in the rain, cold and wind to place third in the women's race in 2018. Six months ago, the mother of three from Brantford, Ont., clocked her first sub-2:34:00 performance since 2015 with a time of 2:32:27 to win the masters (40-and-over) division at the Berlin Marathon. The Olympic standard is 2:29:30.

"I'm still hoping Boston is a go, at least the elite field," says DuChene, who won the women's race at the Chill Half Marathon in Burlington, Ont., on March 1. "It wouldn't be the same but if spectators and the mass start were removed, it would certainly be better than nothing.

"It may sound selfish to be happy enough with just the elite field but this is a profession, not a hobby for us."

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