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Despite Struggles, Canadian Marathoner Keeps His Cool

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Dec. 17, 2010

Reid Coolsaet is hoping to hold on to one of three spots to represent Canada in the marathon at the 2012 Olympics in London. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Reid Coolsaet is committed to keeping his Olympic dream alive.

Written by: Tim Hauraney

“Okay let’s get going, I’ll buy you something to eat and drive you home,” said Chad Robertson, CEO of Zanagen Applied Cellular Science, recently to top Canadian long-distance runner Reid Coolsaet at the Runner’s Life Multisport Store in Peterborough, Ontario.

Robertson is one of Coolsaet’s sponsors, and he was on hand to speak about money and exposure–two things that are the enemy of most marathon runners. Amateur athletes around the world struggle to make a living doing what they love to do, and for Coolsaet it’s been a tough road. After graduating from the University of Guelph in 2003, he found himself working 25 hours a week at a bank while still training, believing all the while that eventually he would get his chance to turn his passion into a career.

“Every year I was improving,” said Coolsaet. “I knew if I continued on that path of working hard, and believing in myself, it could happen. You never really know what’s going to happen until it does, but my goals were always aggressive, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

The turning point arrived in 2005 when he improved by leaps and bounds at the 5K distance, running 13:31, a time good enough to get him carded and placed on the national team. Now with funding from the Athletes Assistance Program, Coolsaet was able to leave his job and focus full-time on training and racing. Athletics Canada pays out $1,500 a month to senior cardholders who are able to set a competitive time in their respective disciplines. Most of Canada’s Olympic athletes rely heavily on this monthly grant.

“You don’t make a lot of money doing an Olympic sport,” Coolsaet admitted.

Coolsaet lost his funding from the government in 2009 after finishing 25th at the IAAF World Marathon Championships in Berlin where he was unable to set the Olympic standard time that was required to keep his carding. “It was my first year not being carded since 2005,’ Coolsaet said. “I did, however, receive Quest for Gold provincial funding, which helped me out a lot.”

Quest for Gold program supports 1,160 athletes around Ontario. The program was developed to provide additional support to athletes in an effort to help increase their performance as well as the number of local athletes competing at the highest levels nationally and internationally. Each athlete receives approximately $6,000 a year to help compensate for earnings lost while training.

“Living at home definitely saved me a good chunk of money as well. Anything that can help out with training and living expenses especially for runners can go a long way,” Coolsaet said. “Training can be expensive, anything more than I can get is really helpful. The prize money in the marathon is good, you just have to make sure you hit it. You only run two marathons a year. You can make a lot of money if you do it right, but if it’s a bad day…that’s it, you wait another six months, it’s pretty fickle.”

Coolsaet has had his share of injury struggles, including a slipped disc in his back that damaged a major nerve and would sideline him for several months. The injuries kept pilling up–a broken foot a few months later would put him on the shelf for three months while he waited for it to heal. It all came to a head when Coolsaet injured his anterior tibial tendon, an injury that sidelined him for more than six weeks.

“The biggest thing that helped me get through the injuries was the motivation to run a good marathon,” Coolsaet said. “I felt and still feel that I have better performances in me.”

Things would start to turn around for Coolsaet when he  decided to train for this past September’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, where before the race he reflected on how well his preparation had gone for the event. Despite struggling through injuries and training on very little income, Coolsaet blazed down Lakeshore Boulevard, turning in a solid 10th-place finish with a personal-best time of two hours, 11 minutes and 21 seconds–the fastest time ever recorded by a Canadian on his home soil. Coolsaet was also six seconds under the Athletics Canada Olympic Standard, thus granting him one of the three spots Canada has available for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. There are still two years left for three other Canadians to set a faster time than Coolsaet and potentially bump him from his Olympic spot.

“I have to make sure that my ranking stays in the top three in Canada,” Coolsaet said. “Right now I’m ranked number one, but I foresee two other guys also making the Olympic standard, so hopefully the three of us will be able to go to London.”

Coolsaet’s Scotiabank performance came with another bonus in the form of financial support from Athletics Canada. Coolsaet will be placed on the provisional list, which all but guarantees him that he will be given funding to help train and live. “I submitted my application for Quest for Gold and Carding last fall,” Coolsaet said. “I only received Quest for Gold for the 2010 year. Right now I’m on the provisional list for Carding, which almost guarantees I’ll receive that plus QFG for 2011.”

With that support Coolsaet will be able to train in Kenya this January, something he’s dreamed about doing for a while. Fresh from his experience training with Kenyans in Hamilton, his eyes have been opened to experiencing a different kind of training. “There’s obviously plenty of good Kenyan runners,” Coolsaet said. “I think it will be really beneficial for me to train with the best marathoners in the world, to see how they live, and train. It will definitely be a big eye opener. Just to be able run with some of these guys will hopefully help my training out a lot.”

For now, Coolsaet will continue his 230-kilometer (approximately 143 miles) weekly training schedule before setting off for Kenyanext month. He knows that he may not live the life of luxury, but that he’ll be able to accomplish just about anything he puts his mind and heart to.

“I had some confidence issues in believing that I could actually get back to the level I was in 2007, before my injuries, and it wasn’t until I ran 2:11:23 in Toronto that I knew I was 100% back.”

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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