An excellent development experience for England team in Canada

Every year England Athletics sends a team out to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Those selected for the squad are usually runners who have shown a great leap or great performances in general the previous spring and are considered ripe for development. This year was no different. On 21 May 2019 the England Squad was announced: Rob Corney, Nick Earl, Johanna O'Regan and Louise Small.

Team team coach, Andy Hobdell sent the following report.

As Team Leader I was excited at the prospect of following their Marathon preparation and performances in the Marathon. As is often the case when you are taking the body to the limits of sports performance there is a greater risk of casualties along the way. This was proven to be the case in this instance with both Rob Corney and Louise Small having to withdraw through injury. Thankfully Kate Drew was able to take up the opportunity in place of Louise Small.

Toronto Waterfront Marathon - Nick EarlThe 8 hour flight time and time zone change brought about the initial challenges for the athletes. However none could be faulted at how they handled the extended stay in the elite environment of the event hotel, mixing with the elite ladies and men preparing for race day. The final few training runs to race day were spent running out and back along the waterfront with the elite Kenyan and Ethiopian squads close by. You could not have picked a better race as a development race. This was evident when the athletes travelled to the pre-race press conference - having the opportunity to see what the elite athletes go through from pre race interviews and endless press interviews was an eye opener. The England Team themselves had a fantastic experience speaking to the Race Director Alan Brookes and elected Toronto Counsellors who were very keen to talk to the Team.

Race day arrived. The short bus journey to the elite athlete holding area - another interesting area of experience 20 elite athletes, agents and coaches trying to stay focused and prepare for the start line. The short walk from the athlete holding area and we were at the start. Nick, Kate and Johanna finished their final race preparations and then it was time to race. The Canadian national anthem completed and then the gun went and they were off.

Nick Earl (personal best 2.14.38) who had had injury issues into the marathon (shin splints) set off with the intention of running with the group, aiming for 67 mins at half way and then seeing how much effect the injury had impacted on his fitness. True to his word Nick was ticking off the early miles between 5-5.10 miling pace, looking strong. The first 5km 15.50, 10km 31.30. Approaching half way Nick was still running with the group and importantly no adverse effects of the pre-race injury concerns looking strong in 18th place, passing halfway in 66.48 perfectly on pace. Unfortunately as the race progressed into the second half the training missed through injury was beginning to bite. Nick fought and battled through to the finish maintaining his 18th place on the finish line. A time of 2.18.03 clearly showing with an injury free preparation that he is more than capable of bettering his current pb and running sub 2 hours 14 minutes.

Johanna set of with a clear race plan of running sub 2 hours 40 mins. Having improved so much in the last couple of years running her first marathon in 2018 when she first broke 3 hours running 2 hours 53.26 in London through to running 2 hours 42.15 in Manchester this year it was clear that this was possible. Again the first half of the race was on pace going through 5km 18.01, 10km 36.23 and halfway in 79.12.As the race progressed into the second half the initial aspirations of running sub 2.40 were started to slip away. Despite this Johanna ran strongly and showed that there is a lot more to come in the near future finishing 22nd overall, 4th in her age category and running 2.45.43.

Kate Drew, who was a last minute replacement for Louise Small began the race with limited build up for the race (4 weeks). The goal being to gain much-needed big race experience as an investment in the future. Kate began the race in a sensible fashion going through 5km 19.23, 10km 38.49 and halfway in 82.10. On pace to run close to her personal best (London Marathon 2019 2.45.48 ) Kate found that the lack of race preparation time began to show in the second half finishing in 2 hours 49 mins and 31 seconds, 26th overall and a fine 3rd place in her age group. At such a young age - she is only 22 - showing that she is a great prospect for the future.

Andy Hobdell commented, "As Team Leader for this trip I was hugely impressed at how everyone adapted, performed in the elite environment of a big city marathon. Much was learned by all and I'm looking forward to following their progress in the forthcoming years in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games."

Photo: Kate Drew, Race Director Alan Brookes, Nick Earl & Jo O’Regan