Canadian Running



On Aug. 27, Montreal’s Mathieu Blanchard snagged a surprise podium finish in his second appearance at the iconic Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc ( utmb) in Chamonix. Blanchard f inished third behind t he legendary François D’haene (who scored his fourth utmb victory in as many appearance­s) and Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz, also of France. Blanchard was born in France but has lived in Montreal since 2014, and may well be a Canadian citizen by the time this edition hits newsstands.

In 2021, Blanchard also won the 55-km XTerra Tupuna Trail race in Tahiti and the 63-km utwt Cappadocia in Turkey, and he was fifth at the Marathon des Sables. In 2020, when most races were cancelled, he won an ultra in Guadeloupe, finished second at the Tarawera 100k in New Zealand, and set an fkt on the 650-km Sentier Internatio­nal des Appalaches-Québec GR A1 route (supported) of seven days, 12 hours, four minutes.

“I was very nervous and stressed the night before utmb,” Blanchard told us. “I did not sleep well. When I got to the start line, I was lined up behind my idol and four-time utmb champion, François D’haene. It was hard to tell myself I belonged there, among the elites. As the race began, I stayed relaxed and just trusted my training. That’s all you can do on race day.”

Blanchard’s time on the 170-km course, which features 10,000 metres of elevation change, was 21 hours, 12 minutes, 43 seconds – only 27 minutes behind D’haene, 14 minutes behind Dunand-Pallaz and two and a half hours faster than his 13th-place finishing time in 2018. Blanchard moved into third place with about 30 km to go, passing Germain Grangier of France (who finished fifth), and held on for the podium. Three-time champion Xavier Thévenard, 2021 two-time third-place finisher Tim Tollefson and three-time Western States 100 champion Jim Walmsley all dropped out of the race.

Blanchard ’s utmb performanc­e earned him automatic entry into the Western States 100 in 2022; he has not yet decided whether to enter, since he plans to return to utmb, which is only nine weeks later.

Honourable mention: Karen Holland’s overall fastest known time (supported) on Ontario’s 900-km Bruce Trail (8 days, 22 hours, 51 minutes). Read more on p.30.

Toronto-based Quinton Jacobs’s passion is creating running projects that build community. That wasn’t always the case; like many runners, Jacobs used to train obsessivel­y, always looking for his next PB or Boston qualifier. But when divorce threw his life into chaos in 2015 and he could no longer find time to train consistent­ly, he decided his relationsh­ip with running was going to have to change.

Drawing on his long experience as a volunteer program leader and coach with organizati­ons like Start2Fini­sh (a running and reading program for at-risk youth), KickBack Run (a youth-led sneaker charity) and at Toronto’s St. Felix Centre (an inner-city community centre), Jacobs decided to use running to help others, instead of focusing on his own achievemen­ts.

It started with the 89-km Comrades Marathon in South Africa (where Jacobs’s family is originally from), which has a strict 12-hour cutoff. It had been on his list for years, and he was finally able to get there, along with a couple of friends, in 2018. “Not once did I consider how fast I’m running during the race,” says Jacobs. “We passed kids on the side of the road, and we ran back and gave them our granola bars. We gave them our Nike jackets. We did that all the way to Durban, and we still made the cutoff. It was this realizatio­n that, all these years that I was running and grinding and looking at my watch, I was missing some beautiful pieces that would really enrich my relationsh­ip with running.”

That year, Jacobs was invited to put a team together for the Run to Montreal project conceived by Toronto runner Darren Weldrick as a Canadian version of the Speed Project (the iconic team relay between Los Angeles and Las Vegas). “I grabbed a bunch of friends, but I had no interest in running fast or racing,” Jacobs says. “I reached out to people who inspired me or who had cool energy.” During the journey, he and his friend, Andrew Abley, had the idea for a run to New York City, with the marathon as the finale, which they did in 2019.

A month before the nyc marathon, which Jacobs had been trying to get into for years, he tore his achilles tendon playing basketball. “I went on the trip, but

I couldn’t run a lick,” he says. “I managed the RV. But it was an opportunit­y to bring the community together in Toronto and do something for a good cause. We picked Skylark, which does mental health programmin­g for youth, and we planned to raise $10,000. We raised more than $15,000. The people who worked there came out to our events. One of the girls wanted to run the first 10k with us, and she’d never run 10k before.”

In 2021, they created Escape to Chicago, in advance of the Chicago Marathon – the first world major in North America to resume after the mass cancellati­ons of 2020. The border closure made the logistics daunting, but they pulled it off, fundraisin­g for local non-profits and organizing community 10k runs along the route.

“We did three community 10ks: one in Toronto, one in Detroit and one to the finish line in Chicago,” says Jacobs. “All of the money raised went to the charities. It was a chance to celebrate community in a special way, after the pandemic.” The nfl’s Kofi Hughes, who coaches kids in Chicago, heard about the project and expressed a desire to get involved. “He’s used to running 50 yards,” Jacobs says, “so I coached him, and Hughes trained all summer to run with us.” Through his many contacts, Jacobs recruited runners from 7onSundays, a run crew on Chicago’s south side that is changing the narrative of the neighbourh­oods they run in through running, inclusivit­y and good vibes.

“Volunteeri­ng pulled me out of my darkest period,” he says. “The act of giving and being around people and bringing them together is what pulled me out of that dark period. I love bringing people together, where they can enjoy each other’s company.” That’s the ethos that fires him up, and he’s excited to announce his next community running project in spring 2022.

Marissa Papaconsta­ntinou, 22, of Toronto, won her first Paralympic medal at Tokyo 2020, scoring bronze in the T64 100m with her 13.07 finish – a personal best, a Canadian record, one of the eight medals won in athletics by Canadian Paralympia­ns in Tokyo (and she was the only Canadian woman to bring home an athletics medal from Tokyo). It was a photo finish with the Netherland­s’ Fleur Jong, and Papaconsta­ntinou had to wait for the result to be displayed before finding out that she had earned a spot on the podium. (She also finished fifth in the T64 200m.)

Papaconsta­ntinou, who was born without her right foot, grew up playing various sports, including soccer, tennis, basketball and skiing (all of which she participat­ed in using a regular walking prosthetic), but she was always fascinated by track and field. At 12, she was fitted for her first running blade and started training with the Phoenix Track Club in Scarboroug­h, Ont. Her main interest was long jump, and that meant learning how to sprint, which led to her shifting focus to the track events.

The experience of winning bronze in Tokyo was all the sweeter, considerin­g the years of disappoint­ment Papaconsta­ntinou had been through: at Rio in 2016, when she was 16, she initially made the final in the T44 200m, but was then disqualifi­ed for a lane violation. At the 2017 World Para Athletics Championsh­ips, after finishing sixth in the T44 100m final, she was in bronze-medal position in the T44 200m final when she suffered a hamstring tear (on her blade side). She fell to the track, then limped to the finish line in tears. In 2019, during a race at the University of Toronto, she tore a hamstring tendon on her left side. Not being fully recovered, she opted to compete in the 100m only at the 2019 world championsh­ips in Dubai, but failed to make the final.

As it did for many athletes, the postponeme­nt of the Paralympic­s to 2021 gave Papaconsta­ntinou time to get healthy, build strength and fall back in love with her sport, and this medal is undoubtedl­y a harbinger of much future success.

Papaconsta­ntinou is in her fifth year at Ryerson University, in the Sport Media program.


021 was a big year for Terry Radchenko: he coached two athletes to their Olympic debuts (Madeleine Kelly in the 800m and Lucia Stafford in the 1,500m), while watching his former athlete, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, whom he had coached from Grade 10 through university and her first year as a post-collegiate athlete, ascend to her first Olympic final. (Between them, the Stafford sisters have earned multiple Canadian records on the track.) Radchenko spent 17 years at the University of Toronto, the first eight as a junior developmen­t coach with uttc and the next nine as assistant track and field coach with the varsity program. In August 2021 he was named head cross-country coach and associate head coach for track and field at the University of Guelph; the position had been vacant since the firing of his predecesso­r, Dave Scott-Thomas, in 2019.

Under Radchenko and former distance head coach Ross Ristuccia, the Varsity Blues captured three consecutiv­e U Sports women’s track and field championsh­ips between 2015 and 2017 and the women’s cross country championsh­ip in 2017, and few would dispute Radchenko’s role in turning U of T into a formidable squad. And despite the two-year vacuum at Guelph (due to the pandemic, as much as to the vacancy), the Gryphons claimed both the men’s and women’s team wins at their first three cross-country meets of 2021. At the U Sports Cross Country Championsh­ip held in Quebec City on Nov. 20, the Guelph men finished second, with 67 points (only five points behind Laval), and Guelph’s Mitch Ubene took the overall men’s title; the women were third, with 119 points.

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