Striking out into the Unknown: Evan Esselink on debuting in the marathon

When I asked one Canadian elite who he was most excited to see run the marathon this year, he quickly exclaimed: Evan Esselink

It become quite clear earlier this summer that for Evan Esselink, all roads led to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. On his website, his race schedule denotes one date: October 20 – STWM.

For Esselink and many other Canadian elite runners, this date has been marked on their calendars for sometime. The marathon is not only Canada’s national championship, but this year it is being billed as Canada’s Olympic trials. To show the excitement and anticipation around a potential Olympic berth, Esselink is among a number of Canadian elites including NCAA stand out, Rory Linkletter, are attempting the marathon distance – for the first time.

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Esselink at the Edmonton 10k. Courtesy: Canadian Running Magazine

Breakout Season

Regardless of how his race goes at STWM, Esselink has had a year to remember. In January, he entered the Houston marathon after being denied an elite bib. 62 minutes after the gun fired, Esselink would become the fourth fastest half marathoner in Canadian history. After an injury which derailed much of his international cross country season, Esselink would finish 5th at the Canadian 10,000 Championships, 2nd at the Edmonton 10k, 1st at the Edmonton half, and just last weekend, 1st at the Eastside 10k in Vancouver with an impressive second half. 

Heading into the 2019 season, Esselink made a lot of changes to his training regime, but the biggest was a move from Guelph to Vancouver with the goal of being the best version and athlete of himself. When I asked Esselink why 2019 was his breakout year, his answer was the British Columbia Endurance Project (BCEP): “This group is everything I would want in a team and more. My teammates are incredibly supportive of each other and are among some of the best all-around human beings I’ve ever met; same goes with my coach Richard Lee – he is incredibly supportive, he wants us to succeed, and he is incredibly real with us. The last one hits home with me – he is very honest and tells things how they are, whether that be positive or negative. I always appreciate his honesty and his criticism and I feel like I am always learning from him.” His result at Houston in 2019, closely following his podium placing at Canadian Cross Country, assured him that he made the right decision by moving west. He added, “I knew I was capable of this … and more.”

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Esselink (centre left, #20333) running the Houston Half, January 2019. Courtesy: Athletics Illustrated

Something that I have discovered in speaking with Canadian distance runners is that a support network is key to any success. Without this support it is difficult for anyone to invest themselves fully in their goals. I think that it is because of this that Esselink mentioned: “I also contribute a huge amount of success to my mom and dad. They are incredibly supportive of what I’m doing, and while I’m doing this running thing for me, a massive amount of my drive comes from them and wanting to be the best athlete and version of myself I can be.”

STWM

As I mentioned, this year’s edition of STWM has the deepest Canadian field ever. Cam Levins is returning to defend is Canadian crown, Reid Coolsaet and Dylan Wykes are returning to the race, and a host of Canadians are making their debuts or hoping to lower their times from the 2:16 range into a potential Olympic qualifying mark. 

Like many others, Esselink’s eyes are squarely on Tokyo 2020 and that the upcoming Olympics are the main emphasis for him choosing to debut in the marathon this year. His experience in Houston also gave him the confidence he needed noting that “within the last year I’ve been thinking about it [the marathon] a lot.” 

When I asked what Esselink what his biggest challenge will be with the marathon he was very frank by saying: “the fear of the unknown.” Esselink elaborated to say that “I’ve never raced the distance, and I think I would be dishonest with myself if I said I wasn’t scared. This could bode well for me or not – but this is what makes our sport fun. It is without question that I will use this fear to fuel my curiosity and make the most of it.”

For those readers who are perhaps new to training, coaches often ask their athletes to choose a place, time, or process goal. For those making their marathon, it is often wise to focus on the process of the race because of, as Esselink put it, the “unknown. Rightfully, beyond his Olympic aspirations Esselink is focused on the process: “I have a rough idea of what I think I can currently run, but there’s still more training to be done. Right now, I’m really enjoying the longer workouts and I’m happy with running … right now I’m almost entirely process-focused.”

The question I am asking all of the athletes I interview is what do you want fans to know about you. As there will be thousands of fans on the course, I believe it is good to know who you’re cheering for and the importance of cheering for them. Esselink’s answer to my question simple but eloquent: “I want fans to know that I’m just a 27 year old guy with the same goals and love for the sport as my 11 year old self.”

You can follow Esselink’s training on his website.

Mile2Marathon

Mile2Marathon is running club founded by Dylan Wykes and cyclist, Mike Woods – it works to partner middle of the packers with Canadian elites to provide them new insights into their training helping them reach new levels. I have written a lot about Mile2Marathon in the past, but mostly from the perspective of an amateur athlete looking to be the best they can be. 

Esselink joined the Mile2Marathon coaching team shortly after his move west and I took this opportunity to ask Esselink what Mile2Marathon means to him. First off, he mentioned to me that he’s “learned a lot” and gained a new perspective on running.. Crucially however, he said that coaching has helped him with his own running: “There are far too many times where I ended up falling short of chasing a certain goal or trying to bang out a big workout. Negative thoughts would flood my mind, and interacting with and coaching with Mile2Marathon has helped me to remember why I started to run in the first place – because I genuinely enjoy going for runs, pushing myself in workouts, and I love racing to see what I can do. I love seeing the improvements I can make; I love achieving some of my goals and falling short of others; I love the people that I meet through this sport; I love sharing the journey with those people. The athletes remind me that we all have our own personal goals, and I feel great satisfaction in helping them achieve theirs.”

I am sure Esselink will have all of his athletes supporting him as he prepares to take on the most daunting race in athletics.

Personal Bests

Esselink sports these impressive personal bests:

1500m – 3:48; Mile – 4:13; 5,000 – 13:59; 10,000 – 28:55; Half Marathon – 1:02:17; Marathon – TBD on Oct 20.


Thanks for reading.

This is the third article in my STWM preview series. The first was on Dylan Wykes and Reid Coolsaet returning to the race and the second on Rory Linkletter.

More exciting articles to come in the coming weeks!

To see more please follow me on TwitterInstagram and Strava.

9 thoughts on “Striking out into the Unknown: Evan Esselink on debuting in the marathon

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