The pressure of international competition is not new for Malindi Elmore. She was competing at the world’s highest levels when I was in kindergarten. She also competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, perhaps the pinnacle achievement of her career.
Fifteen years later, Elmore has her eyes on the Olympics again. This time however, the distance is longer – 40.695 kilometres further to be exact.
The marathon and the 1,500m are very different. Although the events both require high mileage and hours and hours of training, they rely on different capacities and different skill sets. The 1,500 is about embracing the lactic acid, maximizing your oxygen in-take, and having an aerobic base. The marathon is very much about running long, and running a lot. You have to be comfortable at your aerobic threshold, know where your line is and working just inside it. You also must be ready to embrace the pain – not just for two laps, but for up to 10, sometimes 20 kilometres.
In January 2019, Elmore made her official return to the running scene. She pinned on a number at the Houston marathon with “a re-newed focus and enthusiasm for training and competing.” I must admit that Elmore fell off my radar (as displayed in my Houston preview) as I was focused on the stunning Canadian contingent in the half marathon, the debut of Sasha Gollish, and Tristian Woodfine’s new personal best. It was only when I was two Canadian flags on the app for the race when Elmore caught my attention. At five kilometres she wasn’t on the leaderboard, at ten her name appeared in tenth, but by the half her name has disappeared again. At 30K her name reappeared, a mere 40 seconds behind Gollish; and at 35 she maintained her 9th place. Then things began to change, Elmore and Kelsey Bruce (USA) made their way past some of the Ethiopian challenge as well as Canada’s Sasha Gollish into 6th and 7th respectively with Elmore crossing the line in an impressive 2:32:10.
What is more impressive? Elmore didn’t even receive an elite bib for the race.
As we know, the idea of making a debut in the marathon is not an easy one. Recently, I spoke to Evan Esselink and Rory Linkletter about their debuts and both had hesitations about the distance. Elmore however, approached the race from a different perspective. She had run a marathon before, as apart of an Ironman and her “favourite part of the Ironman training/racing was the marathon, but as a runner, it was the least important focus.” Within these multi-sport races, Elmore ran “sub three hours … but was more concerned about being able to hit the faster paces for the whole distance.”
The key for Elmore she claims was “had been interested in doing a marathon after my first son was born in 2014 but I had a lot of post-pregnancy injuries that prevented me from running too much.”
I think it is safe to say that Elmore made her marathon debut at the right time as her 2:32:10 has put Elmore in a prime position for the Olympic battle to come. Her time is also the third fastest Canadian marathoner this year.
In May, Elmore toed the line again at Ottawa Race Weekend for the Canadian 10K Championship, where she was very much on my radar. Elmore ran an impressive race, hanging with the East Africans for the opening kilometres before joining the stacked Canadian pack. Although no one had the pace to hang with Natasha Wodak on the day, Elmore finished second Canadian, beating the likes of Emily Setlack, Jessica O’Connell, Kinsey Middleton and more.
In June, Elmore decided to go one better. She dominated the field at the Manitoba Half Marathon (also the Canadian Championship) winning by three minutes. Once again, the field was nothing to scoff at – Dayna Pidhoesky, Robyn Mildren, Melanie Myrand (recently 27th at Worlds), Kate Gustafson and Claire Sumner (former Canadian XC Champ) all finished behind Elmore.
Recently, Elmore defeated Pidhoresky, Middleton, Sexton, and co. again at the Vancouver Eastside 10k, collecting her second major win of the year and a shiny new PB.
When I asked Elmore of her reaction to her 2019 campaign so far she said “it is super fun for me to be back at a decent level of competition with my running again … It is also fun to tackle some new distances and I love the camaraderie of road racing.”
Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been previewing Canadian elites who are hoping to make an Olympic sized impact at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM). This year the STWM (also the Canadian Championship) is doubling as the Canadian Trials, so the line-up of Canadian runners is deeper than ever before.
The addition of Elmore to this field makes everything more intriguing. Like other Canadian’s in the field, Elmore told me that the decision to run STWM was simple: “I love Championships racing and the opportunity to race a big marathon in Canada is pretty special. I know that Alan Brooks and his team will have a vested interest in our success and the opportunity of potentially reaching my goals this year on Canadian soil is very exciting.”
Although she is toeing the line for many of the same reasons as the Canadian elites, it is safe to say that her training regiment is vastly different than the majority. As a mom and a masters athlete, Elmore admits “it’s a bit of a juggling act.” She continued to say that “I have had to take a more “relaxed” approach in some aspects while also being very committed to my training. For example, I have to not freak out if I am up several times in a night and just accept it as part of the journey of parenting – I think in the past it would have stressed me out much more. At the same time, I am committed to my goals so I make them happen however I can – using a treadmill during nap times, using the 80 minute childminding window at the local recreation centre and running around my husband’s work schedule. Thankfully my husband – who is also coaching me – is totally on board with this project so he steps up a ton with the childcare / household tasks whenever he can around his own commitments.”
I think we can all learn from Elmore’s comments, whether we are elite, club or fun runners. It is important to take obstacles in stride and not allow them to interrupt the process, and with this, Elmore agrees: “I think the big keys for being a parent-athlete are committing to the goal and process (run at 5 am if that’s the only training window), being flexible when things don’t go as planned (sick kid, etc) and having a good support team in place.”
With that being said, Elmore’s process is pretty impressive. When I asked about her weekly mileage, she noted that for “the marathon I am aiming for 90-100 miles most weeks.” But Elmore mentioned that she “is more focused on the purpose of the sessions.”
As for her goal of the race, Elmore was not shy about mentioning the Olympics: “My goal will be show up fit, healthy and ready to knock off the Olympic qualifying standards. I want to set myself up is the least ambiguous situation possible heading into the final selection phase in May next year.” Still she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself as she noted when I asked her about what an Olympic selection would mean: “I can hardly even think about what it would mean to me yet because I don’t want to jinx it! I know it would be very very special and a feat I would really cherish. I felt like I didn’t achieve what I wanted to on the track, but came to peace with my running career over my years away from the sport. To be able to truly love the process of training and racing again, and to feel fresh in my approach is good place to be leading into the Toronto race.”
The only reasons she is in the position to take a run at another Olympic birth, Elmore admits is her team: “If I made a second Olympic team I would feel like it was such an amazing collaboration between my core team (my husband/current coach Graham Hood, my longtime coach/advisor Mike Van Tighem, and friend/advisor Trent Stellingwerff) as well as my parents, children, friends, community etc., who have all been 100% on board with this ‘project’. I feel like this goal is less about me personally making a team and more about the role of team support and making a comeback in a pursuit where dreams had been already laid peacefully to rest.”
For the thousands of you who will be lining the streets in Toronto, Elmore added that she “really appreciates the love and support and use the energy positively to run as fast as possible to the finish line.”
Elmore is my favourite to win the Canadian title at STWM and I expect her, barring anything unexpected, to achieve the Olympic standard.
Transformation of Canadian Running
When I decided to reach out to Elmore for an interview, the first question that came to my mind were about the changes in Canadian running. If you think about it, the running world as a whole has become much deeper since the 2004 Olympics. More Canadian athletes are running the marathon than ever before and Canadians are truly contenders on the track.
When I posed the question to Elmore, her answer surprised me. I was expecting her to talk about the depth of Canadian running (which she did to an extent) but instead she pivoted to social media: It feels like more of a community effort now because of the support I get through social media platforms, the connections and the accessibility of the sport through various media (steaming races, twitter feeds, blogs, Strava, Instagram etc). I love following other athletes, like Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Natasha Wodak, Jessica O’Connell, Krista Duchene, etc., and are super inspired by their racing and their ability to connect with the community through various platforms to share their ups and downs of the sport.
Elmore added that social media also helps with community: “I think that helps connect us all and create a sense of community and support within the sport. I realize now how important my performance is for people outside my core circle and I think that encourages me to keep working hard. When I was first running, it felt a bit lonelier and more maybe selfish as I wondered at times, what the purpose was. Now having been on the other side of the sport, I realize how important role models and sources of inspiration are to everyone and that we can both give and receive at the same time.”
For me, this is what makes the Canadian running scene unique from the American or East African. There is a great sense of community and accomplishments among the majority of runners, a community which is now fostering and achieving major medals, times and accomplishments.
Elmore sports these personal bests:
800 – 2:02.69; 1,500 – 4:02.64; Mile – 4:30.70; 5,000 – 15:12; 10K – 32:44; Half Marathon – 1:11; Marathon – 2:32
Thanks for reading.
More exciting articles to come in the coming weeks!