Quebec City’s Charles Philibert-Thiboutot is having a fantastic year of racing. Last weekend the 24-year-old earned a silver medal at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in the 1500m distance. He was up against some big names including defending champion Nate Brannen and Canadian record holder in the 10,000m distance, Cameron Levins. It was a tactical race that came down to a powerful kick, which was won by triple CIS silver medallist Thomas Riva, who runs for the University of Victoria Vikes.
Philibert-Thiboutot competed for the University of Laval. During the 2015 season he led the team to a fifth place national ranking in cross-country. He performs well over a range of distances including 600 to 5,000-metres as well as in cross-county. He finished sixth overall at the 2014 Canadian Cross Country Championships. He ran personal bests in at least seven events during 2015.
600m ind. 1:19.98 2015
800m 1:47.57 2014
1500m 3:38.32 2015
1500m ind. 3:43.21 2015
Mile 3:54.52 2015
3000m ind. 7:53.99 2015
5000m 13:56.72 2014
Christopher Kelsall: What sports were you into while growing up in Quebec City?
Charles Philibert-Thiboutot: I loved to do all sorts of sports, and my parents always encouraged me to try new ones or to push as far as I could to become better in the sports I liked. In high school I would do a lot of soccer, basketball and freestyle skiing, but I grew up also playing hockey, football, tennis, golf, speed skating. I tried a bunch of stuff and was quite talented in sports in general. But where I would stand out really was when my Phys-ed teacher had me run locally in cross-country and track.
CK: You can tell a lot about a person by the position they played in hockey. I am guessing were a centre, yes?
CPT: Oh man I’m sorry I’m going to disappoint here, ha-ha, but I stopped playing hockey at like 10 years of age. If I recall correctly though, I played left wing because I was a lefty.
CK: Good range of sports. How badly do you want to see an NHL team in Quebec City again?
CPT: To be honest I don’t really follow hockey, but in like any team sports I watch occasionally I’d jump on the bandwagon at some point if the team became really good (just like it happens right now when the Montreal Canadiens do well). The most hockey I watch really is when Team Canada is playing at the Olympics.
CK: Perhaps a team in Quebec will rekindle your interest. At what age did you start to take running seriously?
CPT: I was decent in high school, doing podiums at Quebec City private school championships and regional championships. But it’s when I won my first medal at the provincial level, at my last year of high school that I realized I may have the potential to go far in the sport, and maybe compete for a university team later. That’s when I started training for the sport yearly and not just two weeks before championship season.
CK: How was your experience at the 2015 Canadian Track and Field Championships? Did you accomplish what you set out to achieve?
CPT: I’m going to be honest I was really shooting for the win this weekend. At first, my coach and I thought that if weather was good in the semi-finals, I could go for a world standard because this last weekend was the limit for us to hit it. Then I would have to settle for a top three with tired legs to qualify for worlds. Because weather wasn’t good for running fast, the goal shifted to trying to get the win.
It definitely was a weird race and I can’t help but to have mixed feelings about it, because of how it played out and also because I got the silver. Positioning played an important role in that race because it was so slow at first, and the last 300m completely all out. I wasn’t close enough to the front when the pace picked up to contest the win from Thomas (Riva), but I am happy I closed really hard and got second place. It could have been worse as some top seeded guys didn’t make the top three in these weird conditions. Congrats to Thomas for his racing tactics and his incredible close – that’s a well-deserved win. I really wanted to win as well, which is why I say I have mixed feelings about it, but I am still happy because I showcased a great finish and still grabbed silver.
CK: Before nationals, where did you have Riva ranked in the finish order?
CPT: At first, winning to me was mostly about beating Levins and Brannen, to be honest. I was aware that Thomas had a strong kick, and that he could as well be up there but my target was mainly the first two guys. As the race played out though, I was well aware that he could be in the mix because of how slow it was, so it didn’t surprise me at all to see him outrun us.
CK: How fast was the final 200m?
CPT: Oh it was fast. Actually when you go that fast it’s all about running as relaxed as you can and not tie up. With 200m to go I placed myself behind Thomas and Cam with my eyes on Thomas. With 100m to go I just unleashed everything I had to go by Cam and catch Thomas but there was too much ground to make up and with 50m to go my form was starting to fall apart, ha-ha. It definitely felt like speed workouts where we run 25’s but really I have no idea what the split was, must be close to that.
CK: In June you ran a mile in 3:54.52. Based on that performance would you suggest that you are capable of running better than the World championships qualification standard of 3:36.20?
CPT: I really think so. Having run an all-out mile for the first time I realized you do not run it the same way as a 1500m; not only you want to save yourself for that last 109m, you do start your kick about 100m later than you would usually in a 1500m, which requires a little more strength. That, at least to me, indicates that my 3:38.32 split in the mile (which was a small PB) could be improved by a lot. I also ran that race at the very end of a European tour in which I raced five times in the span of 14 days, with lots of travelling in between. It was hard to keep mental focus and feel fresh at the fifth and last race of that tour; because that’s the most I’ve ever raced in a short period of time. That is why I think I can improve my 1500m PB to the world qualifying mark. Training has also been really good lately, so I feel ready.
CK: You have a good range, having run 1:47.57 for the 800m, 3:38.33 for 1500m and 13:56.72 for 5,000m. Have you settled on the 1500m, going-forward?
CPT: Yes I have! I feel like naturally the 1500m fits me. I have great natural speed and endurance, and it is definitely at 1500m I feel like I can get the most of me.
The way my coach and I work, is we try to keep balance between strength and speed all year long, depending on what’s the focus, which makes me an athlete with great range. I feel like this way of working things makes me ready for any kind of race, whether it is a time trial all out style of race or a championship, slow tactical race that requires a fast finish. Also, naturally, I have to work much harder on endurance if I want to improve in cross-country or at the 5,000m distance (and that type of work also feels a lot harder), while going fast over 800-1500m has always been kind of natural to me. So 1500m it is, at least for now!
CK: During the off-season, what sort of weekly mileage volume do you get up to?
CPT: In the last years there has not been such a thing as off season, as I was a key runner in the Rouge et Or and I was committed to perform well with the team in the fall for cross country and in the winter for indoor track. In cross country, my weekly mileage is around 145km per week, and then the average goes down for track because there is more racing and everything. In training camps I can go up to 150km to 160km per week, but I go a lot lower when I have a race week (around 90-100). It’s something we will work on in the next year (mileage consistency) as I will train full time and race a little less.
CK: What is your favourite quality session like?
CPT: I love hard sessions on the track, where we touch a bit of everything, from slow to fast. Lately we did 5x5x400m, first 4 of every set at 3000m pace and the last one at 1500m pace. Something faster would have to be 4×800 at 3000m pace, then 4x300m at 800m pace, then 4x200m…all out! Ha-ha.
CK: How many sessions with that sort of mix of quality do you run in a season?
CPT: Well, in season, as intense as that I would say once or twice a week, then a third workout that is lighter. In the winter season though, the most I go on the track is twice a week. I tend to respond well to those kind of workouts. In the winter there would be less emphasis on lactic type of workouts or really fast stuff.
CK: In November 2014, you finished only 21 seconds from Chris Winter in the Athletics Canada, National Cross Country Championships, were you surprised at how close you were to first?
CPT: It was really because I had been injured all of cross-country season, and after CIS I took a break to regroup and heal all of my stuff. I did no intense training in the three weeks leading to cross country nationals and I just went to have some fun and represent Quebec. I had no pressure, and I just chilled at the back of the front pack (which I usually don’t do in cross, I like to be up front and aggressive) only to realize after four laps that I was in the top eight, passing people that were falling off pace. I was very surprised to finish sixth and not expecting that at all!
CK: The men’s team at the University of Laval is ranked fifth, one position above Victoria. Where you surprised by the year-end ranking? And did you think that Guelph would finish third?
CPT: The year-end ranking was surprising because you have schools like Victoria and Laval that were able to finish in the top five with teams that had most of their firepower in middle distances. But the thing in track is that your team has to be so complete to make it in the top three with throws, jumps, sprints and distance that every year you have the big three (Guelph, Windsor and York) going at it without much else to think about. What we can do as smaller schools is to make an impact on the key players in those top three teams, and I can remember Victoria stealing some points from Windsor in the 600m and us (Laval) stealing some more from Windsor and Guelph in the 1500m and 3000m. I feel like the depth in track in Canada doesn’t really allow to have more schools to be stacked in every event. To me the real team championships – where anything can happen and is less predictable is in cross-country – where everyone has the same resources: only seven runners.
CK: You seem to be a strong cross-country runner. Do you run much of your miles off-road?
CPT: Unfortunately there are not many trails around my home in Quebec City. I do have a trail system right out of the door but running over 30 minutes in there you just end up going around in circles, so I do early short morning runs in there. Warm ups before track sessions at the University are also done in trails. So I guess you could say a small portion or my mileage when I’m home. There are big hills though, so doing them in every easy run makes me stronger when I train for cross-country. When I’m out for training camps I try to get 100% of my mileage in trails, which is pretty easy to do in places like Flagstaff or Mammoth lakes.
CK: Every experience a bonk? Being in Quebec I guess you could tap a tree for syrup, ever do that?
CPT: Yeah, all the time. Sugar maple in the winter and silver maple or Acer saccharinum, is the best in the spring.
CK: What are your goals for 2015 and 2016?
CPT: Well for 2015 my goal was to make the world championship team but I came short. I will now switch my focus on running a really fast 1500m in Belgium in July and then go to Pan Ams and do my best there. Friends and family will attend, media will be everywhere so I want to impress.
Then 2016 will be a big year because it will be my first year as a full time runner, which will bring adaptations to my training. I definitely think that the Olympics will be within reach next year if I stay healthy and everything goes according to plan. I am excited to train with that as a focus and have fewer races to run since I’m not a collegiate anymore. Big goals for me in the next year should be running well at 2015 cross-country nationals in Kingston, qualifying to the world indoor championships in Portland over 1500m, and next summer doing well at Canadian nationals and hopefully qualify for the Rio Olympics.