by Paul Gains

The nine race Canada Running Series kicks off March 24th with the Spring Run Off 8km Sunday, March 24th in Vancouver’s Stanley Park bringing together the nation’s leading distance runners for the fifteenth consecutive year.

The brainchild of race director Alan Brookes, who received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal January 25th for his contribution to sport, the CRS has grown in numbers and prestige. In 2012, the series attracted more than 55,000 participants and raised over $6 million for mostly local charities.

The series evolved from the Coors Lite series of the 1990’s.

Runners across the country are in the mix competing for points accumulated by their finish positions at CRS events. The series culminates with the flagship race, the IAAF Silver Label Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (October 20th).

“When I started out in road racing in 1986 I kept hearing ‘you have to go to the United States for a decent race,’” Brookes remembers. “It used to drive me nuts.”

“What we have attempted to do is offer accurate, safe courses with finishing times and places for everybody and a quality experience for those after the pursuit of excellence, a healthy lifestyle and a charitable involvement.”

This year sees the birth of the Vancouver East Side 10k (September 14th) giving the series a west coast autumn 10km that may one day rival the prestigious Toronto Yonge Street 10km.

Judging by the comments expressed by past winners the CRS team has accomplished what Brookes set out to do more than a quarter of a century ago. On the strength of victories at the Toronto Yonge Street 10km, Oasis Zoo Run 10km and Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon, Reid Coolsaet, successfully defended his overall title last year with 165 points. He collected $2,500 for the title in addition to prize money from individual races.

“The Canadian Running Series offers me great competition without having to travel abroad,” the Hamilton, Ontario native declared. “I’ve run my two fastest marathons at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Other races in the series allow me to sharpen up or set up other races. And, having pace makers and deep competition at STWM lets me stay close to home for a world class race. The crowd support at Canadian races helps push me to the line.”

Coolsaet and his training partner, Eric Gillis, both qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games with their performances at the 2011 STWM. They are presently in the midst of a three month high altitude training camp in Iten, Kenya.

“Training is going well,” Coolsaet reveals. “I’m starting to build up my mileage and get in some solid workouts here in Kenya. After this week I plan on running between 200-230km per week.  I’ll come back to Canada to nail down marathon race pace.

“My major goal for 2013 is a spring marathon. The rest of my year will depend on how I do in April.”

Coolsaet, will undoubtedly turn up at some of the CRS events. So too will Krista DuChene of Brantford, Ontario. Her stunning fourth place finish at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon gave her enough points to snatch the 2012 women’s overall CRS title from Tarah McKay-Korir 125 points to 104. This was a huge surprise to the 35-year-old mother of three.

“I did not expect to win that at all,” DuChene admits with a laugh. “It wasn’t something I had ever thought about. I can’t even say I knew there was an overall prize. So that was a thrill at the end of the season. Alan has done a lot for the sport and for my running career. The races being local there’s the incentive of good competition, a good prize purse – it’s a no-brainer. So it’s great to go do a race and come home and not have to go very far. It’s really a great racing series for me to continue in.”

The money, DuChene admits, came in useful. Besides paying school fees for two of her children she was able to make a donation to the Kenyan Kids Foundation, the charitable organisation founded by Tarah McKay-Korir and her husband Wesley Korir, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion.

While Coolsaet is focused entirely on running a fast spring marathon, likely Rotterdam, DuChene is gearing her training to the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow an event for which she qualified last year with her 2:32:05 personal best. Since her STWM performance she has also been battling a nagging injury to her pelvis but started running again a couple of weeks ago.

“We have not finalised my race plan, obviously, because we are going to see how I do but certainly several CRS races will be in the plan,” she declares. “I would like to do the Toronto Spring Run Off in April, and then the Canadian half marathon championships at the end of April (Banque Scotia 21km Montreal). And, I’d love to go out to Vancouver again and do the Scotiabank Vancouver Half at the end of June. I probably won’t race in July.”

Besides Tarah McKay-Korir, she expects to face tough competition in this year’s CRS from Dayna Pidhoresky, the 2011 overall women’s champion. The Windsor, Ontario native has battled back from a sacral stress fracture and inflamed shins and is running up to 120 kilometres a week.

“I definitely plan my season to be able to try to win CRS again,” says Pidhoresky. “I want to do Harry’s (Spring Run Off Toronto) – it’s close by and it’s a nice course. After that I want to do the Montreal Half. That will be my peak spring race. I am not entirely sure how the fall is going to go. I might try out the Toronto (Waterfront) marathon this year. I am trying to be patient about it. It will depend on how the spring goes. I’d like to get one in the fall and I guess it will depend on whether my coach thinks I am ready or not. Toronto (Waterfront) is where I would like to go.”

The ingredients are there for another competitive Canada Running Series: fast courses, excellent organisation and competitive fields. No wonder Canadian distance running is enjoying a resurgence.