By Paul Gains
A year ago Stephen Chelimo left an enormous impression on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon running as a pacemaker for Reid Coolsaet.
The Kenyan took Coosaet through 34 kilometres, even waiting while the Hamilton, Ontario native made an unscheduled pit stop at 24km, then bringing back to the leaders. That helped the Canadian solidify his place on the Canadian Olympic team and earn a personal best time of 2:10:55 for 3rd place.
Chelimo returns to the IAAF Silver Label Race (October 14th) in what will be his official marathon debut. And, as a show of gratitude, Coolsaet will handle designated pacemaking duties, taking his friend through 25 kilometres at whatever pace the Kenyan chooses.
Race director Alan Brookes has put up a $25,000 bonus for beating the course record of 2:07:58 which was set by Kenneth Mungara in 2010. Winners also receive $20,000. Of course weather conditions come into play and so Chelimo is hedging his bets a little when asked what he is looking for in the race.
“My goal is to run below 2 hours 10 minutes,” says Chelimo. “The bonus motivates me to train harder and at least achieve my best (possible) time in my marathon debut.”
It would be unwise for Coolsaet to run the full marathon distance at this point. The Olympic marathon was held on August 12th in hot, humid conditions and Coolsaet suffered in the latter stages of the race, eventually finishing 27th in 2:16:29.
Two months is not enough time to fully recover let alone prepare adequately for a world class marathon. But the 31 year old graduate of the University of Guelph is ever grateful for Chelimo’s assistance a year ago and offered his services once he knew the Kenyan was contracted to run in Toronto.
During the winter months Coolsaet actually trained for six weeks in Iten, Kenya and while he was there he arranged to see Chelimo. They had been keeping in touch via email.
“I wanted to give him a gift for taking me through 34 kilometres,” Coolsaet reveals. “I lost the front pack three times and each time he helped me get back with the leaders. I told him I would get him a gift and he asked for a laptop computer. I got him an Acer.
“I met up with him in Iten. I told him I would be coming to Eldoret one weekend while I was over there or he could come to Iten if he wanted it sooner. He was in Iten the next day.”
Chelimo grew up in Marakwet with four brothers and two sisters. Their parents run a small scale farm. He lives in the town of Eldoret now with his wife and says in his spare time he loves to watch European soccer.
“I was a runner since primary school,” Chelimo admits. “I attended Chesoi Primary school than Emobut high school. I was inspired by Moses Kiptanui.”
The legendary Kiptanui was a three time IAAF World Champion in the 3,000m steeplechase and the first man to beat 8 minutes in that distance – in addition to being Marakwet’s most famous resident. And, like his hero Chelimo is self coached, though he trains with a small group of athletes at Chepkoilel track when he needs to do some speed work to sharpen up.
Certainly he has the ability to run very quickly in Toronto. Four years ago he ran ten miles in 45:38 in Schortens, Germany one of the fastest times ever recorded for the distance. Since then he has also run half marathon in 1:01:03 and posted other impressive times at European road races. At 27 years of age he is approaching his best marathoning years.
Whether Chelimo’s marathon debut is a success or not will be dependent upon the weather conditions and, in no small part to the ability of Reid Coolsaet to maintain an even pace over the first 25 kilometres. The reversal of roles is an example of the camaraderie which exists amongst elite marathoners. Friendship aside, Chelimo hopes that the end result is a very fast time.