Press Release – Paul Gains

Reaction to Athletics Canada’s announcement of their Relay Challenge at this year’s
Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Virtual Race has been swift, with national
steeplechase record holder and Canadian Olympian, Matt Hughes, confirming a strong team in the mixed-gender category.

The event is an innovative substitute for the Canadian Marathon Championships at the
Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, designed “to provide an exciting and fun competition, inspiration and motivation for those on the sharper end of our sport in Canada,” says Race Director Alan Brookes.

Hughes will be joined by his fiancée Madie Davidson, who represented Canada at the 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, marathoner Paddy Birch (2:24:57) and 2014 Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze medallist, Kate Van Buskirk.

The foursome plans to run under the name “Random Track Club” Hughes says with a laugh, “we kind of joked that a few athletes train under Dave (Reid) and Eddie (Raposo),” he continues. “We joke we are a ‘random’ track club. I am professional. Paddy is a full-time plumber and he fits in the training when he can. Kate does a ton of work with Athletics Canada and Madie is running and in the team now. I think we will go with that.”

With Covid-19 restrictions decimating the competitive season Hughes counts himself lucky that he was one of very few Canadians who was able to race in Europe. He went to Monaco expecting to smash the Canadian 3000m steeplechase record (8:11.64) he set when finishing 6th at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. But, the lack of training over barriers beforehand saw him finish 5th in 8:16.25. He was crushed.

“In my eyes, two guys were able to run under 8:10 (in Monaco) so there was no reason for me not to,” he says. Prior to the pandemic, he had sat down with coach Dave Reid and discussed the Olympics and what he needed to do to compete for a medal in Tokyo. Reid, the former Canadian 1500m record holder, believed Hughes needed to improve his 1500m personal best which was sitting at 3:41.49.

“I was pretty disappointed with how Monaco went. I remember messaging Dave and saying, “I think I just want to come home. What’s the point?” The conversation ended with Dave saying, “stop being a baby!’” Hughes says, laughing at the memory.

“Not those exact words but ‘you are fitter than the steeple showed. I think we both would be disappointed if you don’t at least give the 1500m an honest shot.’ I am glad I stuck it out as I was rewarded with some good 1500ms.”

In three consecutive races he lowered his personal best finally arriving at 3:37.20 in Zagreb (September 15 th ). That’s also faster than coach Reid’s former national record of 3:37.84.

Hughes is clearly excited about the opportunity this relay challenge presents and encourages other Olympians to take part. The plan will be for the team to gather (socially distanced) on Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard Saturday, October 17 th and run their respective legs.

“I don’t really get to do these things very often,” he offers. “So, when Alan approached me and my fiancée Madeline about this – she has done a fair bit of work with Alan on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon – we put a team together pretty quickly. Hopefully, we can create some buzz around the event.”

While Hughes enjoyed the European circuit, his ‘Random Track Club’ teammate Kate Van
Buskirk was lamenting the loss of competition despite being fit. Following her bronze medal-winning performance at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, she has
endured a rocky career path. But, in 2018, she took the 5000m bronze at the NACAC
championships in Toronto which demonstrated her commitment to international competition.

Training with Hughes and Birch has seen her achieve optimal fitness once again.
“It’s nice to have something on the calendar, that’s competitive,” says Van Buskirk. “I trained this summer as if I was going to be racing, then – no races. It’s really got me excited about what the fall will look like.”

“I did a couple of virtual runs over the summer, but I don’t want to call them virtual races. They were nice to do and for good causes, but they certainly didn’t have any competitive element to them. Doing an all-out effort will be interesting and fun, I think,” says Van Buskirk. “We will all be in the same place physically, although we won’t be running together. That will be nice too because it will simulate a bit of what the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon racecourse is.”

Relay team members must choose distances of at least 5K, with the four athletes covering a total of 42.2K, and so far, this team has not worked out exactly who is doing what. While Van Buskirk thinks she and Davidson will each do 6K, Hughes is willing to do a fair share of the distance.

“We haven’t really got that far yet,” Hughes explains. “I will do a large chunk of it, probably 20K then the other half we will break up between the others. I am sure Dave (Reid) will have some input with that as well.”

As for challenging other Canadian elites to field teams, both Hughes and Van Buskirk are
optimistic that runners, especially those who have benefited from Canada Running Series races in the past, will be equally excited to join the fun. In addition to the Mixed Gender category (2 + 2), there are also Men’s and Women’s categories for the elite Relay Challenge which must be run over the weekend of October 17-18.

While the Athletics Canada Relay Challenge will attract some of Canada’s very best distance runners, the event is by no means restricted to elites. Anyone may assemble a team and join the Open four-person marathon relay by registering on the website.

The cost is CA$135 per team of four, and team members can run their legs anywhere and at any time between October 1 st -31st.

Each of the Open relay participants will receive a reward package that contains a New Balance souvenir T-shirt, a unique medal featuring an engraving of Toronto’s Old City Hall clock tower, discounts from the Running Room, and a personal hand-written “Thank You” note from a Canada Running Series staff member.

For More Information: (Elite) (Open category runners)