by Paul Gains

A year ago Toronto’s Sami Jibril went into the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8km as a relative unknown and emerged as a surprise victor.

On April 5th he will be among the contenders in this race which, for thirty seven years, has provided Canadians and international stars with a professionally organized and challenging course.

The competition at the front has always been extremely tough too. Indeed, the course record of 22:35 was set by Kenya’s Daniel Komen in 1994. Komen went on to set world records at both 3,000m and 5,000m on the track not to mention the 1997 IAAF World Championship 5,000m gold medal.

Jibril opened his 2014 road race season with a strong performance at the Jacksonville River Run 15km March 15th. That race doubled as the US national 15km championship and was an excellent test of his winter training the likes of which he has not experienced in the past. He encompassed between 160 and 200km a week in very severe Arctic-like conditions.

His performance also confirmed his future lies in road racing rather than track.

“It went well,” Jibril says choosing his words deliberately. “The fields were loaded on both sides, men and women, very deep. It was a really fast run until the last hill. It was a battle the whole way. It was hard to not be engaged.

“Competitiveness? Every second of the race was competitive. It was good for me to be in a race like that. I ran 46:34 and was 30th place. I am pretty fit strength wise.”

Unlike many of those competitors and the majority of the Harry’s Spring Run Off field he doesn’t have the luxury of getting away to warm weather training camps. Indeed, the 24 year old has not a single sponsor and must totally rely on his income as a full time employee of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Jibril works the ‘graveyard shift’ from 11 pm until 7am five days a week sometimes as a repairman, sometimes as a janitor.

“Depending on if I have got a group workout I workout in the morning,” he explains. “I finish my shift, go home for a few minutes, collect myself, have a coffee, a bit of breakfast and then head out the door. That is truly my workout. Any other day I usually get home and sleep. The other option is get my workout in fuel up and then sleep.”

The adjustment to shift work was by no means immediate.

“I did have trouble sleeping for the first six months,” he reveals. “I didn’t know if it was possible for me to balance the lifestyle of what I was in. But I figured through time management skills that I had that I really did need to execute all areas. I had some health issues.

“I never had any of these problems before and my doctors could not figure it out and just classified it as a virus. So I was put on different medications and puffers and had many medical tests which did not help. During this time I was training with these problems and had horrible respiratory (asthma attacks) problems while racing the track season throughout the summer and fall of 2013.”

The conclusion was that his disrupted sleep patterns had led to an aversion to some foods including eggs, dairy, gluten and hazelnuts. With the help of a local naturopath he says he quickly changed his diet and his health improved.

Health problems now behind him, Jibril is exuding confidence as he prepares for  Harry’s Spring Run Off and ultimately the Banque Scotia 21km de Montreal the Canadian Half Marathon Championship. Both races are part of the 2014 Canada Running Series.

“I am confident that I am the fittest I have ever been in my life and am ready to compete hard to defend my title,” Jibril declares. “The Jacksonville 15km told me I am a lot stronger than I think and it reinforces my confidence that I can compete in a strong field.“

Although his heritage is Somali-Ethiopian Jibril was born in Rome and emigrated to Canada with his parents when he was three. They had fled the strife in their region – Ethiopian troops were fighting with Somalian forces in Eastern Ethiopia – and landed in Italy. He moved to the High Park area of Toronto when he was 22 leaving his parents and two brothers and a sister in Brampton, Ontario. Training is done under the supervision of Hugh Cameron of Athletics Toronto.

As one would expect his upside down lifestyle can limit his social life.

“You know what?  Training and work takes up mostly all of my time. I like to just sit at home and watch TV,” he allows. “I am a basketball fan so I keep up with the (Toronto) Raptors. I just generally kind of doing do much on the side because it takes so much energy balancing lifestyle. I do once in a while eat with friends. It’s not on a weekly basis I kind of keep it modest until the season is done.”

Should his foray into half marathon racing prove successful Jibril says a fall marathon is a definite possibility. Modest goals of around 65 minutes for the half distance would indicate he will tackle the full 42km.

In the meantime, though, it’s 8km through High Park that dominates his race planning at the moment. A victory there would be a massive step along the path he is taking to the top of Canadian distance running.