2019 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon Race Preview

By Paul Gains

Ethiopian women have dominated the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon with the past nine winners hailing from the East African nation. Judging by the elite start list it would be no surprise to see that streak extended to 10 on May 26th.

This year, the East African country will send 23-year-old Shuko Gemeno (2:24:31 to win the 2016 Vienna Marathon), Abeba-Tekula Gebremeskel who took more than five minutes off her personal best at the 2019 Seville Marathon (2:24:53) and will surely be brimming with confidence, and Tigist Girma, who first entered the spotlight with a victory at the 2016 Beirut Marathon and has continued to improve.

In December 2018, Girma won the Guangzhou Marathon in China with a new personal best of 2:26:44. Aficionados believe she can get down to 2:24, which could put her in the mix.

Rachel Hannah (2:32:09 from the 2016 Houston Marathon) leads the Canadian women including Dayna Pidhoresky who has a personal best of 2:36:08. There is also great interest in seeing how well 22-year-old Anne-Marie Comeau does in her marathon debut. A 2018 Olympic cross country skier, the Laval University student recently won the Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal.

A year ago, Gelete Burka set a Canadian All Comers record when she won Ottawa in 2:22:17. The course has undergone changes due to flooding that has plagued the region this spring. It is difficult to declare with much credence if that race record could be challenged. Tirfi will be more than satisfied with taking home the $30,000 first place prize money and re-establishing herself as a world-class runner.

Among the men, there is a definite Kenya versus Ethiopia rivalry once again. Abera Kuma of Ethiopia has run under 2:06 twice, most recently 2:05:50 at the 2018 Rotterdam Marathon. Most remarkable was that he achieved this time just 35 days after finishing the Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan.

Joining Kuma on the flight from Addis Ababa is Adugna Takele who was 3rd in Ottawa a year ago and who ran a huge personal best in February 2:06:32, and the man with the fastest time in the field, Getu Feleke. He ran 2:04:50 to finish second in the 2012 Vienna Marathon but his most recent marathon was a 9th place finish in Istanbul. He ran 2:13:43 that day. Race director Manny Rodrigues will be hoping that Feleke brings his earlier form to town.

There is another Ethiopian who bears watching too:  23-year-old Ayana Tsede who is based in Madrid, Spain. In February, he won the Seville Marathon with a new personal best of 2:06:36.

Kenyan supporters will be delighted to see Martin Kosgey who has a personal best of 2:06:41, lining up to continue this East African rivalry. That time was recorded during a second place finish at the 2018 Frankfurt Marathon last October. Two years earlier he had run 2:07:22 on that course to also finish second.

Two-time Canadian Olympian Reid Coolsaet has been training in Boulder, Colorado for the past couple of months enjoying the benefits of altitude training. At the age of 39, he is nearing the end of his career but does he have something left? His personal best of 2:10:28 (Berlin 2015) remains the third fastest ever by a Canadian. Last year he watched the 43-year-old Canadian record he had been chasing taken by Cam Levins. This has, no doubt, removed some of the pressure from his running.

As is the case with most major marathons these days, much importance is placed on the ability of the hired pacemakers to ensure the pace goes evenly and quickly enough to satisfy the requests of the elite runners. Once organizers, agents, coaches and athletes gather for the technical meeting and discuss the course, the anticipated weather conditions and the like, the pacemakers will be assigned their tasks

The fields are certainly competitive at least equal to any past years. Weather, pacemaking and tactical racing will dictate the outcome of the race. Will it be an epic confrontation?