Tue, September 24, 2013

Running against the clock

'Far-fetched' standard frustrates Londoner

By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency


Long-distance runner Brandon Laan sprints through Victoria Park in London on Wednesday. (Craig Glover/QMI Agency)

LONDON, ONT. - Brandon Laan just wants to be given a chance.

He's not asking for anything special or outrageous. He's looking to earn a chance to compete in the marathon in the Summer Olympics -- be it 2012 in London or 2016.

But the roadblocks thrown up, many by his own country, make the 42.2 kilometres he has to cover seem longer.

But while Laan is discouraged, he isn't defeated. He thinks given the proper training conditions he can achieve his dream.

"A lot of people think I'm a long shot but I don't think that," said Laan, a 27-year-old from London. "My times are coming down and given the right circumstances I can do it."

Laan has won a number of half-marathons and other distance races in Canada and North America. He says that every time out he knocks "40 seconds off the 5k, a minute and a half off the 10k." He won a half-marathon at Springbank Park two weeks ago by nearly four minutes.

His times keep coming down. At 27, he is still several years away from his prime but qualifying for the marathon is one of the most difficult things to do in sports, especially if you're Canadian.

And especially if you get no money from the federal government and are forced to live a student's existence.

Laan fits all these categories.

While the Olympic qualifying time for the marathon is about 2:15, Canada won't send a runner unless they beat the Canadian qualifying time of 2:11:29.

Given the hellacious time, the last Canadian to run a marathon in the Olympics was Bruce Deacon in 2000.

Reid Coolsaet from Hamilton ran under the standard last year at 2:11:23 but it was outside the qualifying period. He now has to run under the Olympic qualifying mark in October to make it to the 2012 Olympics.

Among the top marathoners in Canada is another Londoner, Rob Watson, who is looking to make the qualifying mark.

With the Own the Podium program, Canada puts a lot of money into athletics but it will only fund athletes it believes have a chance to win. With little money, though, it makes things difficult for athletes to get good enough to win.

Outstanding runners like Laan have to worry about making a living above and beyond training.

Laan is coaching part-time at Western. He lives with his parents because that's all he can afford. Laan is involved in a running website called RunnersFeed, a business he hopes will take off. His day is made up of a lot of things beyond training.

"Somehow I've become a businessman in the past six months," said Laan, who graduated from Western.

Wednesday was a typical Laan day.

"I had a morning run this morning (6 a.m. 20k) and then went straight for interviews," he said. "I had a meeting with sponsors for next year's run. I'm trying to find a chartered accountant. Now I'm meeting you, have an afternoon session with (Western's cross-country) team, by the time I run there and back, I've run another 20k.

"It's frustrating. It takes a toll on everyone. My girlfriend, when I finish a 40k day, she wants to watch a movie . . . she wants to go dancing tonight. I love dancing but my legs are fried and my mind is even more fried. My parents would love me to cut the grass. They put up with a lot."

There are no massages, no personal dietitian, no personal coach -- stuff other top runners usually get.

Laan runs 200 kilometres a week, running when he can. He believes he's in good enough shape right now to run "2:15, 2:16 in October."

But it isn't only about time, he says.

"There's more to running than just hammer, hammer hammer. It's about rest and I can't afford to spend two hours doing it because I have to make a living . . . I would love to have gone to Philadelphia to race a half-a-marathon where everyone is super fast, but I can't afford it."

Laan calls the Canadian standard "far-fetched," but he isn't about to give up on it.

"It may be a long shot," he said. "I don't want to be the person that says shoulda, woulda, coulda -- that's not my style. I'd rather leave it all out there. If I can't make it, I'm not good enough, I can live with that. Then I'd get a job, have kids, get a down payment on a home, buy a cottage.

"But at least I would know I'd been given a fair chance."

twitter.com/MoDaCoatLFPress