“It’s always been my attitude that the only thing worse than failure is giving up” The words of Canada’s Simon Bairu on his personal battle with the 26.2 miles of the marathon which have gotten the best of him on two occasions. This Sunday, Bairu will look for redemption in one of the world’s biggest and most important running events – the ING New York City Marathon. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday the event will go ahead as planned despite superstorm Sandy having its way with the Eastern Seaboard earlier in the week.
Bairu is fresh off a victory at the Rock N’ Roll San Jose October 7th running 1:03:28, but admittedly says it doesn’t necessarily equal a successful marathon. “You can never gauge how well you’ll run in a marathon off a half; they’re two completely different events. At the same time, it was nice winning a competitive race and being able to finish strong and in control. I haven’t felt like that in a while. In that aspect I definitely gained some confidence.” Bairu is just one of approximately 47,000 runners who’ll line up to race Sunday, but few have as much riding on it as Simon. New York got the best of him in 2010, collapsing 33km into the race. However in typical Bairu fashion, he’s looking to overcome the streets of New York and make up for 2010. “The main reason to come back was to show I can succeed where I failed two years ago. It’s been a rough year and a lot of that was a direct result of my first marathon. I wanted to end the year in a positive way, and I couldn’t think of anything more symbolic than being able to go back to NYC and improve on my previous showing. It won’t be easy but I’m up for the challenge. I’m also a fan of the NYRR (New York Road Runners) organization. They were very supportive of me a couple years ago in ways that I really appreciated. Plus it’s the New York City Marathon – it doesn’t get any more prestigious than that.”
Resilience and patience are essential for keeping a level head when tackling the marathon. The distance presents a wide variety of variables and can be extremely unpredictable. For Bairu, any form of progress this weekend will be viewed as a success. Simon and his coach Jerry Schumacher went back to the basics leading up to New York. “We went back to square one for this buildup and changed everything…It’s an unusual buildup but I trust Jerry. It’s now up to me to make sure I execute the race plan and try to take a step forward in my marathon progression.” Bairu isn’t putting too much pressure on himself with regards to specific pacing and split times, but still has a general idea of what he’d like to accomplish. “The night before the race, Jerry and the team will determine what pace we want to try and run for the first half. The goal will be to negative split the race. Having already run the race, I know from experience that the best way to succeed in New York is to negative split. In the end, I’ll be happy with any type of progression no matter how small. Ideally 2:17-2:14 is the goal.”
The ING New York City Marathon provides an incredible atmosphere for runners with tens of thousands of fans lined up along the course, and being a World Marathon major, the event produces high quality elite fields. These and other factors can deviate a runner from their original race plan by getting caught up in the excitement. The New York City Marathon does not allow for pacers, so Bairu plans to run with fellow Oregon Track and Field club members Brent Vaughn and Tim Nelson. Simon hopes to keep his focus early in the race. “The toughest aspect for me is to make sure I don’t go out too hard in the first half of the race. The atmosphere on the streets of New York is unbelievable, it’s very easy to get carried away and run hard. If I can stay patient and follow the game plan I think I’ll give myself an opportunity to run well.”
The past two years have been difficult for Simon, he admits to making some mistakes along the way in attempting to master the marathon. Referring to the 2010 NYC marathon Bairu said “I probably should have dropped out 3 or 4 miles before I passed out, but that’s just how I’m wired. Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with the consequences of that.” Simon was at the top of the Canadian distance running scene prior to Olympic qualification. In 2010 he set the Canadian record at 10,000m at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto California running 27:23.63.
He then made the decision to pursue qualification in the London Olympic marathon. The 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was originally supposed to be Simon’s first attempt at the Canadian Olympic marathon standard of sub 2:11:30, however he withdrew citing fatigue. Canadians Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis both ran under the standard in Toronto temporarily punching their tickets to London. Bairu then decided to attempt the standard in January at the Houston marathon. The race did not go as planned and Simon ran 2:19:52 missing the standard by a wide margin. Kingston ON native Dylan Wykes grabbed the last Olympic marathon spot qualifying at the Rotterdam marathon. Simon’s plans then switched to attempting to qualify for the 10,000m. However, after failing to hit the standard on his final attempt at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary it was Canadian NCAA athletes Cam Levins and Mo Ahmed who were able to secure Olympic berths.
Failing to qualify for London 2012 was devastating for Simon. His U.S. born teammate at Oregon Track & Field Chris Solinsky was also heavily favoured to qualify for the Olympics but was unable to because of injury. Bairu found some comfort in Solinsky’s similar disappointment. “Chris had to face it and deal with it a lot earlier than I did so by the time I got into depression mode, he had already faced it and accepted it. There aren’t too many people who can relate to the feeling of missing an Olympic team. As always Chris was a great friend during those rough times. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over the disappointment I have for myself. Not making that team was a big failure that isn’t easy to get over, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do to feel better about it between now and 2016.”
Even though Bairu was unable to represent Canada at the London Olympics, he’s still a firm believer his name can be back at the top of the Canadian distance running scene. “I still have a long way to go but I’ll get there. Staying healthy and training well consistently will be the key. Actions speak louder than words so I guess we will see over the next few years. At the same time though I think the landscape in Canadian running has drastically changed for the better. I don’t expect to be winning national titles by 30-60 second margins again. Mo and Cam are great runners who are only going to get better. I expect a fierce battle from start to finish every time I race those guys. Reid, Dylan and Eric are all proven competitors in the marathon who have consistently improved every time they run a marathon. It’s going to take a whole lot more than just hitting a standard to push one of those guys off national teams. In the end, this will help is up our game and hopefully continue to inspire the younger generation.”
Simon is looking forward to this Sunday and he as well as coach Schumacher will base future plans upon the results in New York. “A lot hinges on how this weekend goes. We’ve discussed World cross country but like I said it all depends on the outcome of this weekend. On Monday Jerry and I will be able to determine the direction we’ll go in 2013.” He admits the Canadian record (2:10:09) is most likely not in the cards for this weekend. When asked if he’d rather set the Canadian record of qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Bairu says “The Canadian record is the last thing on my mind for this weekend. Down the road I want both the Canadian record and represent Canada in Rio. It may seem crazy to those reading this but I believe I will eventually do both. Over the last couple of years my confidence may have taken a hit but it hasn’t wavered, I know what I’m capable of. The day that answer changes is the day I retire.”
This Sunday Simon Bairu will be looking to take a step in the right direction to reaffirm himself as one of Canada’s top distance runners at the ING New York City Marathon. He knows it could be a long road with a few possible hiccups along the way. However, it’s the focus, confidence and resolve Simon Bairu possesses that give him the best chance of surpassing his goals. The 29 year old from Saskatchewan is the 10,000m Canadian record holder and two-time NCAA cross country champion for a reason. He certainly has the background of a winner and only time will tell if Bairu can return to that level of excellence.
About the Author: Brett is a passionate athlete, writer, and huge fan of distance running. An Ottawa, ON native, Brett Bonisteel trains with the Running Room Racing team under Coach Phil Marsh. When he’s not training or preparing for a road race, Brett is tracking down the World’s best elite runners for interviews. He can be found at major road races, track meets and on press trucks covering the biggest races. Brett is extremely proud to be a Runners Feed contributor and is looking to further develop himself as a writer.
Follow Brett: @brettbonisteel