Top 10 moments in Canadian running in 2019

It's the end of the year, so you know what that means... countdowns!


This is the final edition of Run the North in 2019. When I started this newsletter in January, I had no idea what to expect. Thank you for reading, I appreciate each and every one of you.

For this final issue of the year, I’m counting down the top 10 moments in Canadian running. Something to inspire you as you reflect on your 2019 and make plans for 2020.

There will be no issues of Run the North on Dec. 23 and Dec. 30. Enjoy the holiday season.

Run the North will return on Jan. 6 with a preview of what 2020 will bring.


The top 10 moments in Canadian running in 2019

10. David Mutai won seven (yes, seven) Canadian marathons

David Mutai, a Kenyan who lives and trains in Etobicoke, Ont., entered eight Canadian marathons this year. Even more impressive? He won them all but one.

Here are his 2019 results:

  • Waterloo, 2:33:47 — 1st (April 28)

  • Mississauga, 2:27:08 — 1st (May 5)

  • Manitoba, 2:27:10 — 1st (June 16)

  • Saskatchewan, 2:22:09 — 1st (May 26)

  • Edmonton, 2:20:07 — 1st (Aug. 18)

  • Rimouski, 2:29:17 — 1st (Sept. 8)

  • Montreal rock & roll, 2:23:46 — 5th (Sept. 22)

  • Quebec City, 2:25:31 — 1st (Oct. 13)

His Saskatchewan and Edmonton runs were course records. He holds four of the fastest top 20 Canadian marathons this year, according to

Mutai spent seven years running in Asia before coming to Canada, according to an interview with the Journal de Quebec. (That article is in French.) The article also says his family still lives in Kenya, and he lives and trains alone here.

According to his profile on the Saskatchewan Marathon website, he runs for his late brother, Sammy, a world class 1,500m runner who died in 2007.

Can someone please profile David already?

9. The return of Malindi Elmore

2019 was the year of the breakout Canadian women. One of those women was Malindi Elmore. Malindi represented Canada in the 1,500m at the 2004 Olympic games. She then took time off to have a family and dabble in triathlons (she was a competitive Ironman athlete, NBD). But after having her second kid, she decided to return to running.

She made her marathon debut in Houston in January, running an eye boggling 2:32.

Before the race, most people didn’t even know she was running, she didn’t have an elite bib. Since the race, every Canadian running media outlet (including me) has written about her: she was profiled by Runner’s World, Canadian Running and CBC and sharing what she eats and her favourite workouts. She was also inducted into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.

Over the course of the year, she would back the hype up, winning the Canadian half-marathon championships and the Vancouver Eastside 10K. She was set to have a second go at the marathon in Toronto, but dropped out due to injury.

She was also just named UBC Okanagan’s new cross-country and endurance coach.

I can’t wait to see what Malindi does next.

8. Madeleine Kelly’s surprise 800m national championship

Madeleine Kelly is writer for Canadian Running and a former track athlete for the University of Toronto. Before 2019, she had never podiumed in a national competition.

This year’s 800m finals was looking lit as it was the anticipated return of Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, the Canadian record holder who took a season off after the birth of her first child. The rest of the race was stacked with strong Olympic-caliber contenders.

Instead, Kelly unleashed a killer kick to win in 2:02.37, surprising everyone, including herself.

Kelly’s goal going into the race was to podium, she told Canadian Press’s Lori Ewing:

Kelly said on a perfect day, she believed she might win bronze.

“I surprised even myself,” Kelly said, with a laugh. “I've been super consistent around 2:02, 2:01, so I thought I could be in the mix. Very happy with how it went.”

Kelly also co-hosts the Canadian Running podcast The Shakeout. She and Kate Van Buskirk broke down Kelly’s race in a great episode.

Kelly never achieved the world standard, so she didn’t get to go to Dubai to represent Canada.

But this race was such a perfect example of keep showing up and keep believing in yourself — you never know what could happen.

7. Natasha Wodak and Rachel Cliff going 1-3 at the PanAm Games

Both Natasha Wodak and Rachel Cliff had exceptional 2019s, but one of the more special moments was seeing the pair win gold and bronze at the PanAm Games in Lima, Peru.

Wodak, a 10,000m specialist took home gold in meet record time.

Cliff, the Canadian marathon record holder, passed up an opportunity to represent Canada in the marathon at the world championships to spend the season on the track. That risk paid off with 10,000m PanAm bronze and an invite to represent Canada at the world championships in the 5,000m.

It was the first major event medal for both Wodak and Cliff. This race showed how far not only these two athletes have come, but also how far Canadian running has come.

You can watch the whole race below.

6. The return of Andre De Grasse

“What’s a Journey Without the Complications?” Grateful for it all. 🙏🏼 #SITE
September 29, 2019

Andre DeGrasse became an international sensation after the 2016 Olympics, when he went toe to toe with Usain Bolt. Many saw the games as a passing of the torch from the Jamaican legend to the Canadian kid. De Grasse took home bronze in the 100m and 4x100m relay and silver in the 200m at those games.

But he struggled ever since. He battled injuries. He started a family, and had to learn to balance training with raising a daughter. But 2019 was the year that showed his hard work paid off and he is back on track to being a global track superstar.

He won bronze in the 100m and silver in the 200m at the world championships in Doha. And with each meet this year, he just looked better and better.

CBC Sports did a nice video about the comeback in August:

A nice bonus of the return to De Grasse is the developing friendly rivalry between him and fellow Canadian Aaron Brown. Brown bested him in the 100m at the Canadian championships, but Brown failed to medal at worlds. Nothing makes you better like competing against the best. Brown also won the 200m Canadian championship, but De Grasse didn’t race in it.

I can’t wait to see what De Grasse (and Brown!) do in Tokyo.

5. Rachel Cliff breaking the Canadian marathon national record

An almost 2 minute PB and national record this morning at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon. Could not be happier!!! There were a few bumps on the road in this marathon build but things came together when they needed to.
Thanks so much for the support and messages - I really appreciate all of them! And big thanks to @bcendurance (and all my teammates!) @chriswinter2, my fam and friends, @formcoaching @vanrunco @totalsportsus @haasruns @wataruogushi and the organizing committee at the Nagoya marathon.
#canadianrunning #nagoyawomensmarathon #lovetherun #marathon
March 10, 2019

On March 9, Rachel Cliff established herself as Canada’s best marathoner. She ran 2:26:56, a two-minute PB and more than a minute faster than the Canadian marathon record set in 2013 by Lanni Marchant, at the Nagoya women’s marathon in Japan.

Cliff showed in Berlin in 2018 that she was was going to be a force over 42.2K when she ran 2:28:53, 53 seconds off the record and the fastest marathon debut ever by a Canadian woman. She’s working hard and staying humble with her long-distance success, as shown in this Toronto Star Q&A from August:

What’s the coolest thing about being a record holder?

The race I ran the record in, I actually placed 15th and the majority of the athletes ahead of me were not national record holders. That keeps you humble. But also for me, it’s mostly about getting to that higher level on the world stage and setting the bar higher for Canadians. There’s people who raised that bar before me — Lanni Marchant set a new Canadian marathon record in 2013, and Sylvia Ruegger before that (in 1985) — so it’s fun to feel like I’m one of the athletes pushing to make Canadian women’s sport more competitive.

4. Moh Ahmed’s world championship medal

🇨🇦 heritage moment...
October 3, 2019

Moh Ahmed, a 5,000m and 10,000m runner, won Canada’s first long-distance running medal at the world championships or Olympics in Doha in September. And the race itself was one for the ages, with a lot of jostling and clipping. Moh had a major stumble early in the race, but regrouped and with a few laps to go, dropped the hammer.

Moh went for it, and came up big, as he said in this CBC Sports article:

"With a few laps to go I said [expletive]," Ahmed exclaimed. "I'm not going to be a passenger … I'm going to make some moves. This time I didn't miss out. I'm on the podium and I'm happy to do it because this is something that the Canadian distance community can share."

You can watch the final two laps of the race in this CBC Sports video.

In the 10,000m at the worlds, Moh lowered his own Canadian record and placed 6th overall. He’s already one of Canada’s best distance runners ever.

What will he do in Tokyo?

3. Lyndsay Tessier’s Olympic qualifying run at the world championships

Lyndsay Tessier is a 41-year-old elementary school teacher. She also placed ninth at the world championships in the marathon and is one of three Canadian women (and four Canadians overall) to have qualified for the Olympics in the event.

The headlines heading into the marathon in Doha were dire. It was going to be hot. And humid. So hot and humid they were holding the race at midnight. How could the IAAF (now World Athletics) do this? How many athletes are going to drop out? Could someone die?

In the end, it happened. More than half the field dropped out. But a few ran slow, ran smart and had the race of their lives. And Lyndsay Tessier, who was on her first national team, was one of them. She finished in 2:42:03, conquering the heat, the naysayers and most of the field.

From Canadian Running:

She resisted the urge to get carried away in the first half, consumed more fluids and calories than she was initially inclined to, and ran the best race of her life. “Ultimately my race plan was to run a race that I could respect afterward–meaning running with self-discipline, patience, and a complete absence of ego.”

Lyndsay’s story is remarkable in part because of her back story. She didn’t run in high school or college. She returned to running in her 30s, doing 10 and 1s at her local Running Room. She rediscovered her passion, realized she was talented, and busted her ass to become one of the best marathoners in the world.

Her world championship run was gritty and inspiring as hell, but so was every step leading up to it.

2. Trevor Hofbauer and Dayna Pidhoresky booking their tickets to the Olympic marathon

In 2019, the Toronto Waterfront Marathon decided to bring back the Canadian marathon trials. The top Canadians would automatically book their ticket to Tokyo. Sounded great.

Then the IAAF decided to make the qualifying process confusing as hell.

Toronto Waterfront Marathon moved ahead with the trials branding and marketing. It was a gamble, because there was a possibility that the Canadian winners wouldn’t get the Olympic standard. The strongest ever Canadian field was assembled. Strong international elites committed to the race. It was shaping up to be one of the best marathoners ever run on Canadian soil.

In the end, it paid off. The winners, Trevor Hofbauer and Dayna Pidhoresky, had the races of THEIR LIVES.

Both came into the race without sponsors. Both do their own thing in training, keeping their head down and their belief in themselves high. Both went out hard and ran seven minute PBs.

And both broke the tape as top Canadians, ran below the time standard and punched their tickets to Tokyo.

Trevor became the second fastest Canadian man of all time, and the second to run under 2:10, running 2:09:51 (record holder Cam Levins is the other guy).

Dayna became the seventh Canadian woman to run under 2:30 (after Sylvia Ruegger, Jacqueline Gareau, Lanni Marchant, Krista DuChene, Lioudmila Kortchaguina and Rachel Cliff). Emily Setlack became the eighth, running 2:29:48 to come second to Dayna at Toronto.

The best part? They texted each other about it in JUNE:

To learn more about Trevor, listen to this Citius mag podcast episode.

You can read Trevor’s race recap here.

To learn more about Dayna, listen to this Women Run Canada podcast episode.

You can read Dayna’s race recap here.

The lesson from all this?

Work hard. Believe in yourself. Call your shot. Then run like hell.

1. Everything Gabriela DeBues-Stafford did in 2019

At the world championships in Doha, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford broke the championship meet record by two seconds and the Canadian national record by three seconds.

And she placed sixth, because it was probably one of the best races of all time.

Still in shock. I'm at a loss for words, but ironically I can't shut up about it. I ran 3:56.1 and came *6th* at Worlds.

Yes, I want a medal, I want to win, but my primary commitment has always been to push my limits and find out how fast *I* can get myself around a track. And damn, do I feel lucky to be a part of a class of women that makes that goal easier to achieve, even if it means that they also make it more difficult to medal.
The competition in the 1500m is fierce right now and everyone is stepping up to run faster than we would have if we were in another era. I for one am all for it.
Game on!
#LikeaG #FamilyYoung #nike #justdoit 📸: @geofflowe
October 7, 2019

That alone would get Gabriela on this list.

She also became the first Canadian woman to go under 4:00 in the 1,500m.

That alone would ALSO get Gabriela on this list.

But. She broke six other national records this year.

That’s eight record-breaking runs in one year.

Here are all the records she set in 2019:

  • Indoor 5,000m, 14:57.45 — Jan. 4, Glasgow

  • Indoor mile, 4:24.80 — Jan. 26, Boston

  • Outdoor mile, 4:17.87 — July 12, Monaco

  • Outdoor 1,500m, 4:00.26 — July 20, London

  • Outdoor 1,500m again, 3:59.59 — Aug. 29, Zurich

  • Outdoor 5,000m, 14:44.12 — Sept. 6, Brussels

  • Outdoor 1,500m again, 3:56.12 — Oct. 5, Doha

Gabriela is 24 years old and is already one of the best middle-distance runners Canada has ever seen. What more can she do? I can’t wait to find out.

If you want to get to know Gabriela better, I recommend listening to her episode of Women Run Canada.

That’s it for 2019!

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2020 will be the second year of Run the North. Thanks for taking this journey with me. Enjoy the holidays and see you on Jan. 6.

Thanks for reading and keep on running.