Rachel Cliff could have relaxed Monday, dwelled on a race she didn’t win and questioned why she’s no longer the Canadian-record holder for women in the half marathon and marathon.
Instead, the determined distance runner happily boarded a plane to attend a second altitude training camp in two months in Flagstaff, Ariz., as part of her 2020 Olympic pursuit.
“I’m excited. I was also here for six weeks in November and December,” Cliff told CBC Sports. “It’s been nice to have the opportunity to utilize altitude training.”
The 31-year-old raced in Houston on Sunday and in a matter of hours watched fellow Vancouver resident Natasha Wodak and Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, B.C., break her national records.
Wodak, 38, crossed the finish line in one hour nine minutes 41 seconds to become the first Canadian woman to eclipse the 70-minute mark for the half marathon. Last month, Cliff clocked 1:10:06 at the Sanyo Ladies’ Half-Marathon in Okayama, Japan, beating her previous record of 1:10:08 she achieved in March 2018 in Woodlands, Texas.
Hopefully the results by others will be a wake-up call and three to four weeks [running] at altitude will get her over the hump.— BC Endurance Project coach Richard Lee on Rachel Cliff’s Canadian records being broken
While it wasn’t the breakthrough performance Cliff was hoping for, she and her coach were impressed by a fourth consistent half marathon in two years after clocking 1:10:08, 1:10:28 and 1:10:06.
“Usually, that [type of range] is a good sign that an athlete is ready to jump to a new level,” Richard Lee of BC Endurance Project said. “Hopefully the results by others [on the weekend] will be a wake-up call [for Cliff] and three to four weeks at altitude will get her over the hump.”
Wodak is confident Cliff isn’t finished setting records in the half marathon and marathon.
“Rachel was so kind and gracious after [the race],” Wodak told Postmedia. “It was a tough day for her, to see both of her records be broken. We had lunch after. She’s handling it very well.”
Wodak is coming off a sensational 2019, winning the Canadian 10K and 10,000-metre championships along with a Pan Am gold medal at Peru in August and running a 5K PB of 15:36 on March 16, 2019 in Vancouver.
She’s also a threat on the track in the 10,000 after finishing ninth in her Commonwealth Games debut in April 2018 and posting a 31:54.88 PB at the Payton Jordan Invitation last May in Palo Alto, Calif. Cliff later earned Pan Am bronze in the 10,000 and failed to qualify for the 5,000 final at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, as a late addition to Team Canada.
Elmore’s story ‘inspirational’
Elmore all but booked her spot on the 2020 Canadian Olympic squad by running 2:24:50 on Sunday, a full two minutes faster than Cliff’s record. Not bad for the former 1,500 runner, 2004 Olympian and triathlete who debuted in the marathon a year ago at the same Houston race in a time of 2:32.15.
“Malindi’s story and athletic background is truly inspirational,” Cliff said. “She’s always been an athlete I look up to and someone who’s very kind and supportive towards other Canadian runners.
“It’s really exciting to see Canadian running moving forward at such a fast rate. We had some strong performances on the men’s side as well.”
Top 100 Canadians in Houston
Half marathon: Rory Linkletter (15th), Cam Levins, the Canadian-record holder in the marathon (31st), Tristan Woodfine (41st), Phil Parrot-Migas (51st), Kevin Coffey (73rd), Chris Balestrini (76th) and Adam Hortian (78th).
Marathon: Trevor Dickie (85th) and Nick Kayler (97th).