The Race Against Time: Pushing the Limits of Brain Science Could Bring Canadian Marathoners Olympic Glory
REID COOLSAET is wide awake, sprawled the wrong way on his hotel bed so he can prop his legs up against the headboard. Outside the window, a strong breeze scuds briskly across Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard, along the very route he will be running in the morning. The gears of his mind spin restlessly, cranking out the mental arithmetic of kilometre splits for different paces and different scenarios. No Canadian marathoner has competed at the Olympics since 2000, but tomorrow several men are aiming for the London Olympic qualifying standard of two hours, eleven minutes, and twenty-nine seconds. And Coolsaet himself is aiming even higher, at Jerome Drayton’s national record of 2:10:09, set in 1975 — the oldest record in the books.
At thirty-two, Coolsaet has been a familiar presence at top Canadian races for a decade, his curly red hair and elbows-askew gait easy to pick out in any pack of front-runners. But his pursuit of the record will take him into new territory: he cannot afford to waste precious seconds by starting too slowly, or squander precious energy by setting out too fast. So he has been training for months with a pace of precisely 3:05 per kilometre over 42.2 kilometres in mind, drumming the required rhythm into his head and legs until it feels automatic. The race organizers have arranged a dedicated “rabbit,” a metronome-for-hire from Kenya whose only job is to help Coolsaet stick to this pace for as long as possible and then to drop out somewhere in the second half of the race. Far ahead, a phalanx of Kenyan and Ethiopian superstars will chase a time several minutes faster than the Canadian record, which is irrelevant to Coolsaet. His only adversary is the clock.
But something doesn’t feel quite right. Finally, he pulls out his earbuds, rolls out of bed, and pads downstairs to the hotel bar, where his long-time coach, Dave Scott-Thomas, is having a beer with other members of his support crew. “I need to talk,” he tells Scott-Thomas. The two retreat to the lobby, the tousle-haired coach towering over his diminutive charge, and find a pair of couches where they can sit undisturbed. Coolsaet gets right to the point: “I want to go out with the leaders tomorrow,” he says. “And I want you to tell me if that’s insane or not.”