Simon Bairu is the Canadian record holder at the 10,000 meters, and he is learning, as many of us have, about running the marathon. A cruel mistress, the marathon has challenged Simon Bairu, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and now training with his former Badger team mates, as well as Shalane Flanaga and Kara Goucher, under the watchful eyes of Jerry Schumacher.
Simon finished sixth on Sunday in the Chevron Houston Marathon, running 2:19.52. This is his first completed marathon in three tries. He did not make the 2:11 Canadian standard, which is disappointing, but, Simon Bairu likes challenges, and we hope to see him go for the 10,000m standard in the spring.
Jon Gugala wrote the following piece as a preview for the Chevron Marathon, which, during, the craziness that was the Olympic Trials, I missed.
I believe the story gives you, our readers a view of a young man, who, like many of us, takes on challenges. I finally met Simon last night, in a restaurant in Houston. At first, like many of the young faces in our sport, I did not recognize him in civilian clothes-I always see the athletes in their kit at a major event.
Simon, know you are respected for the challenges you take on. We look forward to seeing you this spring, and hopefully, in London. You have many great races in front of you!
Can Bairu Break Through?
Canada's Most Promising Distance Runner Faces Do-or-Die in Houston
by Jon Gugala
It's Friday, the day before the U.S. Olympic team trials for the marathon, and Simon Bairu looks out from his 17th story hotel room on the marathon finish line.
"I knew this was going to be a process," he says. "When Jerry [Schumacher, Bairu's coach] talked to me about first running a marathon, he told me there was going to be a learning curve, and I knew there was going to be a learning curve.
"We knew we weren't going to hit it out of the park the first time out."
To say Bairu's attempts with the marathon haven't gone well is an understatement. In 2009, as he approached his first marathon in New York, he was forced to withdraw weeks before the start, citing fatigue. In 2010 in New York, where teammates Shalane Flanagan and Tim Nelson also debuted, he made it through 23 miles and woke up in the back of an ambulance.
In 2011, after announcing his entry into October's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon (which was shaping up into an unofficial Canadian marathon showdown between himself and the other four national elites), it ended in much of the same way: again citing fatigue, Bairu pulled out.
Add to this the increased pressure of a 2:11:29 standard for selection to the Olympic team--which two athletes have already done, with another two hot in pursuit--and you have a tall order in a race most debutantes just want to finish.
Bairu, of Regina, Saskatchewan, and now with the Schumacher group in Portland, Ore., has the greatest expectations of any of the current crop of neck-and-neck Canadian distance runners. At the University of Wisconsin, he was a two-time NCAA Cross Country titlist, and has since set the national record in the 10,000m (27:23.63, 2010). Most telling of his competitive achievements was his 12th in World Cross Country in the spring of 2011, which is arguably the most competitive race in the world.
But Bairu, backed by his coach, still believes his strength lies in the marathon. It's something that's been whispered in his ear since college, and his missteps in his approach have not weakened his resolve. "Once I get this right, I could be a potential medal threat at a World Championships or an Olympics," he says. "That's always been the goal, and that's always been my mindset."
Part of this mindset has been to look at these experiences as stepping-stones, all pointing toward inevitable success. "As long as I'm going in the right direction, that's what's important right now," Bairu says. "I'm not looking at it like I have hit it out of the park; it's just that I have to make improvements every time I get out there and run a marathon."
But wouldn't running sub-2:11--his stated goal for Sunday--be hitting it out of the park on your first completed marathon?
"No," Bairu says. "Honestly, I feel like my potential is better than 2:11. If it wasn't, I wouldn't run the marathon.
"Breaking 2:11 will be a step in the right direction, but that's all it is. The goal is to compete with the best in the world," he adds.
Helping him in this endeavor on Sunday will be two of Bairu's teammates: 13:16 5000m-runner Andy Bumbalough, who will pace through 10 miles, and 27:28.19 10,000m-runner Tim Nelson who will take him to 20. "That's the type of team we have: it's a lot of selflessness," Bairu says. "Guys on the team are willing to do anything to help each other out."
The last piece of the puzzle in Bairu's mind is fueling, and it's something he's now figured out. While in New York he says he only took his first two bottles, and estimates he was only able to consume 5 ounces an hour back then in practice, he's now comfortable with 32 ounces an hour. And from his New York experience, he knows how vital it is for the distance.
Bairu wouldn't be human if he didn't have doubt. His past attempts are still in his mind. But as he approaches Sunday's race, it's not his foremost thought. "At the end of the day, Jerry believes in me," he says. "And I believe in myself."