Justin Kent of Surrey has qualified for the Half Marathon World Championships in Poland, after posting a time of 1:04:20 on the Comox Valley half-marathon course Sunday.
Kent was among a group of six BC Endurance Project runners who used the Vancouver Island course as a time trial for the world championships, scheduled to take place next month.
The Comox Valley course was specifically chosen by the group, based on its reputation as a fast course. The Comox Valley Road Runners hosted the event, despite not having any local participants.
Race director Wayne Crowe was honoured to have been asked to accommodate the group.
“This a great opportunity for our community to host these elite athletes and to support them in reaching their goals,” he said. “This is not something that comes around every week, every month or even every year. This is a rare opportunity to have some of B.C.’s best athletes not only in our community but racing in our community.”
Three men and three women took part in the race. The qualifying time for the men was 1:05:46. The women needed a time of 1:14:08.
Kent, who won the 2019 Vancouver Sun Run, only recently graduated to the half-marathon (21.1 kilometres) distance.
“I ran my first half about five or six weeks ago, so I knew I was capable of running that (qualifying) time, but I wanted to see what I was capable of doing,” he said. “The B, or C goal was to get the standard, but the A goal was just to give it an honest effort.”
He achieved all his goals, crushing the standard by more than a minute. Kent’s time was only 24 seconds shy of the course record, held by Olympian Jon Brown.
“I don’t want to just squeak on the team, I want to be on the team, so yeah, that was [a good time],” said Kent.
The weather complied – cool with a drizzle – although the air quality was poor, due to smoke from the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.
“I love running in a little bit of rain, so it helped to cool me down a little bit.”
Kent said the smoke was not much of a factor for him.
“It just looks doomy and gloomy out, but I did not notice it at all, breathing wise. Possibly that little bit of the rain might have helped with the smoke.”
He said the course was deceivingly tough.
“My coach was downplaying it for the last couple of weeks – he said it would be a negative split, that the first 5K or 10K would be a bit of a grind and not to be alarmed, but it was really tough,” said Kent. “To not feel very good at 10K and … to know how much you had to make up on the way back, it was a little daunting, but I just tried to take it a [kilometre] at a time.”
Kent had some elite help on the course. Canadian Olympian 5,000-metre runner Luc Bruchet, from White Rock, ran alongside Kent for most of the race, before they separated.
“The objective today was to help out Justin as much as I could, as he was looking for the qualifier,” said Bruchet. “So I think I made it to about 17 and a half K and then decided that was enough for today. But we achieved the goal for Justin, which was the main purpose.”
Bruchet finished second, crossing the finish line at 1:07:41.
“Yeah we were on such a quick pace that even just jogging it in, I guess I finished with a pretty solid time. It was a great experience. Definitely, sometime in the future, I’d like to run a full hard one.”
Theo Hunt rounded out the men’s field, posting a time of 1:09:40.
Former Canadian half-marathon record holder Rachel Cliff (1:10:08 at the 2018 Woodlands Half-Marathon) led the field of three women, posting a time of 1:15:24.
She had previously qualified for the upcoming world championships, so this race was a proof of fitness trial.
“I was about a minute off the time I needed to prove fitness, so it will be interesting to see what they do with it,” she said, adding she noticed the poor air quality. “I think for some people it’s worse than others. I don’t have asthma, but I do find it bothers me a lot.”
While she did not meet the standard, the mitigating factors – particularly the fact that she was basically running a solo race – should play into her favour.
Erica Digby (1:16:36) and Kirsten Lee (1:17:19) rounded out the women’s field.
Kent praised the CVRR for putting the time trial together.
“With COVID, every race was cancelled, so we kind of had to think outside the box,” he said. “Thankfully the Comox Valley Road Runners were gracious enough to put all of this on for us, so we couldn’t be more grateful for that. It’s pretty phenomenal, and I am blown away by the support from them. I will have to come back and make this a regular appearance down the road. I don’t know how to repay them…beyond words.”