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Is Guelph Canada’s fastest city?

If you want to be a world-class runner, you better move to the Ontario city of Guelph.

 

In 1997, Dave Scott-Thomas was working as a coach at the National Coaching Institute in Victoria when he heard through the grapevine that the University of Guelph was going to shutter its track and field program. He asked the university if he could take it over, and it agreed, although the school warned him there was almost no budget whatsoever and that he was far too qualified for the job

 

“It was functionally almost a non-existent program. There was no funding and no resources and no job and not very many people and not a lot of talent, to be honest,” Mr. Scott-Thomas says.

 

Immediately, he developed a club program, the Speed River Track and Field Club, for student athletes and local runners. The first year, Speed River had six members. One of them was a English transfer student. Another was a brewer, just an average guy who liked to run in his spare time.

 

Today, Speed River has become the most successful running club in Canada. Boasting around 150 members, the club also offers children’s and high-school-age programs. Whether in terms of national championship victories, the number of carded athletes or just the sheer depth of its talent, there is no doubt Mr. Scott-Thomas has turned Guelph into the nation’s capital of running.

 

“He’s built it from scratch. That’s the amazing thing. He’s got quite a good thing going, and now he’s got athletes from all over the country who want to go there and be part of it,” says Rob Guy, CEO of Athletics Canada, the country’s governing body for track and field.

No athlete is drawn to Guelph for its training facilities; as Mr. Scott-Thomas will be the first to tell you, they are significantly lacking. There is no indoor training facility where athletes can run in winter, for instance, although there is one in the works. The coach and some of his team cut a track and field course through the university’s arboretum on their own to help athletes prepare for competition.

The club also has a support staff of more than 20 people, including massage therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists, strength coaches and a mental skills coach, all of whom Mr. Scott-Thomas has persuaded to help out on a volunteer basis.

 

“He’s a force of nature,” says Craig Taylor, head coach of Ontario’s provincial triathlon centre.

 

In 2007, the group’s success led to the development of its Olympic development group, which now includes nearly 20 athletes. Not all of them will represent Canada in 2012 of course, but many will likely make it to the Games one day.

 

Two Speed River athletes, Eric Gillis and Taylor Milne, represented Canada at the Beijing Games. The group’s goal is to send four athletes to London.

 

Alex Genest could qualify for the steeplechase, Hilary Stellingwerff could qualify for the 1,500 metres, while Mr. Gillis, Rob Watson and Reid Coolsaet are all likely contenders in the marathon. “Four from one group is gigantic,” Mr. Scott-Thomas says.

 

Mr. Gillis, Mr. Watson and Mr. Coolsaet are currently running more than 200 kilometres per week in preparation for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. If their times are fast enough, they could qualify for the London Games.

 

Speed River athletes do nine to 11 training sessions a week, some as short as 30 minutes, some as long as three hours. On average, they will do about 25 hours of training each week. That could mean short bursts of speed work or two-hour runs, with Mr. Scott-Thomas following along in his pickup truck, or weight-lifting in the gym.

 

“It’s like having another job,” Mr. Scott-Thomas says.

 

Mr. Coolsaet, a University of Guelph alumnus, who recorded the fifth-fastest marathon time for a Canadian male history at last year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, credits the group’s dynamic for Speed River’s success

 

dave mcginn From Monday’s Globe and Mail
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