Tristan Woodfine was wrapping up his university running career in 2017 in Guelph, Ont. His infrequent email chats with Greg Kealey, his former triathlon coach back home near Ottawa, became more serious, with Woodfine asking to meet.
Kealey drove to a five-kilometre road race in Toronto that September to watch Woodfine, who had been hampered by injuries and decided to leave the now-defunct Speed River Track and Field Club.
"I had not seen Tristan run for four or five years. After the race, my first suggestion was that we needed to work on his run form. He was over-striding and there was no rhythm," said Kealey, noting he saw "a lot of negative changes" since he last coached Woodfine in 2011.
Woodfine was willing to do what it took to improve — "a testament to his maturity and desire to be the best he can be," Kealey said — and they went to work. For the next six months, Woodfine worked on increasing his stride rate and quickly saw positive results.
In April 2018, he won a half marathon in Montreal in 1:05:43, over three minutes faster than the previous summer. A month later, Woodfine clocked 2:18:55 at the Ottawa Marathon, a drop off exactly nine minutes from his one and only marathon three years earlier at Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
"He really helped build me back after my times got slower at university," Woodfine said of Kealey. "Without him, I don't know if I would have got back to where I am now."
'He did everything the way we discussed'
Woodfine made those comments on Sept. 27, eight days before the London Marathon that was held on Sunday. Sitting in 20th place just past the halfway mark of the 42.2-kilometre race, Woodfine began to push the pace and worked his way to 14th, finishing in a personal-best 2:10:51 to meet the 2:11:30 standard for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
"I think he could have run closer to 2:10:20 but he totally lost pace [over] the last 7K," said Kealey, who discussed various race strategies with Woodfine on a Zoom call Saturday. "It may have been the [cool and wet] weather catching up with him, or we need a bit more depth of fitness, but he did everything exactly the way we discussed."
Since the Ottawa marathon, Kealey said Woodfine has displayed one of the better last 10K splits to finish a race of any of his competitors. He ran 2:15:19 in Houston in January 2019 and lowered his personal best to 2:13:16 in finishing second among Canadian men at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last October.
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Earlier this year, Woodfine was training at altitude in Kenya in preparation for the London Marathon in April before it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Woodfine, who grew up in Cobden, Ont., and now lives in the Ottawa Valley, was excited to see how he could perform on the weekend in London after hitting times and paces he'd never experienced during summer workouts.
Kealey was impressed by Woodfine's ability to consistently hold faster paces during longer workouts or hold form while staying relaxed late into a track workout.
Work on posture, cadence, rhythm pays off
"We did a 10K time trial on the track, he ran solo and his time was 28:49," Kealey recalled. "The thing I got excited about was how he looked. It was a 20-second PB for him and he was running fluid and strong."
The work to improve Woodfine's posture, cadence and rhythm was paying off.
"One thing that has led to his [recent] success and future potential was the belief in himself; that he was able to change his direction and environment [in 2017] and take chances not many athletes in his position would have," said Kealey.
"He is constantly looking for ways to improve. Being open to work on his form and open to suggestions has allowed him to stay healthy since 2017."
Kealey said the next goal for Woodfine, should Athletics Canada name him to the Olympic team for next summer, is to cut another "two minutes or so" off Sunday's personal best.
"I do think he would be able to run under 2:10 on any given day next year," said Kealey, "so that would be the expectation."