David MacLennan is not an overnight success story. He’s not a genetic miracle who took up running late and immediately started winning. But he is a testament to hard work. The kind of guy who started running and never stopped. At age 54, the Nova Scotian is a practiced vet, having run 62 marathons, 31 of which he’s won. “I’m batting 50 per cent,” he notes proudly.
MacLennan’s initiation into running began as a 15-year-old kid listening to radio ads in his hometown of Pictou County. “There was a local race at home here called the Joe Earle Victoria Day road races,” he says. “They always had it on the radio.” He would listen to the ads and watch the older guys in the community compete in local races. They became childhood heroes for him and he looked to emulate them. His high school didn’t offer track or cross country programs, so he decided to try road races, entering his first 10K. Although he didn’t win the race, the sport had him hooked.
It was in the late 80s that MacLennan transitioned to the marathon, entering the Johnny Miles Marathon in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, a race he continues to run regularly. This year, in fact, he won the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax for the fifth time and the Johnny Miles Marathon for the 12th time. Remarkably, the two races are only four weeks apart. And he’s still got plans for the 2018 marathon circuit. On Oct. 21, MacLennan will be taking on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon for the first time.
“It’s better to miss one day than not make it to the goal you have set for yourself. Your training schedule is a tool and not set in stone.” – David MacLennan
This year, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is also hosting the Canadian Masters Marathon Championships and the World Masters Marathon Championships. Both of which MacLennan is eligible for. “The odds of me picking this year to go to Toronto and all that is happening at the same time is pretty cool,” he says. But he won’t be letting the championships affect his race plan. MacLennan’s goal for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is to run between 2:40 to 2:45. An achievable goal considering he won Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in 2:50 with a nagging hamstring. “I could have run faster in Halifax but with the hamstring I could not open up,” he says.
MacLennan subscribes to famous Kiwi coach Arthur Lydiard-style training. “My basic motto is miles matter,” he says. “If you don’t put in the miles it’s not going to happen.” MacLennan acts as his own coach and does most of his training alone. “We used to have the Pictou County Road Runners Club, but a lot of the runners I used to run with have either slowed down or passed on. It’s because I’m starting to get up there in age now. I know 54 isn’t that old but a lot of the guys I train with are much older than me.”
MacLennan admits that his training when he was young was not well-informed. He focused on running far and running often. “It was just go and run,” he says. “I had certain things that I did where I just kept trying to beat the time because I really didn’t know anything about running.” He now spends a lot of time online studying training plans and is passing that knowledge on to the next generation. MacLennan is a coach with the Pictou County Athletics Club where he trains a group of high school runners in the distance events. Occasionally he’ll jump into workouts with the kids, but “the track stuff for me,” he says, “it’s still a learning experience.”
“My basic motto is miles matter.” – David MacLennan
Right now, MacLennan is beginning to build his base for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Last week, he ran 100 miles (160K) and says he probably won’t be running a whole lot more than that. “I can’t see me being any more than 110 miles (177K). We’re looking at no more than 170-180K.” His race plan is the same as every other marathon. He plans to go out hard. “There’s a lot of people who say pace yourself, but I’ve always been one to try and put it out a little harder on the front-end side and then slowly go back into a pace that I can take comfortably.” But he admits this strategy has burned him a few times, particularly at the Boston Marathon, which he’s run five times.
MacLennan’s one piece of advice for other runners trying to have a long, healthy career in the marathon is to “listen to our bodies. As we get older it is harder to recover from an injury. If you need to take an unplanned day, I say, take it. It’s better to miss one day than not make it to the goal you have set for yourself. Your training schedule is a tool and not set in stone.”