The two time Canadian Olympian will also attempt to make it three for three in this young 2015 season. Already he has won the Harry’s Spring Run-Off 8k and, this past Sunday, the Toronto Yonge Street 10k. All three races are part of the Canada Running Series.
Gillis was the 2014 Canada Running Series champion and appears a good bet to repeat if he can stay in form.
Success however is not only due to his commitment to training hard at Speed River Track Club but also an uncanny ability to balance family life with his training and competitive schedule. Gillis, 34, is the father of two young children Heidi, 5, and Luke, seventeen months. His wife Emily is a nurse and recently returned to full time work following maternity leave.
“It is flexible, that’s the biggest thing with kids, and, with my wife Emily back at work now,” he declares. “We have chats the night before or a couple of nights before and get things down on calendars but it is always a very fluid process.
“That is probably the biggest challenge – my ability to plan ahead. But once we do it usually involves getting up just before 7am – the kids might already be up. Emily will get up first with the kids, and then from 7 until 9 it’s breakfast. Then I am taking Heidi my youngest to the bus stop at 8:30am. She’s in junior kindergarten and then it’s taking Luke to daycare after that.”
While Emily heads off to the clinic where she works Gillis heads out for the first of his two daily runs around 9:00 a.m. and after he returns there are breakfast dishes to tackle.
“I am usually pretty flexible through the day,” he offers. “My usual routine is either doing some stretching mobility exercises or even sometimes some core exercises.”
Once a week he also drives to Georgetown, Ontario where he visits an acupuncturist and also has a weekly physiotherapy appointment with Brenda Scott-Thomas, the wife of his long-time coach Dave Scott-Thomas. Then there are the occasional appearances for his sponsor, New Balance which might entail visiting a local high school or a running shoe store.
“Those things I usually book for around noon when I am not running or have children responsibilities,” he adds.
“Getting in the second run is more challenging right now. Sometimes I try to get out before 3:30pm when I have to get my daughter off the bus. I also have practice (with Speed River TC) at 4pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday now so Emily and I will do the trade-off. I will get Heidi off the bus and then leave for practice.”
If it all sounds complicated it’s something the family takes in stride. Gillis is a true family man and enjoys the opportunity to travel together. A year ago, for instance, he and the family took the train to Montreal. His wife and children were at the finish line when he collected the National Half Marathon title that day.
“With all of us staying in one room it’s a little tougher with my little guy older now,” says Gillis. “He’s up through the night whereas last year when he came to Montreal for the 21k it was easier because he slept through the night.”
This week Gillis will travel alone to the competition.
“It’s a little tougher knowing that it’s more work for Emily at home when I am away at a race,” he admits, “so there’s a tradeoff. To go to a road race and you consider it’s a work trip. But it’s also more work with only one parent being home or you have to ask your in laws to come and stay. It’s a tradeoff.”
Between Emily’s salary, his New Balance contract and the money he picks up from road race appearance fees and prize money, the family is able to live comfortably in Guelph, Ontario.
He is a heavy favourite to win on Sunday. Although Quebec athletes are showing promise on the track, none are yet approaching the level required to challenge an athlete of Gillis’ strength. Consequently, he is taking a relaxed approach to the event.
“It’s not the Canadian championships this year so I doubt there will be the same level of competition,” he explains. “I am treating it like a solid half marathon race training Hopefully I run a similar time to years past but I am not looking to run a personal best.”
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