Geoffrey Mutai will return to the Ottawa 10k for the fourth time in six years to compete in the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on 27 May.
But the 35-year-old Kenyan has a torrid love affair with the race in the Canadian capital.
Mutai, a past winner of the Boston, Berlin and New York marathons, has experienced both highs and lows throughout his career and now hopes that Ottawa will see him return to his best form.
“I ran there before and I like the race,” he says of his decision to return. “I want to build up again and a 10k is what I had in mind.”
Five years ago he was dealt a disappointing card which ultimately led to his relationship with Ottawa. Despite winning the 2011 Boston and New York Marathons, he was not chosen for Kenya’s 2012 Olympic team and was forced to alter his training and competition schedule. That was when he added the Ottawa 10k to his calendar.
On what was his first visit to Canada, he promptly destroyed a world-class field. He won the race by an astounding 45 seconds with a time of 27:42. Had it not been for the warm conditions that night, Deriba Merga’s 2009 course record of 27:24 might well have fallen.
A pair of third-place finishes in 2013 and 2014 solidified his relationship with the Ottawa event. Now battling back from a series of injuries that saw him race only twice in 2016, Mutai is cautiously optimistic his comeback will be successful.
“After a long injury and no competition, it is not easy to say how my fitness is compared to the past,” he said. “Training is going well and I hope to run pretty fast in Ottawa. Training is like in the past, except I focus more on speed to run a good 10k. I hope to run 28 minutes in Ottawa.”
Mutai has the good fortune of training with a stellar group of distance runners, which includes world marathon record-holder Dennis Kimetto, 2012 Olympic marathon bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang and 2011 London Marathon winner Emmanuel Mutai (no relation). He says he is grateful for their support during his lengthy injury period.
“After the 2015 Berlin marathon (he finished fifth in 2:09:29) I had a stress fracture in my leg,” he says. “More recently I had some muscle and tendon issues and I took treatment in the Netherlands and in Kenya.
“It was not always easy but I was very determined to make a comeback. My family, my fellow athletes and my agency supported me a lot and always told me to believe in myself and not to give up.”
A year ago he lined up for the Ceske Budeovice Half Marathon in Prague expecting to run a time close to 60 minutes. When he finished well beaten in 64:28, people largely wrote him off. But from the disappointment, he was able to extract something positive – a characteristic that has helped him in the past.
“Yes, I had hoped to be better, but I was also happy to run again without pain,” he explains. “I needed that to be better next time. I raced a 10k in Trento after that. I ran 29:44 there.”
Although much of his day is taken up by training and resting, he is also a family man. He and his wife Beatrice are parents of two young daughters Mereka, 5, and Mishel, 8. And he has also dived into the real estate business, building rental housing and other projects. Running, nevertheless, remains a huge priority.
Mutai is aware that his advanced years make it more difficult to handle the heavy training that led him to past victories at the world’s biggest road races. Nevertheless, he cautions the doubters.
“For the marathon, I have nothing planned now,” he says. “Maybe I will do another half marathon after the Ottawa 10k. I hope to run a good marathon again next year.
“I am not yet done with running.”
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF