Ethiopia’s Shure Demise will defend her Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon title on 16 October, a year wiser and stronger than when she won at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on her first visit to Canada’s largest city.
On that occasion she won the title in unusually cold temperatures (4C at the start) with a time of 2:23:37.
Although the temperature is usually milder and more suited to fast marathon running on Toronto race weekend, Demise’s introduction to North American racing was particularly harsh. Coming from a training environment that is more like summer, she was among a group of elite athletes who were caught out. Race organisers, for the first time ever, went shopping for gloves and hats as a courtesy. Demise had never experienced such conditions but handled them like the world-beating athlete she is.
“The weather part was very cold, that’s what I remember most,” she recalls. “I had never worn a hat and gloves before (in a race) at that time. I will definitely have them in my luggage this time.”
Now that she has one Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon under her belt, Demise has begun her preparation for this year’s race and has targeted the course and Canadian all-comers’ record of 2:22:43, jointly held by Kenya’s Sharon Cherop and Ethiopia’s Koren Jelela.
The 20-year-old Demise reckons she is destined to write her name in the record book and her performance last year has convinced her of this. At the start of 2015, she produced the fastest time ever recorded by an U20 athlete, clocking 2:20:59 to finish fourth in Dubai on her marathon debut.
Earlier this year she ran 2:25:04 for sixth place in Tokyo, one of the World Marathon Majors, and was clearly disappointed to suffer leg pain. She denies feeling pressure to match her incredible debut time.
“It (Dubai) was my first time to take part in a marathon and it was a good time,” she explains. “But I will repeat it in the near future. I feel to improve my personal best I must keep working hard.
“It’s the same training as last year that I am doing now. When I train individually I go 27-28km, when I run with the group it’s more like 35-37km.”
Although the cold left an indelible mark, she also recalls the informal celebration she experienced after winning in Toronto.
“I was very proud to win in that cold weather,” she says. “For me it was a great feeling I never had before. Afterwards I enjoyed eating dinner in an Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto. When I got home to Ethiopia I celebrated with my family.”
As a member of an elite group of distance runners coached by Gemedu Dedefo Hailemariam, she showed promise when keeping up with three-time Dubai Marathon winner Aselefech Mergia in training. Originally her manager, Gianni Demadonna, had looked at one or two low-key marathons for her to race but on Gemedu’s advice sent her with Mergia to Dubai. Mergia won the race in 2:20:02 while Demise earned her team’s faith with her spectacular debut.
Remarkably, Demise ran without taking water during her first marathon and she is still not completely comfortable now.
“The reason why I was not taking the water was that I was not used to do it before,” she explains, “and I was not able to catch the bottle in my hand. But now I will.
“I train with Tirfi Tsegaye, Aselefech Mergia, Aberu Kebede and many more. These athletes are very mature and I learn a lot of things from them regularly.”
Tsegaye won the 2014 Berlin Marathon, the 2016 Dubai Marathon (in a world-leading 2:19:41) and was second in Toronto in 2010, while Kebede has also won Berlin in 2012. Their exploits overseas fuelled her desire upon hearing their stories during early morning training sessions in rural Ethiopia.
While her training partners inspire her every day, she remembers watching Ethiopian legends Derartu Tulu and Tirunesh Dibaba on the television when she was young. Like many Ethiopian youngsters, she took comfort in knowing these athletes came from humble beginnings such as her own.
After running 33:24 for 10,000m at altitude at the age of 16, it was clear that Demise had the talent to succeed. Not long after, she went off to Addis Ababa to stay with her brother.
Still just 20 years old, Demise has a bright future ahead.
“I want to work hard and participate in a future Olympics and achieve a good result for my country and myself,” says Demise, who will have a chance to do exactly that at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on 16 October.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF