The 2020 OFSAA Track and Field Championships were scheduled to begin today. In their absence, I…
Matt McInnes interview by Steve Weiler, Sunday,
April 12th, 2020
Running photo is circa ~1999 at Waterloo XC race, credit George Aitken; McInnes is bib 434
Mountain bike photo is from a 2019 race.
Steve Weiler: Hey Matt, tell me something nice!
Matt McInnes: Hi Steve. Thanks for interviewing me and for taking the time out of your Easter Sunday. Something nice... isolation edition... have to think, did not prepare in advance because on call this weekend...OK, my kids have all been cooped up (10-12-14 years old), as have all kids.
There have been struggles with fighting, home schooling, too much screen time etc. However, there are some 'magical' moments when they bond and play super nicely together. For example, last night after dinner they dragged out skateboards that they hadn't touched in years. The older ones were teaching the younger how to ride, and giving each other 'tows' down the street with a skipping rope.
On a similar vein, the two older brothers helped their younger sister drag out and set up an old 'bouncy castle' that they hadn't played on in years (and is made for 3-6 year olds)!
It is heartwarming to see them get along and play spontaneously in those rare moments they aren't fighting or watching loops of tiktok videos/ youtube...
SW: Nice! And I should say thanks for taking the time away from your family amidst a very busy time at the hospital. You were initially a varsity rower at Queen’s University then switched to distance running (which turned out to be a great decision!); what prompted this switch and what running background did you have?
MM: In HS I did rowing all 5 years (back when we had grade 13). This was a winter and spring sport. We trained very seriously-- some of our coaches were Olympic medallists. In the fall I played soccer. Used to practice 4 days/ week with 1-2 games. Practices involved a fair bit of running obviously.
I first knew I was good at running in grade 9. There was an intramural XC race that the whole school had to run. I think I came 2nd the first year, and won every other year. The guy who beat me in grade 9 was a cross country team guy and he barely beat me. After that, the XC team coaches tried to get me to switch to XC. I didn't want to give up soccer so I would play soccer and run 1, sometimes 2, races.
My first ever race was grade 10 TDCAA (I think). I ran in trainers, had no idea how long the course was, didn't warm up etc. Hilarious to think back on it now. Our XC team was very low key so there wasn't a lot of mentorship or high level coaching going on. I managed to qualify for OFSAA, and on borrowed spikes placed somewhere in the 40s.
So that pattern continued for the most part. I would play soccer and my only 'runs' were races. For OFSAA I would have literally 1 training run, the qualifying race (of course we ran a lot in soccer). So... at University I rowed in my first year. The team was good/ fun, but it felt like I was plateauing re: where I could go in the sport.
Some of my teammates were National team guys, but typical National team rower is 6-2 and 190 lbs when not 'in shape'. I was 5-8 and 145 lbs... I decided to run after first year. I ran XC in second year university, then planned on going back to rowing and trained for rowing that winter and spring. Our Spring/ Summer crew plans fell through, and I was a runner permanently from 3rd year university onwards. Had a great time running those years at Queen's under Shane Lakins and Mark Arsenault.
My training then was far from optimal (for me). Very little volume, lots of speed, lots of injuries. We considered '60 miles' to be a huge week. I train way more now as a washed up rec skier/ cyclist than I did then.
After Queen's I went to U of T for med school. There I met Ross Ristuccia who would coach me more or less for the rest of my career. I met some great teammates like Alex Hutchinson who helped change my perspective on what hard/ smart training was.
SW: Your entry to the sport of running is a great counter-example to the increasingly stringent practice rule and other restrictions some people have imposed or attempted to impose in different regions. Could you explain how the Brooks Canada Marathon Project came together and how you came to be involved with it?
MM: Yes I certainly didn't follow a conventional route to running at a high level. I didn't break 9 minutes for 3000m until 3rd year university!
BCMP came together around 2005 I think. I was sponsored by Nike up until then, but I had started working with Hugh Cameron in 2005 in order to get some mentorship re: marathon training. Hugh served as a sort of advisor for my training in conjunction with Ross who oversaw my day to day training.
Hugh Cameron, as you know, had coached some of the great Canadian Marathoners in the 80s/90s like Dave Edge, Peter Maher, Sylvia Ruegger and Mike Dyon (among many others). Mike Dyon 'owned' or was CEO, not sure of the term, Brooks Canada. At the time, the Brooks Marathon project in the US under the Hanson's had taken off and Mike was hoping to start something similar in Canada. I think I was the first BCMP athlete to 'sign on'. It was a great program with generous bonus structure and support. Athletes would even get free rent.
I didn't sign on for the whole support structure. I was a resident at u of t at the time, working the typical long hours with 24h on call etc. So I needed some flexibility to train on my own. I did usually join the Brooks Group for the weekly long runs and when I could a workout. However, in the first bit it was just me, then other guys started to trickle in. My first teammate was Andrew Smith I think...but other guys who joined and I trained with lots at the time were Bruce Raymer, Joe Campenelli, Trevor Caldwell and Danny Kassap (who was not BCMP but we ran together lots, RIP).
I left Toronto in June 2007 for Ottawa. I stayed under Brooks but largely trained on my own under Hugh's guidance. I joined them for races, some training weekends and a training camp in Florida.
BCMP really took off in 2007 when a whole bunch of guys joined; can't remember them all but James Gosselin, Mike Booth, Richard Mosely, James Nielsen, Ryan Day...later Matt Loiselle... on the womens' side there was Lauren King, Tara Quinn Smith. Megan Brown often trained with us since she was coached by Hugh, but was not a marathoner.
SW: It was an exciting time and group to follow. I want to give credit to the Hansons in Michigan, whose group is still going strong and had considerable impact on distance running. Do you have any positive running-related memories during that era you'd like to share? I believe there may be a workout on wedding day story somewhere along the way?
MM: Lots of great memories from my whole running (and athletic career). Probably my favorite racing memory was the Philadelphia Distance Run (precursor to the Rock and Roll half in Philly). Very high level half marathon that used to be run in September. I ran in the fall of 2004.
There was a qualifying time for the World 1/2 champs which was going to be in Edmonton that year-- I think it was 1:05. I was in GREAT shape. Training was awesome, healthy etc. However, woke up morning of the race and there had been a huge rainstorm, they had to re-route the course and there were gael force winds.
I thought the chances of running the standard were very low. However, I spoke with Clint Verran and Brian Sell (both Hanson's guys) prior to the start and they said they were going to run ~5minute per mile pace or slightly faster through 10 miles and pick it up if they felt good. Since this was perfect for my goal time, I thought, why the hell not just go with them as long as I could.
We had a big pack to start but after ~4 miles it was down to Brian, Clint and I. We alternated leads every half mile in order to share the burden into the wind which was brutal. I remember thinking that I felt waaay too good when we passed 6 miles in ~29:30. We went through 10 miles will under 50 minutes. At that point, Brian and Clint 'took off'. I certainly picked up the pace but not as much as they did. I finished in 1:04:54 which was and is still my pb. Brian and Clint finished ~45s ahead.
I consider that to be my best race of all time. The time was good, but the conditions were very, very tough. To have made the standard in those conditions was something I am still proud of.
Re: workout the day of my wedding. It isn't that exciting.
Wedding day you have little to do. I picked up Alex Hutchinson at the airport. We were both training for 5000m at the time so we decided it would be a great idea to get a workout in that morning on the very nice track at Terry Fox in Ottawa.
We did the workout, had lunch, showered, and I was ready for the wedding with seconds to spare... I remember Hutch freaking out on my behalf when we finished our cooldown ~30 minutes prior to the wedding start. Can't remember if Chris Bakal/ Kyle McLean were also out for the workout. Possibly... Hutch would remember more details I think.
My 2 other favorite race memories are Ottawa Marathon 2008 (effectively my last race as a competitive runner). I was trying to make the team for Beijing, ran the IOC standard, a pb, in front of lots of family and friends but came of short of the AC/COC standard. Even though I 'failed' at my goal, I was proud of that race and was happy to cap off my career there.
Other fave race was Stanford 10,000m in March of 2003. I trained outside on roads/ all fartlek and high volume that winter. Did 1 indoor race which was OK. I smashed my 10,000m pb which was a total shock since I had zero objective data going in re: fitness. I still remember Sean Cleary and his WV gang cheering me on trackside (even though he barely knew who I was-- great guy BTW).
So many great training memories. Morning runs with Brady and Kitely in Toronto, innumerable workouts with the U of T gang at SWC park or Cedarvale, tempo runs and workouts in Mount Pleasant cemetery (often with Raymer), punishing long runs all around Toronto with Danny Kassap, long runs up at the Holland Marsh with the Brooks crew... too many to list...
SW: For those looking back on the sport, those great training memories are often what stands out the most, for some. In a previous Q&A regarding your 2007 Houston Marathon training block, I asked you about juggling a busy life; with the context of the current situation, as a doctor and father of 3, how are you managing juggling everything? Any tips to share?
MM: '07 Houston I only had 1 kid so it wasn't as hard. Now I mainly cycle in the summer and ski in the winter. I still run once per week or more.
Tips... keep doing what you love. I never embarked in sport to 'achieve x, y or z'. I only ever did it because I loved the training, the racing, the camaraderie.
I loved the intellectual side of planning and analyzing training, trying to optimize my improvement. I am a very data driven and obsessive guy so endurance sport is probably a natural fit.
Re: 'fitting it all in', it really comes back to focusing on doing the things you love and having the support of those around you. My wife and I communicate lots re: each other’s training and racing plans so they don't conflict with the family. I always do an 'active commute' to work. So whether it's 7 miles running to and from work, or a 2+ hour ride with a group en route to work, I am trying to make my commute part of my training to minimize the impact on family life and work.
If I had to choose 1 thing that allowed me to do a lot of training while working, the active commuting would be the largest contributor. Of course, you have to plan your life around that and make sure that such a commute is feasible. However, if you are getting to work by your own power, and don't need a car, you have some increased buying/ renting power to be a bit more selective about where you live.
I used to live at Yonge/ Lawrence in TO, and ran to work every morning (7 miles) with Alaistair Lawrence and Mike Midmer. Those 50 minutes of social commuting with 2 great lads were the easiest miles of my day. I would often meet them to run home +/- group workout en route. So I would typically get in a 'social' 14 miles, be home by 630, same time many car or subway commuters would and they would have 0 miles logged.
SW: Before we get into the Finishing Kick, how have you been enjoying your current sport of cycling these past few years?
MM: Yeah I love cycling and XC skiing. I had dreams of continuing to race XC running as a masters athlete, but injuries had other plans.
My brother in law is a high level cyclist (Sjaan Gerth) and he moved to Ottawa in the fall of 2016 and convinced me to start riding with him. I am a pretty terrible cyclist, especially compared to what I used to be able to do running wise. However, I love the group rides, and trying to improve. Slowly, but surely I am getting better, and I hope to win a local Masters race one of these years!
Ottawa has an amazing cycling community. Per capita I am sure we have the best cyclists in Canada. In my first local road race, I was up against Mike Rusty Woods (he dusted me!). But now I mainly focus on off road racing (mountain, gravel and cyclocross). I am equally medi-ocre at all of them.
SW: What was your favourite running route in Kingston?
MM: Oh gosh. I was terrible at routes back then since I just used to follow the gang. Most of the routes were crap and very road oriented. Probably my favorite was going over to Fort Henry and getting onto some of the small back trails.
SW: Favourite place to cycle?
MM: That's easy. Gatineau Park Ottawa. 40k hilly road loop closed to cars before 8am that is awesome for group riding. It also has endless single track and double track mountain bike trails. You can bike all the way from Ottawa to Wakefield on MTB trails.
SW: Choosing from anyone alive, who would you like to go for a run or ride with and what would you talk about?
MM: Right now Fauci, CDC head in the US. Seems like a super smart level headed guy. I hear he is a regular runner too-- running 7+ miles every day as a 70+ year old! Not sure I could keep up with him now though! Would love to chat about his experience going through all of this in the current US political climate.
SW: Great answer! You just finished a tough workout and you’re really happy with how it went; how do you celebrate?
MM: Morning or afternoon? Morning = coffee. Afternoon = beer (assuming I am not working that night). Bicycle Frequency APA the current bevvy of choice. But TBH what I would probably do is obsess over my times on certain strava seggies!
SW: Final question, what is the most valuable kind of ship?
MM: Friendship of course!
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