Two hours fourteen-minutes and fifty-nine seconds. That’s how long it took Thomas Do Canto to go from promising distance runner to elite marathoner. Close friend and training partner Liam Ridings explores Tom’s growth in the sport.
For those close to Do Canto, it has always been clear that he had the ability to run a fast marathon, but for so long it seemed like that potential would go unrealised.
“I spent most of my twenties fighting injury. I’d string together a good block of training and then something would come up and I’d be sidelined for a few weeks- it felt like a never-ending cycle. There were so many occasions where I thought, ‘this isn’t going to work, I’ll never be able to put together enough training to run a good marathon’”, said Do Canto.
To those who have followed Do Canto’s journey, his breakthrough run in Fukuoka will seem like a destiny that has been brewing on the sidelines for years.
Tom has been a familiar face on the NSW Road Running and Fun Run scene for more than a decade. Self-coached between 2008 and 2014, Do Canto found solace in keeping fit and chasing personal bests around a busy work and study schedule.
“I always had it in my head that I wanted to break 30-minutes for 10km. I understand that it is a completely arbitrary number, but it just seemed elusive for so many years. I thought that if I could break thirty minutes, I could be satisfied that I had achieved at least one of the goals I had set out to achieve when I started running.”
In 2014, Tom broke 30-minutes for 10km at the NSW and Australian Road Running Championships at Homebush. Placing third in 29.40 behind Harry Summers (29.34) and Duer Yoa (29.36) it appeared Tom was finally starting to fulfil his potential.
Do Canto, who met his wife Lana at a Parkrun, has been a regular fixture at Sydney Park, Parramatta & Rhodes Parkrun for the last few years. He credits the local fun runs with keeping his love for the sport alive at a time when his motivation was dwindling.
“I think I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never really be able to get through enough training to run a good marathon. I really enjoyed getting out for a Parkrun every Saturday and was happy to just keep chipping away at my times each week.”
When Tom joined Sydney training group Run Crew in 2015, Coaches Gary Howard and Ben St Lawrence- who had been watching Tom run since he was in high school- knew that the challenge was going to be harnessing Tom’s aerobic strength, without aggravating existing injury niggles.
“Prior to Tom joining the squad Ben and myself had both seen firsthand glimpses of Tom’s capabilities, we knew his potential for improvement was huge.” Said Howard.
“Like any runner, we needed to find a training load that gave him the best possibility for sustained development within the parameters of his non-running life – as a business owner with a young family he is particularly busy.”
Howard concedes that coaching Tom has involved letting him dictate the workload that would be most beneficial around work and family.
“Tom has a great understanding of physiology and training objectives, so is well placed to make a lot of the daily load decisions based on how he’s feeling.”
In 2016, following a win at the Six-Foot Track Ultra Marathon and a string of good results on the roads that culminated in a 2nd place finish at the City 2 Surf, Do Canto made his road Marathon Debut at the Melbourne Marathon.
“Melbourne was the perfect introduction to road marathons. I went into it with no expectation. It was quite windy that morning, so my goal was to just run in a group for as long as possible. At about 30km I thought; ‘I’m feeling good- I might have a shot of winning’, the group kept getting smaller and with each kilometre that passed I felt increasingly confident.”
With 10km to go in the race, Do Canto and Victorian Duer Yoa were left to fight the wind- and each other- back to the MCG.
“At 34km the road diverged, and we met with the Half Marathon. I saw Ben Moreau (2:15 Marathoner) who was running the half and I just instinctively got on the back of him. Ben and I had done training runs together in the past- so suddenly it just felt like another training run, I forgot about the pain and just tried to hold onto him for as long as I could- that ended up being the decisive break.”
Do Canto went on to win the 2016 Melbourne Marathon in 2hrs 20mins 53 secs- a time that was no doubt hampered by the windswept course.
Following his win in Melbourne, DoCanto planned to head to Japan in early 2017 to chase a qualifier for the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. Unfortunately, injury and sickness reared its head once more.
“After Melbourne, I had a niggle with my hamstring, that, coupled with the responsibilities of becoming a new father, completely took the wind out of my sails. I felt like Melbourne would be the turning point that would keep me on track for the next year, but things sort of went back to normal.”
The qualifying window for the London World Championships came and went and DoCanto was forced to watch the London World Championships from home- once again resigned to the role of spectator.
Following the disappointment of London, Tom turned his attention towards the 2017 Melbourne Marathon and a chance to qualify for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
“After missing the chance to chase a World Championships qualifier, the goal was to run a Commonwealth Games Qualifying time. I wasn’t sure whether that meant 2.18, 2.17 or something quicker but I knew that I was capable of getting close.”
Again, hampered by sickness, Do Canto was left to wonder what could have been as he followed Melbourne Marathon race splits from his living room on a cold October morning.
“Unfortunately, I got really sick in the week leading up to the race so was forced to pull out at the last minute. I was coming off the back of a half marathon PB at the Blackmores Half Marathon (1st Place in 65:00) so it was really disappointing to miss the chance to go to Melbourne and run well.”
Adamant to put a time on the board while the Commonwealth Games Qualifying window was still open, Tom set his sights on the Fukuoka Marathon at the start of December.
“I lost a bit of momentum after getting sick, but I knew that if I could put together a month of training I could go to Fukuoka and put a competitive time on the board”
“It was one of those training blocks where you just put your head down and hope for the best. I knew that I was going to come out of it feeling good or I’d be broken- and I was ok with that. It was my only chance to run a qualifier for Commonwealth Games, so it was worth the risk.”
“The event itself was amazing, such a big set up for such a relatively small number of runners. Crowd support the whole way, I didn’t know Japanese people could be so loud. At one point I ran past a nursing home and they’d set up chairs for them to watch the race by the side of the road, rather than being forced to watch a running race, they seemed to be enjoying it!”
In traditional Japanese Marathon style, the leading pack was broken into two distinct groups- the contenders and the pretenders- both of whom set sail with the pacemakers at 3-minute kilometre pace. After three laps on the track to kick things off, DoCanto quickly found himself alone picking off those who had set off with dreams of grandeur.
“I knew it may be a bit of a lonely race after looking at previous years splits and seeing that the Japanese runners really embrace the kamikaze way of running a race. Despite not having a pack to sit behind, it was really motivating constantly seeing runners up ahead that had dropped off the lead pack to chase down and pass them.”
Tom passed half way in 67min10sec and set his sights on the road ahead as he continued to catch the early pacesetters.
“You never know when it’s going to hit you in a Marathon. At 30km I was confident that I could hold it together, by 35km I started to break the race down into smaller and more manageable segments, I remember saying to myself; ‘Ok, just one 5km Parkrun to go’, ‘Alright 3km- that’s 7 and a half laps of the track’”.
Willed on by his father Elsear, who had travelled to Fukuoka to act as a support crew, Tom finished in 2hr 14mins and 59sec- a five-minute personal best and Commonwealth Games A-Qualifier.
For now, Do Canto’s fate sits in the hands of the selectors. As it stands, he is fourth in line for the Commonwealth Games behind Michael Shelley, Liam Adams, and Chris Hamer. With just over four months to go until the Commonwealth Games, Tom will gear his preparations towards racing on the Gold Coast in April.