Words and images by: Stephen Kersh
Amidst a gaggle of runner-centric tattoos stampeding through another dang marathon-specific workout on Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff, Arizona, a red maple leaf flashes bright as it continues on its perpetual journey on Rory Linkletter’s thigh. Over and over, round and round, his legs swing on a path of forward momentum towards the next mile split as he’s tucked in amongst his teammates. And as they eat up ground, in sync with teammates touting personal-bests in the marathon of 2:09 to 2:12, the young canuck looks like he’s right where he needs to be.
The Calgary, Alberta native joined the ranks of professional running earlier this summer following an illustrious career at Brigham Young University where he was a three-time NCAA first team All American in track and field and a three-time NCAA All American in cross country. Ending his collegiate career with bests of 13:36.41 for 5,000 meters and 28:12.42 for 10,000, he shipped out to Flagstaff, Arizona to join HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite.
To follow the path of the majority would be to cut your teeth on the road racing circuit before jumping into the marathon distance. The marathon is usually reserved for more of a long-term plan for a young athlete — tucked away behind the recesses of fast track seasons and ripping half marathons. Linkletter, though, is leaving little time to waste as he’s poised to take on the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 20th.
“The jump is quick, but fairly calculated,” Linkletter tells me. “I have a strong desire to run the marathon and believe it’ll be my best event. I specifically targeted it this fall due to the upcoming Olympic year.”
Having known he’d wanted to be a marathoner for some time, he was fortunate to find a coach willing to let him immediately dabble with the distance. Ben Rosario, coach of NAZ Elite, encouraged Rory to run Toronto this year, seeing it as a way to set him up for success at the distance once he’s in the prime of his career.
Toronto also sets Linkletter up for potentially snagging an Olympic Standard which could lead to the possibility of representing Canada at the 2020 Olympic Games. “The Olympics are a huge goal of mine, and after the spring I realized the marathon was going to be my best shot,” Linkletter says. “I knew I had to run one this fall.”
Representing his country would be nothing new for the 23-year-old, though the stage in Tokyo would certainly be larger. Linkletter has donned a Canadian vest at multiple World Cross Country Championships and, most recently, the Pan American Games where he placed 6th in the 10,000-meters. “I quickly developed the Olympic dream,” Linkletter says. “It really came to life in 2016 when I made my first NCAA championship in the 5000-meter as a 19-year-old. I thought that I was well on my way to world class, but I knew it’d take time.”
As we drive down a pine-tree lined dirt road in Flagstaff, Linkletter makes it clear there was no way he would have debuted in the marathon anywhere other than Toronto.
“I always knew it would be in Canada,” he affirms. “I always thought running at Toronto would be special, it’s the championship, the biggest race in Canada and where a lot of my family is from.” The conviction he says it with leaves no question whether there was even another option for location. You can’t redo your first marathon, or literally any marathon, but Linkletter isn’t letting this one go by without making sure it was done on his terms.
“Toronto has a lot of significance to me. My mother was born there, my grandparents met there and also grew up in Toronto,” he says. “My grandpa passed away a little over two years ago and I feel that Toronto is a piece of him. It always brings back fond memories.”
When asked what he’s aiming for out of his race, he makes no bones about the fact he wants to run fast. With a racing pedigree like his, it should be expected; however, the marathon is certainly a cruel mistress that has stolen the hopes and dreams of many first-timers. The distance commands respect.
“I’m excited about the challenge of the distance,” he says. “It’s not going to be easy and my body and mind will be screaming to quit. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fear the idea of hitting a brick wall of fatigue.”
What lies between the starting pistol and the inevitable brick wall of fatigue is opportunity. Racing gives an athlete the opportunity to be something more, achieve something audacious. When Rory Linkletter lines up on the starting line in Toronto, he has 42 kilometers of opportunity to be exactly who he’s dreamt of being.