OTTAWA — Réjean Chiasson is addicted to running.
Better that for the Toronto-based Ottawa runner than the alcohol and drugs that haunted his life from 2001 to 2007 and cancelled his military tour to Haiti when six men jumped him outside a bar and broke his jaw in two places. That incident led to his dismissal from the army in 2006 for the misuse of alcohol.
As a hockey-playing high school student in Tracadie, N.B., Chiasson was introduced to the taste and temptations of beer.
He became “a big drinker” and admitted the addiction got worse in the passing years.
Then drugs, like cocaine and Ecstasy, became part of his addictive mix.
For six months in 2006, he stepped away from that lifestyle. But when he moved to Ottawa in 2007, he was attracted to a similar alcohol/drug crowd he had associated with in New Brunswick.
In the middle of that year, however, Chiasson detached himself from the dark culture.
“Running definitely played a big part. It helped me a lot. It gave me something to focus on,” said Chiasson, 28, who has emerged as an elite competitor and will be racing his first Ottawa Marathon as a serious runner on Sunday during Ottawa Race Weekend.
Entering his third career marathon, Chiasson also will be one of the favourites to win the national title in the Canadian men’s marathon championship.
“I have an addictive personality and I must learn to focus my addictions in a healthy direction,” he added.
“Running was a huge help. It’s what I needed. I messed up a lot of things in life,” said Chiasson, referring especially to the period of 2004-07.
Chiasson, who scored well on his military physical testing, was invited to try running while he was a private in the army. He learned he had some talent and in his first official race he finished the Marathon By the Sea half marathon in Fredericton in 1:33:11.9.
In late 2006, he put together three quality 10-kilometre races in Ottawa, all in the 34-minute range. During the 2007 Ottawa Race Weekend, he won the men’s half marathon in 1:12:25.2.
Shortly after the 2007 season, he began working online with Kingston coach Steve Boyd, who was one of Canada’s top road racers and a two-time Ottawa Race Weekend 10-kilometre champion. Boyd also played a big role in pulling Chiasson into running and away from alcohol and drugs.
In his sixth year of serious competitive running, Chiasson is a full-time runner based in Toronto and is moving up the ladder among Canada’s elite distance runners.
When asked for a highlight from that half-dozen years, he looked at the big picture instead of a single slice. It’s hard to argue with him, when he said “this whole (past) year has been a highlight.”
Running in his sixth Ottawa Race Weekend race since 2007, Chiasson had his best-ever finish in the 10-kilometre test, finishing eighth in 30:05.8 last May.
In August, he was first in the half marathon at the Marathon des Deux-Rives in Lévis, Que. He ran 1:11:06 for the 21.1 kilometres.
That race set up his marathon debut at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, when he was ninth in an impressive 2:17:47.3.
Chiasson has maintained his momentum and even picked up the pace this year. At the Vancouver Sun Run in mid-April, he ran a personal-best time of 29:37.5 for 10 kilometres to finish fifth overall. Two weeks later, he scored another best-ever time, placing third at the Canadian championship Scotiabank half marathon in Montreal in 1:05:03.
“It was nice to be up front in the race with (winner) Eric Gillis (of Guelph) and Matt Loiselle (of Toronto),” he said. “It was my first experience up front and pushing the pace.”
He also finished a three-month, heavy training period in Florida in March by winning the 5 Points of Life Marathon in Gainesville in 2:28:32.1. He earned $900 for winning the race, which had high winds and humidity.
The Florida training camp was an extension of his training group in Toronto. He started with the Brooks Marathon Project in March, 2011, but it folded eight months later. He continues to live in the same runners’ house in Toronto and train with the same group.
He said there’s no secret formula to getting faster.
“It’s the same boring stuff: be consistent with your training, run and get experience,” explained Chiasson, who also has remained healthy. “Some things come naturally with training.”
When Chiasson enters Sunday’s Ottawa Marathon, it will be his first serious attempt at going the full distance, chasing a fast time and continuing to establish himself as a respected distance runner.
In 2009 and 2010, he wore a bib number, but never finished the race. He was the pacer for the leading female marathon runner for the first 25 to 30 kilometres.
Both Kebebush Haile Lema and Merima Mohammed followed his lead and won their respective races in 2010 and 2009.
“This may be my only marathon of the year and I definitely want to go for a good one,” said Chiasson, whose long-term goal is to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics. “If it’s a nice day, I plan to go 2:14. I’ll make the call that morning.”
The thought of winning a national championship also is in the back of his mind.
“It would be cool to have a title,” he said in reference to the Canadian championships.
“I’ve never won a title. It would be nice to put that on the resumé.”
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