Trevor Hofbauer: 5 lessons from the Canadian marathon champion

From doing all the little things in training, to embracing the mental edge of being an underdog, here are some key takeaways from our interview with Canadian marathon champion Trevor Hofbauer.

Trevor Hofbauer was an underdog. But he kept showing up and putting-in work. Now, he’s a 2:09 marathoner and a future Canadian Olympian. He’s also the focus of our January long-read.

RunCreature is an Australian-based publication and we usually profile Aussie runners, but we make exceptions for phenomenal athletes with amazing stories. Trevor Hofbauer is one such athlete.

At the 2019 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which doubled as the country’s Olympic trials, Hofbauer finished as the top Canadian in a time of 2:09:51. It was a near 7-minute personal best in just his third attempt at the distance.

On that October day, Hofbauer achieved three milestones. He became only the second Canadian to break the vaunted 2:10 barrier.

Furthermore, he bested (and arguably upset) Cameron Levins — the only person ahead of him in the all-time national rankings, and the race favourite.

And lastly, Hofbauer guaranteed his spot on the Tokyo-bound Canadian Olympic team.

Learning from a Canadian legend

Our in-depth story on Trevor Hofbauer looks at his meteoric rise through the Canadian running ranks, and his unforgettable Toronto marathon.

We spoke about his approach to training, his immense self-belief, and about the emotional roller-coaster of being an Olympian in the climate of coronavirus cancellations.

There are some key things that stand-out about Canada’s second fastest marathoner. For one, he’s a workhorse. And he’s also meticulous.

He lives and trains in and around Calgary (which can get ludicrously cold in winter), he often runs solo (on tough and sometimes technical trails), and he pours his heart into every workout. In addition, he does all the extra little things to stay healthy and compete at an elite-level.

Hofbauer is also something of an oxymoron: humble, yet supremely confident. After years of proving doubters wrong, and continually defying expectations, he’s earned that right. And he’s far from done chasing some tremendously ambitious goals.

It was a fascinating conversation with Trevor Hofbauer and we want to share some key takeaways. Here are 5 lessons from Trevor Hofbauer, Canada’s reigning marathon champion and a future Olympian.

1. Don’t skip the last 1% — it’s vital

Trevor Hofbauer has a secret for his success.

Do all the little things. The last 1%.

What does that mean?

It means setting aside time, every day, to complete the ancillary tasks that make you a better, stronger, fitter, more flexible, and more durable runner.

“I’ve worked extremely hard to make sure my stretching routine, my foam rolling, my self-massage — just my attention to detail on everything outside of the sport is flawless,” Hofbauer tells RunCreature.

It goes further still: nutrition and diet, strength and conditioning, yoga.

Hofbauer’s word choice here is important: Flawless.

He’s serious, not about doing all the little things, but doing them perfectly. He believes that’s integral to his success and being able to compete on an international level.

“That attention to detail has to be flawless so I can be the best athlete I can moving forward,” he says.

“If I don’t do all those little things, I don’t get consistent training in. And you need consistency to achieve growth.”

2. Give 100% effort in every workout

There’s another factor Trevor Hofbauer attributes to his success: a give-everything-mentality when it comes to workouts.

Okay, I hear you. This sounds like a no-brainer. A star athlete works hard in training. Nevertheless, I think it’s an interesting takeaway.

Sometimes, as fans and observers of sport, we tend to think of ‘professionals’ or elites as naturally talented; gifted in a way that allows them to perform Herculean feats that mere mortals (like us) could only dream about — and with half the effort.

But one of the reasons I think Trevor Hofbauer is so intriguing is because he doesn’t seem that far removed from being a regular guy.

Of course, he’s insanely talented. But he’s also shown massive improvement (going from a 2:18 marathon to a 2:09), which is a testament to his work ethic and approach to training.

Hofbauer doesn’t get hung-up on analysing individual workouts. In fact, he’ll often run sessions without a watch. What this means, is that he often runs to perceived effort. And he routinely empties the tank.

“I put my heart into every one of my workouts. I put 100 percent of my effort in,” he tells RunCreature.

“That trains me to put 100 percent effort into every race that I do. So I never really focus on numbers. I focus on perceived effort and I focus on things bigger than the sport to help get me from the start to the finish.”

That last line segues nicely into lesson number 3.

3. Run for something bigger than the sport

When I spoke to Trevor Hofbauer, I thought I was prepared. I’d done my homework, and I’d read as many articles and interviews as I could find. And then, there was a surprise.

During our conversation, Hofbauer shared something deeply personal that he’d never spoken about on the record before.

He told me about his mum, Brenda, who passed away from cancer when he was 11-years-old.

“It was literally over the span of three weeks. She went from being my mum, being at home, having a normal life, to she’s now gone.”

When Trevor began running, nearly a decade after his mum passed away,

When Hofbauer walked onto his college cross country team, nearly a decade later, he discovered something he hadn’t expected.

“Running drove a really strong emotion out of me,” he tells RunCreature. “I get this huge boost spiritually from the sport. And I discovered it was a way for me to connect… to my mum.”

“The emotional feeling I get is impossible to describe. It’s something that I’ve never been able to replicate anywhere else in my life.”

Feeling that spiritual connection in big races

In training, and during big races, Hofbauer taps into this powerful emotional feeling to find something extra: calmness on the start line, determination, tolerance to discomfort.

When he ran his personal best at the 2019 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, he remembers the feeling propelling him toward the finish-line.

“I was actually in a lot of pain,” Hofbauer recalls. He was wearing Nike Vaporfly shoes, which didn’t accommodate his regular insoles, and as a result his ankle had tightened-up quite severely.

“But it didn’t matter because there was just so much adrenaline flowing. It was pretty wild.” 

“I was in such a good spot and my heart was so full. There was nothing that was going to happen over those final 7 km that was going to hold me back from completing what I had set out to do.” 

4. Get away from a limiting and negative group

This is perhaps the most important lesson from Trevor Hofbauer.

And it’s an age-old adage: the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

In 2016, Trevor Hofbauer uprooted his life in Calgary and moved across the country to Guelph, a university-town near Toronto.

He made this move to train with the Speed River Track Club, which had earned a reputation as one of Canada’s premier distance running squads, and boasted several Olympians in the ranks.

Hofbauer saw the move as an essential stepping-stone to becoming a truly elite athlete — someone capable of breaking the national record in the marathon and running sub-2:10. While there, he befriended Evan Esselink, who had similar aspirations.

But Hofbauer says his experience at Speed River fell far short of his expectations.

“Whenever [Evan and I] talked about our ambitions, or where we thought our limits were, we would almost get put down by some of our teammates.”

“I think in this case, the group that we were around didn’t allow us to become the athletes that we were destined to become.” 

Hofbauer ended up leaving what he acknowledges was a “limiting environment” and returning to Calgary. He believes it was an important decision that helped him realise his full potential.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Speed River ceased operations in early 2020 after its founder and head coach received a lifetime ban from Athletics Canada stemming from allegations of professional misconduct. 

5. Embrace being an underdog

I have described Trevor Hofbauer as the ultimate underdog.

He was the underdog going into the 2019 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and somehow he was still an underdog at the 30km mark, when he was matching the national record-holder stride for stride.

There are aspects of being an underdog — of being constantly underestimated — that can be frustrating.

For instance, Hofbauer was upset about being left out of the pre-race press briefing, despite having been the 2017 Canadian Marathon champion.

But there’s also an advantage that comes from flying under the radar. It can mean there’s less pressure, and it can also provide added motivation to prove your true worth.

“I love when I’m the underdog,” Hofbauer tells RunCreature.

“I never want to be viewed as the guy at the top because I almost lose a part of my mental edge.”

Whether you race or simply run for enjoyment, I think there’s value in the sentiment of viewing yourself as an underdog.

Working to defy expectations of what you’re capable of — even if they’re just your own expectations — can be a huge motivator.

Want more? Check out all of RunCreature’s long-form features and interviews.

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