Ultimate underdog: Trevor Hofbauer is ready to represent his country

Almost everyone underestimated Trevor Hofbauer. Now, the 2:09 marathoner and future Canadian Olympian is ready to prove he can hang with the best distance runners on the planet. Myles Gough talks to the ultimate underdog about his unmatched self-belief and his profound emotional connection to the sport.

“A lot of people invest their savings into the stock market, or into companies. I took my life savings and I invested it into myself,” says Canadian marathoner Trevor Hofbauer. “I was literally at the end of those life savings.” 

Around the middle of 2019, this was the stark financial reality facing Hofbauer — an elite but almost entirely self-funded athlete from Calgary, Alberta. 

He’d spent the previous two-and-a-half years working for New Balance — a company that was also providing some modest sponsorship — and had done odd jobs for three years before that, after finishing college. 

A significant proportion of the money he earned went towards running: buying shoes, paying for physiotherapy, funding training camps and travelling to races. Over that period, he scraped by, while exemplifying the motto he so-often recites; a motto that has come to define his career: Keep showing up

It was getting harder, however, to justify the expense of showing up. And the future of Hofbauer’s elite running career hung in the balance. 

But Hofbauer — then aged 27 — wasn’t prepared to exit quietly; not without one final, give-everything effort. With his money dwindling, he needed to go all-in. And he had just the race in mind: the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in late October. 

The World Athletics Gold Label event is Canada’s largest marathon and, in recent years, has doubled as the national championship race. 

Hofbauer debuted there in 2017, winning the Canadian title and clocking an impressive 2:18.06 (which is roughly equivalent to an average pace of 3:17/km, or 16:25 for 5 km). But he wasn’t returning to relive past glory. 

The 2019 edition was being run as the marathon trials for the Olympics. Provided the top Canadian finishers achieved the qualifying standard (2:11.30 for men and 2:29:30 for women), they would be guaranteed a spot on the Tokyo-bound national team.     

“With that race I knew there was an opportunity to get my hands on,” Hofbauer tells RunCreature.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we get two birds with one stone. Let’s train to get standard and to be the first Canadian.’ For the whole training block, basically from May until October, that was my mindset.”

As his build progressed, so too did his self-belief: “I was getting fitter and fitter. At the beginning I had 2:10 in my mind. Then 2:09 kind of crept in.” 

His personal best in the marathon was 2:16.48, which had come in Hamburg — only his second attempt — earlier in the year (April 2019). His aspirational goal wasn’t to trim that PB, but to take a chainsaw to it. He was talking about shaving-off 7-minutes. It seemed outlandish. 

But not to Hofbauer, nor his coach, Deon Flynn of the Calgary Spartans.  

“I coach a lot of people, from the 800 up to the marathon,” says Flynn. “I spend a lot of time convincing people what they can run and achieve. A lot of people have doubts. Trevor is the opposite. He’s so dialled-in to what he’s capable of doing… and he never shies away from the work.”  

If Hofbauer thought 2:10 or faster was in play, Flynn wasn’t going to second-guess him. 

“I would never say to Trevor before a race, ‘I don’t think that time is in your wheelhouse,’” Flynn tells RunCreature. “With most people you can predict what kind of times they can run. But with Trevor? There’s no prediction… because he’s such a fierce competitor.” 

“He has a ton of confidence,” the coach adds, “and he’s never intimidated by who’s in the race.” 

Taking-on a talent-filled field in Toronto

This last point is important, because the 2019 Toronto marathon had a stacked field. Three of Canada’s four fastest marathoners of all-time (all former Olympians) were lining-up, including national record holder Cameron Levins (2:09:25), Reid Coolsaet (2:10.28) and Dylan Wykes (2:10.47). 

There were also some exciting newcomers in the field: Rory Linkletter (a 1:01:44 half marathon runner now of the HOKA Northern Arizona Elite squad) and Evan Esselink (a 1:02.17 half marathoner, and good friend of Hofbauer) were debuting. 

All but the semi-retired Wykes were no-doubt hungry for the automatic ticket to Tokyo (and accompanying government-funding for Olympic athletes). 

But true to his coach’s word, Hofbauer didn’t care: “I knew who was in the field and I knew that I was fitter than everybody else.” 

By the time race day rolled around, he was ready; not just to race, but to do something truly special: “The forecast was looking good… and I was just confident in my abilities and I was calm,” he remembers. “It was quite beautiful, if I can put it gently.” 

On the start line, a zen-like Hofbauer allowed himself to temporarily forget about the stakes. But they were real. He needed the Herculean performance he’d been envisioning to come-off. 

“If the race didn’t work out in Toronto,” he muses now, “I really don’t know if I would’ve continued competing at this level.” 

Steady progress but still flying under the radar

Trevor Hofbauer ran some cross county in high school, but it was only to stay fit for his primary sport — basketball. At 6 foot 3, he was a good-sized shooting guard, who could knock down open three-pointers and drive hard to the lane.  

It wasn’t until age 20, with his competitive basketball days behind him, that he began running seriously. In 2012, he started attending the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (a TAFE-equivalent technical college) and walked onto the cross-country team. 

“It wasn’t a school known for it’s running program at all,” he laughs. 

The coach, however, saw potential in the lanky athlete with the long, loping stride.  “He got me moving a little bit more,” recalls Hofbauer, “and I really fell in love.” 

In 2013, he began racing competitively, and he’s been a mainstay on the Canadian road and cross country scene ever since, amassing wins and top 10 finishes in big races from Toronto to Edmonton to Vancouver. 

Hofbauer racing at the 2016 Athletics Canada cross country championships. His 3rd place finish earned him a spot on the national team for the World Cross Championships in Uganda. (Credit: Photo supplied)

Hofbauer was seriously talented, and there were signs his hard work and steady progress were paying off. In 2017, he represented Canada at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda (where he finished 71st overall, and was the top Canadian). He kept the momentum going later that year when he won the national marathon championships in Toronto. 

The win should have been a spectacular moment in his burgeoning marathon career — and for him it was. But Hofbauer caught flack afterwards for his overzealous celebration on the finishing straight. 

With about 100-metres to go, he deviated from his path to give numerous high-fives to fans, and then nearly came to a full-stop to do an exaggerated, upper-cut fist pump as he took the tape.

It’s a hugely entertaining, endearing sequence — Hofbauer is deservedly thrilled and feeding off the energy of the crowd.

The celebration should have been laughed-off, but it became a talking point because it was — arguably — a costly miscalculation. Had he sprinted and finished a mere seven seconds faster (which is conceivable), he would have scored a time bonus worth CAD$1250. And so, despite the impressive victory, Hofbauer became viewed (and miscast) as something of a goofy character. 

He was decidedly good; and certainly fun; but was he ever destined to be great

An untouchable record casts a large shadow

In Canada, greatness in the marathon had long been measured against the national record of 2:10.09 set by Jerome Drayton in 1975, when he won the Fukuoka Marathon. 

Talented Canadian athletes across two generations had been trying unsuccessfully to surpass the mark. Drayton’s record had attained an almost-mythical status in the collective psyche of the Canadian running community. 

It was a seemingly untouchable thing: the blazing sun that scorched the wings of Icarus when he flew too close. It was almost curse-like in its longevity. 

And it was impossible to consider yourself an elite distance runner and not have the record seared into your mind. 

It was certainly entrenched in Hofbauer’s consciousness. But not because he viewed it as insurmountable. As early as 2016, before he even ran his first marathon, he was looking beyond the Canadian record. His goal was to be competitive on the world-stage.

“I think there was too much attention put on the record by running media in Canada,” he says.

“In the past, I think some of Canada’s best marathon runners were limited by focusing on Drayton’s record and never thinking internationally.” 

“Anytime there was an up-and-coming marathoner, they were instantly cast as the next great hope and compared to Drayton,” says Hofbauer. In other words, there was pressure, and it often had a detrimental effect.   

Hofbauer had felt this pressure while training in Guelph, Ontario at the Speed River Track Club — an elite distance running program with a reputation for churning out Canadian Olympians

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. 

Wanting to train with the best, Hofbauer uprooted his life in Calgary and in 2016 moved across the country to Guelph, a university town near Toronto.  It was — theoretically — an important stepping-stone to greater success, he thought. 

“That was a really well known program and a lot of great athletes involved, but whenever someone talked about the marathon, the first thing that came out of anyone’s mouth was, ‘Oh, so you’re going to give the record a shot! You’re going to be the next Jerome Drayton’.” 

One former teammate Hofbauer did bond with was Esselink. “Evan and I worked really well together because we opened up each other’s minds about our potential and we thought internationally,” he says.

Esselink fondly remembers their chats: “I often keep my goals to myself,” he tells RunCreature, “but Trevor and I are great friends and I felt comfortable in sharing my aspirations with him… these conversations told me he was a hungry, confident athlete.” 

And it didn’t take many workouts for Esselink to decide his friend had all the tools to succeed. “Some might look at Trevor and think he’s a bigger guy for a marathon, which is true… But he generates a lot of power with each stride… and is able to run quite efficiently and maintain form.” 

“I never saw Trevor’s form break when he was suffering in workouts, which I feel is extremely important for the marathon.” 

“I remember telling Trevor that I legitimately thought he would eventually break the Canadian record in the marathon, and eventually run 2:08 — and I still believe both to be true,” Esselink says. 

This positive talk and friendship was immensely helpful for Hofbauer, but he remembers feeling let down by the broader Speed River experience.  

“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.” 

If Hofbauer was going to achieve his audacious ambitions or the fate predicted by Esselink — to chase greatness — he needed to leave what he acknowledges was a “limiting environment”. 

In 2018, he returned home to Calgary, and spent the year focusing not on the marathon, but on the half. This was a fresh start, free of pressure, and he says he wanted to do “his own thing”. 

He won the national half marathon championships in Calgary in May, and won the Victoria (British Columbia) half marathon in October, posting a time of 1:05:18. 

These were good results, but there was a trade-off: he didn’t show up to defend his marathon title in Toronto. 

Little did he know, something historic was about to unfold.

The Canadian marathon record finally falls 

On a near-freezing morning in late October 2018, with wind gusts exceeding 30 km/hour, one of Canada’s best-ever track athletes made his marathon debut. 

In less-than-ideal conditions, a beanie-clad Cameron Levins pounded the streets of Toronto and crossed the line in 2:09.25, handily breaking Drayton’s national record (2:10.09). 

On debut, track-star Cameron Levins broke the Canadian marathon record at the 2018 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. (Credit: Canada Running Series)

When Hofbauer talks about the 2018 race, he’s congratulatory, but also somewhat defiant: “Cam running 2:09 was good because it assured me that I was capable as well,” says Hofbauer. “He happened to get the record, which is great.”

“But if Cam didn’t run that time in 2018, I was going to do it in 2019 regardless. And then people might have been talking about me as the guy who opened up the door, rather than Cam.” 

It’s a comment that comes from a place of supreme self-assuredness. But if the hint of envy is indeed genuine, it’s hard to blame Hofbauer. Opening that so-called door carried life-altering consequences.  

Not only did Levins net CAD$43,000 ($1000 for each year the record had stood), he instantly became the new icon in men’s marathoning in Canada. He was the Great One. The man to beat.  

And however large Drayton’s record had once seemed, it had at least been a fixed mark. Levins was only 28 when he debuted. Certainly, he could better his time. The only question was, how much faster could he go? 

This was the question Canadian distance running fans and media were asking in 2019, before the Olympic trials. It’s no hyperbole to say Cameron Levins was the main event; a foregone conclusion to secure the lone ticket to Tokyo on offer.

And on paper, that was certainly the correct assumption to make. 

Levins has long been considered a great athlete. He was a 2-time NCAA champion in the 5,000 and 10,000-metre events, a London Olympian, and in 2014 a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist. He was formerly a member of the Nike Oregon Track Project, coached by Alberto Salazar, and he counted Galen Rupp and Mo Farah among his high-calibre teammates.

And when it comes to personal bests, Levins’ range and speed is jaw-dropping. Perhaps most impressive is his 10,000m time of 27:07 (*NOTE: It was the Canadian record, until it was broken by Mohammed Ahmed at the 2019 World Championships in Qatar, and it’s roughly 15 seconds faster than the Australian record held by Patrick Tiernan).

Hofbauer’s career couldn’t have been more different. Not only was the lanky kid from Calgary never recruited to the NCAA, he didn’t even compete in Canada’s highest tertiary education sporting division. Hofbauer doesn’t have the accolades or the jaw-dropping PBs that Levins boasts (partly because he never raced on the track). He hasn’t had the tutelage of globally-recognised coaches; the full financial-backing of heavyweight sponsors; nor the experience of training with and competing against the world’s very best athletes on a daily basis.  

For Hofbauer, there were no illusions about how he was perceived going into the race: “I was for sure the underdog,” he laughs. 

“But to be honest, I love when I’m the underdog. I never want to be viewed as the guy at the top because I almost lose a part of my mental edge.”

Staying focused as race-day approaches

Two weeks before the marathon in October 2019, Hofbauer got some unexpected news. His sponsor, New Balance, would be dropping him at the end of the year. He says the line from the company was that they wanted to target athletes with a better chance of making the Olympics. 

If he wasn’t fired-up enough to run the race of his life, this development added even more combustible fuel. Rather than ride out the contract, he cut ties immediately and made a decision: he’d race in a pair of Nike Vaporfly Next % shoes, and a logo-less singlet.  

In the final week before race day, Hofbauer tried to keep himself distracted by working on a newly acquired 1984 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van.

Trevor Hofbauer with his camper van in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

“The interior was bare,” he says. “So I put in a floor and started the build of the kitchen. It was just woodworking. Nothing too strenuous … and it allowed me to stay really calm and collected.”

That demeanour was tested after arriving in Toronto, however, and learning that he’d been left out of the pre-race media conference. 

“A part of me was like, ‘Man, a couple years ago I came out here and ran this race, and I was the top Canadian. Now they’ve brought me back and they don’t even have me up there for the press conference. I’m going to show them what’s up tomorrow.’” 

But Hofbauer could only concern himself with things in his control. Instead of dwelling on the snub, he enjoyed a relaxing day with his then partner and family members who had travelled to Toronto to watch the race. 

“We just had a good time. We hung out by the lake, we went out for dinner.”

“And the next day, it was go time.” 

Race day finally arrives 

If you tuned-in to watch the 2019 Toronto marathon as a casual fan, you would have been forgiven for overlooking Trevor Hofbauer. The broadcast team had one name on the tips of their tongues: Cameron Levins. 

“When I got back to Calgary, we watched the livestream and we made a drinking game out of it. Every time the announcers said ‘Cam’ you had to take a drink and I didn’t last 5 minutes,” he laughs. 

“I knew there were a lot of people talking about Cam, and how it was Cam’s day to get onto the Olympic team, and how Rory Linkletter was going to blow everybody away with his debut marathon. 

“There was just so much attention on those two, that I really didn’t feel any pressure.” 

Hofbauer was relaxed as he warmed-up alongside his good pal Esselink.

“Trevor had a calm vibe to him that morning,” recalls Esselink, who was one of the few people not underestimating his friend.

“I had raced Trevor a couple months prior at the Edmonton Half Marathon. His race there wasn’t even close to showing he was capable of running under 2:10. However, I know Trevor likes to build races into his training regimen and use them as workouts, which he doesn’t taper for at all.

“So I didn’t think too much of his Edmonton performance, not as much as others might have.” 

When the gun went, Hofbauer and Esselink quickly found Levins. The trio, along with some international athletes targeting the Olympic-standard, were being led by pacers.

When the livestream would cut to their group, British commentator Geoff Wightman would say things like: “Let’s go back to the Cam-cam” or “Let’s check on the Cam Levins group”.     

Around the 22-minute mark, the camera captured Hofbauer, in typical-Hofbauer fashion, extending his left arm and giving a high-five to a spectator standing on the median. It prompted one of the commentators, Michael Doyle (the former editor of Canadian Running magazine) to say: “That’s Jeff Hofbauer. One of the most animated guys in the sport.” 

Getting Hofbauer’s name wrong was very likely an honest mistake. But the broadcast immediately cut-away to a pre-recorded interview with Levins. Taken as a sequence, it’s telling.  

As the race went on, however, it became harder for the commentators to ignore the Calgarian. At 10km, Doyle redeemed himself: “Trevor Hofbauer had a big breakthrough in the spring… and knocked his PB down to 2:16,” he told the viewers. “I think he’s feeling pretty good right now. He’s clearly going after something pretty special. They’re going at 2:10-2:11 pace and he actually looks quite comfortable.” 

Trevor Hofbauer (far right) ran the 2019 Hamburg Marathon. It was only his second attempt at the distance, and paved the way for his bold performance in Toronto.

More than hanging around at halfway

At the midway point, (1:04:59) Esselink began to fade, but Levins and Hofbauer were still matching each other stride for stride.  

“The one big surprise for me? The tall guy on the right, Trevor Hofbauer,” Doyle remarked at the 74-minute mark. “Still there. Not giving any signs of fatigue just yet.” 

At this exact juncture, after going around a hairpin turn, Hofbauer made a deliberate move to get to the front of the pack. He then drifted to the middle of the road so he could holler at Linkletter and high-five Esselink. 

“They’re friends of mine and I really wanted to encourage them,” he says. 

It was a turning point. Hofbauer wasn’t just hanging around, he was having fun, making the marathon look effortless, and forcing the commentators to finally confront the visible contrast growing between his body language and that of Levins, who looked to be struggling.  

At the 30km split, it finally happened. The Canadian record-holder dropped-off the pace. With the gap widening, Hofbauer sensed he was on track for something special. 

“It was right after the pacers finished” he tells RunCreature. “I looked at the camera guy and asked ‘Can you guys hear me? Can the people watching the livestream hear me?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, people can hear you.’” 

Trevor then proceeded to give a heartfelt, late-marathon monologue, all while running at an average pace of 3:03/km. As he recalls, it went something like this: To all of you guys back in Calgary, who cheered me on and supported me for all these years, this is for you!

“I had kind of an emotional moment there, but they never actually captured it in the livestream and it was never broadcast,” he says. “I was really hoping that it was going to be on TV, but I guess that is what it is.” 

The race wasn’t all perfect. At 35 km, Hofbauer says his ankle was really tightening up. He regularly trained with insoles to support his ankles, but says the Nikes didn’t accommodate them. 

“I was actually in a lot of pain… But it didn’t matter because there was just so much adrenaline flowing. It was pretty wild.” 

Flynn, watching from Calgary, knew his athlete was in a great place: “There are tons of people that can run a quick pace through 32 km of the marathon — they just can’t hold on for the last 10. But Trevor puts a lot of focus on that stuff to ensure he’s strong and has some sprint saved for the finish. He also puts workouts in his program where he has to battle with himself mentally, too. It’s part of his process.”   

“I was feeling so strong physically and mentally,” Hofbauer confirms. 

“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.” 

Running to connect with someone lost

When I ask Hofbauer why he runs; what has compelled him to pour his life-savings into his running; and what keeps him coming back to a sport that can be so punishing, there’s some hesitation. 

“I had such a strong drive to be better every single day,” he finally says.  “Like a lot of people who get into running, they get that little natural high — that endorphin boost — and I loved it.” 

But for Hofbauer, the gravitational pull is far deeper — and more profound — than a slight tweak to brain chemistry.

“It drives a really strong emotion out of me,” he continues. “I get this huge boost spiritually from the sport. And I discovered it was a way for me to connect to individuals from my past … I felt like, through that connection, I finally had purpose in my life.” 

“It was tough for me growing up, and when I was younger, I was kind of lost.”

At this point in the interview, Hofbauer admits that he’s never publicly opened up about these feelings. But after a few moments, he says he’s ready to talk about them. 

“I lost my mother when I was 11-years-old. She passed very quickly from cancer. It was literally over the span of three weeks. She went from being my mom, being at home, having a normal life, to she’s now gone.” 

Brenda Hofbauer’s sudden passing sent her son’s world into turmoil. And it carried an added complexity of straining the youngster’s relationship with a grief-stricken father.  

“It felt like the only person I had in my life was my sister [Lauren],” he says. “I also have aunts and uncles and a support network from extended family —  but at home it was only my sister.” 

Hofbauer knows, in those adolescent years when he felt lost, there was scope for his life to take a radically different course. “I don’t even like to think about that,” he says. 

It was Lauren who became a positive influence: “We grew together, we became really strong, we became independent… and we were able to really pull our lives together and lean on each other.” 

Lauren knows it wasn’t easy: “For the first few years after our mom passed, we actually fought a lot. Maybe it was because we were carrying a lot of grief, but we were also young,” she says. “By the time we were teenagers we started becoming pretty close… We became a team.”

Trevor as a child with his late mum, Brenda Hofbauer.
Trevor with his late mum, Brenda Hofbauer. (Photo: supplied)

“We’ve bonded strongly over the fact that we don’t want pity from anyone,” she says. “We both know if we want to succeed in life, we need to take responsibility for our own growth and personal development.” 

“A part of both of us died the day that our mom passed. But it gave us perspective. We can’t control what has happened, but we can control what we make of ourselves in this life.” 

When Trevor walked onto his college cross country team, and discovered the near-spiritual channel running seemed to open-up to his mum, he suddenly had an outlet. More than that, he had a calling: something positive and purposeful, and long-term, towards which he could devote his unbridled energy. 

“Running,” he clarifies, “is the best way for me to connect to my mum. To state it point blank. That’s the reason why I started.” 

“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.”

A spiritual connection to the sport
For Trevor Hofbauer, running is a two-sided coin: there’s a high-performance aspect and a drive to be the best in the sport, and there’s an emotional aspect, where he can disconnect from the world around him and feel his mum’s presence. The latter reminds Trevor of his values, and who he wants to be in this world, which is someone just like his mum.
 
“She was always a person who just wanted to make the world a better place through her positivity and warmth,” he says. As a runner, Trevor tries to spread positivity by giving back to the athletes in his club, the Calgary Spartans, and by encouraging the next-generation of distance runners in Canada. “That’s one of my pillars in the sport,” says Trevor. “To give back. If I can help build the next crop of athletes to be better than I am right now… and help the evolution of the sport in Canada so we can continue to get better internationally. That’s my overarching goal.” 

But Trevor also knows his greatest contributions to society will likely come down the road, when his running career is finished. He says he wants to become a firefighter. It’s a profession where he thinks he might be able to find something akin to the emotional connection he feels while running. “That’ll be my way of spreading warmth and positivity, and making the world a better place,” he says. “Through public service work.”

Racing towards the finish line

Through the last 5 km, it was clear nobody was catching Trevor Hofbauer. He pushed the pace, even as he turned north onto Bay Street, and navigated the slight ascent toward the finish line, 500-metres away. 

Hofbauer had been with pacers up to 35 km, had seen some timing clocks and gotten sporadic updates on the course. He knew he was the top Canadian and that the time was quick. But he wasn’t sure how quick — because he wasn’t wearing a watch. It’s a practice he’s developed over years of training: learning to run sessions to perceived effort and feel, rather than time.  

As he rounded the final bend, into the finishing chute, there seemed to be a moment of recognition. He saw the official time. He was outside Levins’ record, but he was clear of 2:10. 

There was no over-the-top celebration. But there was joy. 

He touched his hands to his temples, as if to indicate he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. You can see him clearly mouth the words, “Oh my God! Yes!” as the tight, determined grimace on his face dissolved into a look of sheer elation infused with relief.  He stretched out his arms as he took the red tape, clapped his hands, and then fell to the ground, pounding the pavement. The race director eventually pulled him to his feet and draped a Canadian flag over his shoulders. 

Trevor Hofbauer after becoming a 2:09 guy
Credit: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon/Canadian Running Series

Hofbauer stood there, cameras flashing, his red-and-white national flag blowing in the wind like a cape. He looked superhero-esque.   

“I watched the race from my home in Calgary,” recalls his sister, Lauren. “I cried when he crossed the finish line. And then someone on the live stream announced he had qualified for the Olympics. I was so overwhelmed with excitement for him. I’ll never forget how I felt … I was screaming at my TV as if I was there.”

“Our mom would have been so thrilled. She would have been so proud to see him reach his potential, seeing his hard work and sacrifice bring him to that moment. Nobody gave that moment to him. He had earned it himself.” 

– Lauren Hofbauer

 A drug test delays the celebration

After the race, Hofbauer was promptly whisked away by drug testing officials. He was initially happy because he had to pee. As bad luck would have it, however, his first urine sample was too diluted with water to be accurately analysed. And so, he needed to wait. A couple hours passed, and he went again. Same issue. And so the waiting continued.  

“This is now almost seven hours since I finished the race,” recalls Hofbauer, who didn’t have his phone to contact his family.

Finally, he produced an acceptable sample and was cleared to leave: “I’m still in my whole race gear and warm-up stuff, all sweaty, and salty on my face. I got back to the hotel and my whole family was waiting for me.” 

They got a late lunch — burritos — and celebrated with a trip to the aquarium.

It had been an incredible, overwhelming day, but arguably the biggest surprise came when Hofbauer got back to his phone that evening. 

“There were 150 notifications on Whatsapp, like 200 text messages, multiple missed calls. I couldn’t even look at my social media for a week, because there were too many notifications to even process.” 

Hofbauer had been instantly catapulted from an under-the-radar distance runner into the national limelight. He hadn’t broken the record, but he’d bested the Canadian record-holder in a head-to-head match-up, in a race where the stakes couldn’t have been higher. And in the process, he became the second fastest Canadian marathoner of all-time.  

Trevor Hofbauer after winning the 2019 Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Pre-drug test fiasco, a proud Trevor Hofbauer (donning an Athletics Canada wind-breaker) is named the 2019 Canadian Marathon Champion. More importantly, the victory earned him a guaranteed spot on the Canadian Olympic team. (Credit: Canada Running Series)

Adjusting to a new normal

Had the world not been thrust into a global pandemic, Trevor Hofbauer would now be an Olympian. Instead, he hasn’t raced since the 2019 Toronto marathon. 

Hofbauer — who regularly trains solo, running in the trails around Calgary to destress and organise his thoughts — doesn’t usually struggle with motivation. But he admits 2020 has been a challenging year. 

“Competition is big for me — I love getting onto a start line and just beating people, and racing to be the best,” he says. “So this year has looked really weird.”

When it looked plausible that the World Half Marathon Championships — originally scheduled for March — would go ahead in October, Hofbauer got back on track. He’d been named to the Canadian squad, and suddenly had a target. 

In September, he ran a half marathon time trial in Edmonton and clocked 1:03:02 — an unofficial PB of more than a minute. 

Trevor training in Calgary.
Trevor Hofbauer training over the North American summer. (Credit: Dave Holland)

“Right now he’s definitely faster than I’ve ever seen him … I would say he has the potential to run low 1:02 — and if you put that in the article, he might get angry, because he’s probably thinking he could go faster,” laughs Flynn. “Seriously, that’s the kind of guy he is.” 

Indeed, Hofbauer’s goal was loftier: “My training has been flawless,” he told  RunCreature, just two weeks before the race. “I feel like I’m in shape right now to better the Canadian record of 1:01.28.” 

But then, only four days before the event, Canadian officials pulled the plug. They withdrew the national team citing public health concerns.  

For Hofbauer, the focus now shifts to 2021. He’ll target a spring half-marathon, then gear up for the Olympic Games: “Next year I’m going to be an even better athlete than I am this year,” he says, searching for the positives. “As long as I can stay healthy, I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Canada’s King of the Roads
When I ask Trevor Hofbauer whether there is a specific, confidence-boosting workout he used to evaluate his form before the World Half Marathon Championships, he explains that he doesn’t like to analyse workouts in isolation. “My philosophy is that you need a culmination of several workouts and weeks and weeks of training to come together to improve your fitness.” Training in Calgary also makes for a lot of guesswork when trying to determine fitness, he says, because it’s at altitude (roughly 1045 metres above sea level) and he often does workouts on hilly, and sometimes technical routes. 

Hofbauer believes his approach to training is a major factor behind his improvement and success: “I put my heart into every one of my workouts. I put 100 percent of my effort in … and 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.”

He says another important factor is the willingness to consistently do the extra 1% in training. “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. It has to be, so I can be the best athlete I can moving forward. If I don’t do all those little things, I don’t get consistent training in. And you need consistency to achieve growth.”

When I ask Coach Flynn the same question, about a solid session, he tells me about one of Hofbauer’s recent workouts. He ran 9.5 km in 30 minutes (a tempo at slightly faster than 3:10/km). Then, after three minutes rest, he ran five 1 km reps at 3:00/km pace, off 60 seconds rest. “He still looked very comfortable at the end of the session,” says Flynn, who was riding his bike alongside. “I don’t think he even took any water.”

Flynn says it’s Hofbauer’s toughness, self-belief and work ethic that has made him one of Canada’s all-time best marathoners. And he knows his athlete can be even better. “He has the talent to break the Canadian record in the full and the half. And he has the mindset to do it,” says Coach Flynn. When he gets in a groove, he’s as good as anybody. It’s why I call him Canada’s King of the Roads.”

Staying grounded after a life-changing race

Coronavirus didn’t just create uncertainty around races for Hofbauer. In a way, it prevented him from more significantly cashing-in on his epic performance in Toronto.

He was in talks with companies for sponsorship opportunities earlier in the year, but they effectively stalled when the virus started to spread more rapidly. 

It then became a fruitless waiting game, he says: “I thought [a sponsor] would come to me, but that wasn’t the case.” For more than a year, the 2:09-guy and soon-to-be-Olympian remained unsigned by a shoe or apparel company.

Thankfully, Hofbauer has recently made significant progress in securing sponsorship from a major shoe company. The partnership is still being finalised and will be announced early in the New Year

It’s not the only positive financial development. As a member of the Olympic team, Hofbauer now receives funding from Sport Canada to partly cover training and living costs, and is getting additional support from CAN Fund, a not-for-profit that supports elite Canadian athletes. 

A mere 15 months ago (in mid-2019), he was seriously contemplating giving up his running dreams, as he watched hard-earned dollars vanish from his bank account. 

Now, he’s preparing to battle the best on the planet in Japan in 2021. He’s no longer the good-but-goofy kid from Calgary; he’s proven he’s great. 

Still, Hofbauer isn’t letting this newfound status change his approach. He believes he can go faster in the marathon — 2:08, 2:07 perhaps — and his goal is to make Canada a force on the world stage. 

And he’s not letting the success change who he is, either.  

“A few days after he qualified for the Olympics he came by to check on the [Calgary Spartans] squad,” recalls Flynn. “The athletes obviously want to talk about his qualifier, but he’s asking them about their races.” 

“The kids in our group adore Trevor, and rightfully so, because he’s a great ambassador for the sport.” 

Lauren agrees, and says humility is the trait she most admires in her brother. 

Trevor Hofbauer with his sister Lauren.
Trevor Hofbauer and his sister Lauren at a surprise celebration party she threw for him in Calgary after he made the Canadian Olympic team (Photo Supplied).

“He doesn’t talk about running or his upcoming races or events unless I ask,” she says.“He hasn’t let the sponsorships or the money change who he is. He’s still the same down-to-earth, lighthearted, happy-go-lucky brother I’ve always been lucky to have.” 

“I’m thankful he isn’t too cool to hang out with me — yet,” she laughs.  

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

Myles Gough

Myles Gough

Remember to follow me on Strava and Instagram. Or message me if you have any questions or tips at myles@runcreature.com.

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