The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Gerard Cote

Marathon Running

1940


Photo of Gerard Cote running a race

Photo of Gerard Cote running a race

Date
1940
Collection
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Born to Run

Inspired by the first modern-day marathon competition at the Games of the first Olympiad in Athens, Greece, in 1896, the Boston Marathon first began in 1897. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon and arguably its most prestigious.

A slender little man from rural St. Barnabe, Quebec, left the most prominent mark of any Canadian that crossed the border to compete in this storied event.

By every account Gerard Cote was born to run, although initially, his running experience was not in any way connected to competitive sport. Growing up on a farm in a very large family, the focus of everyday life was to simply get by. No one thought about playing sports.

Too small to handle most chores, Gerard became the designated errand boy. If not running into the village to get butter, he was herding cows in from the field, or fetching wood. He ran to school and back home. He was always running and took great pride in doing his errands fast. He quit school in the fifth grade to help out after his mother died, taking jobs as a farm labourer, milkman, and construction worker.

Unlike his siblings, he grew fond of sports, and in spite of his small size, he took a shine to boxing. To build stamina he hit the road. That’s when a stranger noticed him and advised him to forget boxing and take up running.

A natural, he was soon setting his sights on winning the Boston Marathon. Gerard managed no better than a seventh place finish in four attempts, but in 1940 he trained especially hard, believing at that time it might be his last chance. Cote had enlisted at the outbreak of World War II, and that meant he could be called into the Canadian military at any time.

With its running every April, the Boston race presents additional training challenges to competitors from northern climates. For Cote it meant training throughout the often inhospitable winter of rural Quebec. So with that, Cote jumped on a bus several weeks before the race to stay with a cousin in Central Falls, Rhode Island. It was slightly warmer there and had great terrain. "You know what I was doing? I was running twenty-six miles once a week, twenty-six hills in twenty-six miles. Stronger hills than at Boston. And I was training with a track suit and heavy running shoes. The track suit, it stick to my body because it was too warm. I was running 2:40. I knew when I got all that stuff off, wearing just the small running shoes I used to wear, I knew I would do okay.'' Blaikie, David. (1984). The Canadian Story. Boston: Seneca House Books.

Okay indeed! Gerard Cote set a new Boston course record of 2:28:28, beating legendary American runner Johnny Kelly by over three and a half minutes. He proudly wore the laurel wreath, Boston’s magnificent symbol of victory not just this once, but four times over his career.

Gerard Cote was able to find joy in running during those early difficult years on the farm. When he was finally able to make it his focus, that joy became a burning passion that led to his transformation into one of the finest distance runners of that era.

Great French – Canadian Runner Honored for His Achievements Adobe PDF Transcript


Highlights

1940
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
1940
Lionel Conacher Trophy
1940 - 1942
Winner of Yonkers Marathons
1940, 1942, 1943, 1948
Winner of the Boston Marathon, record four times
1955
Inducted into the Canadian Olympic Sports Hall of fame