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“Friendship Through Sport”: My Experience at the 2nd CISM World Military Half Marathon Championship in Sarajevo.

By: LCol/Lcol John Coffin

On Sunday, May 26, I had the incredible opportunity to represent my country and the Canadian Armed Forces as a participant in the 2nd CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire) World Military Half Marathon Championship that took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This event brought together military athletes and supporting staff from 29 countries under the CISM motto of “Friendship Through Sport." 


Accompanied by my seven teammates on the start line, we proudly wore our Team Canada singlets eager to represent our country well. Despite the seriousness of the competition, the camaraderie amongst all runners was palpable. It was demonstrated by the many smiles, high fives, and fist bumps between perfect strangers as we waited in the starting corral minutes before go time. As the countdown to the start began, smiles were replaced by focused faces as about 205 runners prepared to squeeze through the starting archway to begin the 21.1 km route. 


Having arrived a few days earlier to adjust the time difference, we had the opportunity to run portions of the half marathon route. Although Sarajevo is surrounded by mountainous terrain, the valley where most of the city is situated ensured that the race route remained relatively flat (which better complemented my Winnipeg training). The morning of the race saw temperatures and humidity a little higher than what was experienced during training back in Canada and had to be carefully considered during the race. 


After the chaos of some pushing and shoving at the start, runners settled into their race paces at which point groups were formed that would remain together for most of the race. Having adjusted my race plan based on the heat and humidity, I was able to gradually speed up throughout the race and pass runners who had gone out too fast. In the first third of the race, there was an “out-and-back” portion that allowed me to see my two teammates in front and five behind. This gave us a quick opportunity to share words of encouragement (albeit very short) to help push through the discomfort. Also, there were several loops that brought us back near the start/finish area, where we were able to receive support from our patron, manager, coach, and trainer. Finally, with "Canada" written in large letters on the front of our singlets, we were further motivated with many heavily accented shouts of “Go Canada!” throughout the race.


Just before halfway I caught up to two running “colleagues” (one from Bosnia and one from Slovenia) with whom I shared the remaining journey. Although they could not speak English, we worked together to encourage each other to keep pushing the limit. As the second half was more exposed to the wind (it was light, but noticeable), we were able to share the burden of taking the lead to block the wind. Together as a unit we were able to pass many other competitors. In the last 3.5 km however, it was back to race mode as I slowly increased my speed to break away from the group. My new Slovenian friend was a little delayed in his surge, but with 1 km to go he was back on my heels, unfortunately (or fortunately at this point) without our Bosnian friend. We pushed hard to the finish line together, but he was able to inch ahead to finish two seconds ahead of me, with our Bosnian friend following 17 seconds later. Without words understood, we congratulated each other on an amazing race while exchanging hugs. It really was inspiring to see how, despite the competitive nature and the diverse backgrounds, everyone was genuinely invested in each other’s success. In the end, given the racing conditions I’m extremely happy with my finishing time of 1:17:02.


Our finishing times reflect our accomplishments on race day, but they also represent the weeks, months and years of hard work and dedication by each athlete. We could not have competed without the support of coaches, trainers, and PSP, nor without the advocacy of our Patron, Team Manager and various Chains of Command. Going into this event we knew that we’d be going up against Olympic level athletes, so our goal was not to podium (although we tried), but rather to get the best out of ourselves and represent Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces with pride, excellence, and integrity. Mission accomplished. 


Participating in the 2nd CISM World Military Half Marathon Championship in Sarajevo was an honor and a privilege, reminding me that while we come from different corners of the world, we share a common humanity and a desire to better the collective. In the spirit of this event, we ran not just as athletes, but as ambassadors of our respective countries. “Friendship Through Sport” was not just a motto, but a lived reality, evident in every stride.


Team Canada:

Female Runners: S1 Amanda Polus, MS Bailey Toupin, 2Lt Aisling Wydysh, Maj Isabelle Turner. Team placed 10th.

Male Runners: MCpl Ryan Albano, 2Lt Logan Roots, MS Antony Dionne,

LCol Johnny Coffin. Team placed 17th.

Coach: Lt(N) Michael-Lucien Bergeron

Trainer: Maj Rebecca Wheaton-Sparks

Manager: Maj Michael Mueller

Patron: Col Catherine Marchetti

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