Good cheer powers Victoria Marathon runners

Belleville Street was alive with the sounds of cheering spectators and the distinctive crinkling of thermal blankets on Sunday morning as runners clad in shorts and T-shirts wrapped themselves in shiny, silver blankets handed out by volunteers after finishing their runs at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

There were lots of emotional hugs and high fives at the finish line.

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Volunteers were quick to pour cat litter on the ground after runners were sick, and those running, walking and limping across the finish line didn’t seem to notice the textured ground.

Debbie and Herb Katz from Pender Island embraced each other in their blankets after both completed the half marathon. It’s how they finish most of their races.

“I usually fall into his arms and cry,” Debbie Katz said of her husband of 25 years. She ran wearing a bib that read: “I love you Herb.”

The couple, who met in an Edmonton running group, has run the half marathon a handful of times and the marathon a few times in Victoria since 1991. They love the scenery and the coastal views, as well as the supportive spectators, although Herb said he mostly tunes out the cheering to focus on his running.

For a lot of runners, finishing the race was the realization of a major life goal.

Before Jacqui Hall turned 40 this year, she decided she wanted to complete 40 races in the year to celebrate the milestone. The Calgary woman started her challenge last November, running many shorter distance races and a couple of half marathons. Finishing Victoria’s half marathon was her 40th race. Hall had planned to run 42 kilometres for her 40th race, but an injury she suffered during her 37th race held her back.

“I mostly limped this run, but I had to do it,” she said, surrounding by her cheering squad. Hall’s sister and two young children came from Calgary to support her, holding signs that said: “She believed she could ... so she did!” and “World’s best mom.” Hall’s mother came down from Qualicum Beach to cheer on her daughter.

Hall’s 40th race coincided with the city’s 40th annual marathon. The first year brought out 700 runners in 1980. This year, 8,294 people registered to run.

Nicole Smith’s birthday also prompted her to run the half marathon, because two of her cousins surprised her with registration in the event as a birthday gift.

The three, who travelled to Victoria from the Seattle area and Nashville, kept each other on track with training by texting regularly.

It was Smith’s first major run.

“I’m thankful. I needed the push. But I’m one and done,” she said. “I’m a better cheerleader.” Smith’s husband is a runner who has completed 50-mile races and an Ironman.

Her daughter Georgiana ran the 1.25-km Thrifty Foods Kids Run in just over six minutes. Her only training came from recess, she said.

Aaron Chapman was also battling an injury and downgraded his run to the eight-kilometre race from his planned half marathon. Chapman completed the course barefoot, as he always does. The Vancouver man said he discovered about seven or eight years ago, after taking up running, that ditching shoes was better for his body.

“I think you can’t run with shoes on without changing the way you run, even subtly, and over a distance that adds up to stresses on the body that you don’t need,” he said.

Chapman goes barefoot as often as he can in his daily life. He cut the soles out of a pair of shoes and he wears them as a way to satisfy both the shoe-wearing requirements of some establishments and his need to be barefoot.

A couple of years ago, Chapman had a kidney transplant, receiving one of his wife’s kidneys. She finished the half marathon on Sunday.

“I like to think my kidney helps him do things like this,” Charlene Daley said.

When Gord Rant, who has cerebral palsy, walked across the finish line after completing a 1.3-kilometre distance, it was an emotional moment for his mother.

Gloria Rant held back tears after congratulating her son on his accomplishment. It was his second consecutive year in the event.

Runners enjoyed sunshine and relatively warm weather for the run. Medical director Dr. Vanessa Young said the good weather kept injuries down. One young man who collapsed after crossing the finish line was taken to hospital, she said, but Young expected he would be okay.

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