GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon: The event with a smiling face

It has been one step for man, and plenty of women, followed by many more steps.

A total of 53,113 runners have completed the marathon distance in the previous 39 GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon races.

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That adds up to 2.4 million kilometres, six trips to the moon and back, noted Jonathan Foweraker, president of the Victoria Marathon Society.

The 40th edition of the event goes today with more than 8,500 people forming a river of humanity through the streets of downtown and Oak Bay to take part in races over the marathon, half-marathon, 8K and 1.5K kids distances.

The entrance fee for the first race in 1980, which attracted about 700 runners, was $6. The first organizers wondered how they could get a Royal designation for the race. They found that could take a long time, so they did a bit of guerrilla marketing and still named it the Royal Victoria Marathon.

“I said I don’t think the Queen or bank would mind, so we just did it,” said Mike Eillis, one of six members of the original race organizing committee.

Indeed, no one from Windsor Castle issued a cease-and-desist order.

The original logo displayed a running king, complete with crown and flowing robe.

“It was a bit corny,” Ellis said with a laugh.

But it worked, conveying a popular image of Victoria at the time, and the race grew to where it has become a annual qualifier for the Boston Marathon. But always with a welcoming vibe and collective smiling face.

Former race manager Rob Reid remembers a runner from Alabama who had to suddenly leave on the day of the race because of a family emergency back home. He still wanted to do the marathon, so he just started out on his own late Saturday night along the course. Word got out and organizers put together an impromptu greeting party at the finish line to welcome him in the wee hours after midnight.

Putting the medal around the surprised and grateful runner’s neck was that year’s guest speaker Jerome Drayton, the Olympian who held the Canadian record for 43 years before it was broken last year by Olympian and Islander Cam Levins of Black Creek.

“There are so many stories like that from our race which have put Victoria on the map in athletics and tourism,” Reid said.

More than half the participants over 39 years have been from off-Island.

“This is a destination event,” Reid said.

The marathon snakes through two municipalities.

“I vote to change the name to the Oak Bay Marathon,” Mayor Kevin Murdoch quipped.

“It brings up the energy level in our community. You always see supporters out and cheering along the course. I will be out cheering with my family.”

This year also represents a milestone with the $2-million plateau reached in funds raised over the past 15 years for various Island charities through the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

Among those is the non-profit Adapted Fitness and Rehabilitation Society of B.C., which offers adults and children with physical disabilities a safe place to work out on specialized equipment and move their bodies at its space at 755 Topaz Ave. It was founded by Joanne Rogers after her son Dennis Rogers, now a Victoria developer, became a paraplegic due to a swimming-pool accident. Joanne Rogers said about one- fifth of the project’s yearly operating budget is raised through the marathon charity program.

“This is such an inspiring story,” said Joan Athey, who helps Rogers promote the program.

There will also be plenty of milestones, reached or attempted today, in the events on the road. Defending five-time Victoria men’s marathon champion Daniel Kipkoech will be looking to make history with his sweet sixth by besting the record of five consecutive wins he co-holds with Kelvin Broad, who was champion from 1994 to 1998.

Fellow Kenyan Jonathan Chesoo — winner of the Calgary Marathon and second in the BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon this year and with a fiery personal best of two hours, 10 minutes — will give Kipkoech a strong challenge.

Top women’s marathon seeds are Andrea Lee of Vancouver and Madeline Yungblut from Clifford, Ont.

Courtenay doctor Janet Green will be running her 400th marathon today in a list that includes Boston more than 20 times and also New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo. Green, 65, belongs to a rare club by having run marathons on every continent.

Ken Bonner and Terry Slater have run the Victoria marathon each year. Meanwhile, 80-year-old Keith Ashton of Victoria will be running his first marathon today.

“It shows it’s never too late to start,” Foweraker said.

Also running today is 70-year-old Roslyn Smith of Comox, who won her age group in the 2019 Boston Marathon.

The prize purse for the Victoria marathon and half marathon is $33,500, with $3,000 going to the top male and female marathoners, and a $4,000 bonus on offer for a men’s or women’s marathon course record. The men’s course record of 2:13:42 was established in 2013 by Lamech Mokono and the women’s (2:37:56) by Lucy Njeri in 2011.

Olympian and 2019 Lima Pan Am Games 10,000-metre gold-medallist Natasha Wodak holds the women’s Victoria half-marathon record of 1:11:45 set last year. The men’s Victoria half-marathon record of 1:02:32 was set in 2002 by Jon Brown, who twice placed fourth in the Olympic Games marathon. Canadian internationals Gary Barber and Ulla Hansen hold the respective men’s and women’s 8K course records of 23:23 and 26:24.

As of registration close Saturday, 8,294 people had registered to run today, up by about 300 from last year’s total. The breakdown is 1,471 registered for the marathon, 3,431 for the half-marathon, 2,505 for the 8K and 887 for the Thrifty Foods children’s run.

The start line for the marathon and half-marathon is on Menzies Street heading south, with both races beginning at 8 a.m. The 8K begins at 8:50 a.m. with the start line on Government Street heading north.

The finish line for all races is on Belleville Street in front of the legislature. The kids’ run is at 10:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, Eliud Kipchoge on Saturday became the first man to race sub-two hours in the marathon.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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