Island’s Andrea Lee, Oregon’s Eric Finan win GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon

Eugene, Oregon, is known as Track Town, USA. Black Creek is almost becoming that for Canada.

Runners Eric Finan and Andrea Lee swept to the men’s and women’s championships, respectively, in the 40th GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon on Sunday.

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Finan, based in Eugene and out of the NCAA Div. 1 University of Cincinnati Bearcats, won the men’s race in two hours, 17 minutes, 52 seconds. He ran it in preparation for the U.S. marathon trials Feb. 29 at Atlanta for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s tough to make the U.S. Olympic team. I will be happy with a good result in Atlanta,” he said.

He certainly got in a good result Sunday in Victoria.

Lee, from the small Island community of Black Creek, won the women’s marathon race in 2:46.46.

“It must be something in the water,” said Lee.

The 29-year-old was on the G.P. Vanier Towhees track team in Courtenay with Olympian Cam Levins of Black Creek, who last year broke Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old Canadian men’s marathon record.

“Cam is our claim to fame,” she said.

Not that Lee is doing shabbily, either, out of Black Creek. She won the Victoria championship after placing third last year, second in 2017 and third in 2016.

“I kept chipping away at it [the title],” said the former Mount Washington skier and cross-country national development ski team athlete.

“I kept up a steady comfortable pace today,” added Lee, who said her cross-country skiing career has helped with her cardio on the road.

“It hurt but I tried to go smooth and relaxed and stay in my comfort zone,” said Lee, who now resides in North Vancouver.

Finan, meanwhile, won the men’s title that had been held the past five years by Daniel Kipkoech of Kenya, who suffered a hamstring pull Sunday and was unable to finish.

Winning his first marathon championship on the 40th anniversary of the Victoria race was not lost on Finan.

“Being able to accomplish that is just fine,” said the native of Cincinnati.

Although he is based in Eugene, which will host the 2021 IAAF world track and field championships at historic Hayward Field, he said the B.C. capital holds its own with any running community in North America.

“What a fantastic event Victoria puts on,” said Finan, a 5,000-metre track athlete, who won Sunday in only his third career marathon.

“And the conditions were just amazing. Still, the last 10 kilometres were a grind. The course is slower because it has some hills.”

Neither Finan nor Lee were able to claim the $4,000 bonus that comes with breaking the course marathon records. 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.

Long-standing course records, however, were broken in both the men’s and women’s 8K races. Justin Kent of Burnaby went 23:14 to eclipse Gary Barber’s male standard of 23:23 from way back in 1989.

Sarah Inglis of Surrey went 25:43 to break Ulla Hansen’s women’s record of 26:24 set in 1991. Hansen and Barber were both Canadian internationals who competed in the Commonwealth Games. Still, it’s unusual for running records to last so long in this era.

“Records are made to be broken,” said Hansen, now the elite-athlete coordinator for the GoodLife Fitness races.

“I am amazed those [8K] records stood so long.”

The GoodLife Fitness half-marathon records, however, withstood the barrage.

Will Norris of Spirit Lake, Idaho, won the men’s race in 1:06:20 and Cleo Boyd of Kingston, Ont., the women’s race in 1:13:38.

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.

There was reflection on the four decades of the event.

“Participation remains strong with a wider range of runners accomplishing their goals,” said Bob Reid, who has been involved with the event in several capacities for all 40 years.

“And the elite level remains strong, as well.”

Of the former group accomplishing more personal goals was Jill Davies of Nanoose Bay, who completed the half-marathon.

“I made a vow to do this,” said the vivacious 75-year-old.

“And once I made the vow, I had to do it.”

Courtenay doctor Janet Green ran her 400th marathon Sunday in a list that includes Boston more than 20 times and also New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo. The 65-year-old belongs to a rare club by having run marathons on every continent.

Meanwhile, 80-year-old Keith Ashton of Victoria was running his first marathon.

Terry Slater has run in all 40. Ken Bonner ran in the first 37 before hip issues curtailed his streak. But he was among those volunteers on bikes, helping usher the runners along the course.

“I told Ken he will be a race bike escort for the next 40 years,” quipped Reid.

A total of 8,294 people registered to run for Sunday’s races, up about 300 from last year. There were 1,471 in the marathon, 3,431 in the half-marathon, 2,505 in the 8K and 887 in the Thrifty Foods kids’ run.

More than 300 of the runners were attempting to make qualifying standards for the 2020 Boston Marathon in April.

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