Although both Victoria and Albuquerque, New Mexico, provide picturesque backdrops for running, they do so in different ways. In Victoria, it’s the ocean bracketed by the Olympic Mountains. In Albuquerque, it’s the painted high desert with the Sandia Mountains hovering nearby.
Both are fine by Julian Florez of Albuquerque.
“Albuquerque is beautiful in its own fashion but I love the water and green colour in Victoria,” he said.
The graduate of the NCAA Div. 1 University of New Mexico Lobos will run the half-marathon Sunday as part of the 40th GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon weekend. Florez might be tempted to run the full marathon distance but is keeping his eyes on the big prize and using this weekend as fitness training for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials Feb. 29 in Atlanta.
“The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are my goal,” he said.
This is his third trip up across the border to race the Victoria half-marathon, in which he was second last year and third in 2017.
“I love the atmosphere of the race here, and it really helps that the Victoria course is undulating, much as the Atlanta course is going to be for the USA Olympic qualifying marathon,” said Florez.
A native of Hobbs, New Mexico, Florez’s first love was basketball and he played for his high school team. Then as punishment one day, he was sent to run with the school cross-country team, and out-legged everybody. That certainly did not go unnoticed by the varsity coach and he was suddenly thrust into a role as a dual high-school athlete with running eventually taking primacy.
“I don’t know where I would be if not for running,” said Florez.
“It has taught me so many life lessons. Chiefly, you will only reap the benefits equal to the effort you put into it. I was never a champion in the NCAA, and only really bloomed after school was done. But I kept my nose in it and grinding away year after year, until I hit the Olympic qualifying standard. I just put my head down and kept getting after it while always believing in myself.”
Florez majored in art at UNM and is also making a name for himself for his stylized portraits of historical icons such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Sitting Bull and Harriet Tubman.
“Albuquerque is the third-ranked artists’ mecca in the U.S., behind only much larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, and I am fortunate to be able to pursue both my painting and running passions there in my home state,” said Florez.
Joining Florez on the streets of the B.C. capital will be his girlfriend, Nicole Roberts. She was fourth in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase at the British trials and will run the 8K here Sunday. The two met at UNM.
Meanwhile, defending five-time Victoria Marathon champion Daniel Kipkoech will be looking to make history Sunday with his Sweet Sixth by besting Kelvin Broad’s streak of five consecutive victories 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 fearsome personal best of 2:10 — will give Kipkoech a strong challenge.
Top women’s marathon seeds are Andrea Lee of Vancouver and Madeline Yungblut from Clifford, Ont.
The top male master’s marathon seed is a familiar figure who has turned 40. Kip Kangogo is a three-time champion of the Times Colonist10K and has a personal best marathon time of 2:15.
Courtenay doctor Janet Green will be running 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 will be running his first marathon.
“It shows that it’s never too late to start,” said Jonathan Foweraker, president of the Victoria Marathon Society.
The Victoria race is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon and more than 300 runners will be going after those standards, including 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 early Friday, 8,021 people had registered to run Sunday, which is up more than 300 from last year. The breakdown is 1,464 registered for the marathon, 3,378 for the half marathon, 2,402 for the 8K and 765 for the Thrifty Foods children’s run.
Entries are being accepted today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Race Expo at the Victoria Conference Centre. There is no race-day registration. For more details visit runvictoriamarathon.com.