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Defending Kenyan champion wins Victoria marathon

Oct 08 2012
Thomas Omwenga, the men's winner, crosses the finish line during the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. 

Thomas Omwenga, the men's winner, crosses the finish line during the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , Times Colonist

A little bit of spoked-wheel encouragement helped carry defending champion Thomas Omwenga of Kenya to victory Sunday in the 33rd GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

Omwenga cramped roughly halfway over the 42.195 kilometre course and credited the lead cyclists marshalling the race — former Island running star Steve Bachop and 2012 London Olympic cycling-medallist Tara Whitten — for giving him the motivation he needed to continue and win in two hours, 20 minutes and 41 seconds.

“They [Bachop and Whitten] told me to take it easy and gave me comfort,” said Omwenga, whose cramping put his time Sunday well off his course record 2:14: 33 set last year.

“I was pushing and was not that comfortable. But the fans along the route were encouraging me all the way.

Omwenga said he still remembers his first glimpse of Victoria in 1994 while watching that year’s Commonwealth Games on TV.

“I prayed after that to come to Victoria as a competitor,” he said.

He got his wish.

“I love Victoria, I love the people here and I like the course, too.”

Of the more than 11,500 racers registered over several distances, there were 2,056 runners entered for the marquee marathon event.

Hallie Janssen of Portland, Oregon — U.S. Olympic trialist in the marathon for London 2012 — was the top female marathoner Sunday and finished in 2:47:03. The veteran beat her previous Victoria winning time of 2:49:36 from 2004. But it wasn’t easy.

“I feel like crap, to be honest,” she said, after crossing the line.

“I’ve had a hard year. I was suffering from iron deficiency and anemia at the Olympic trials in Houston and recently have been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, so this win means a lot to me because of all the sacrifices my family and I have made,” added Janssen, who has had two children since her 2004 championship in Victoria.

“I’m on medications and am taking it one day at a time.”

Sunday’s winning performance helped put a salve on some of her pain.

“Running is like a community,” said Janssen.

“And this [Victoria race] is the best-kept secret in marathon. It’s the most scenic course I have raced.”

As the sun rose to turn the frosty morning into a lilting fall day, the course was lined with spectators who came out to cheer on the runners, walkers and wheelchair racers.

“You’re going through neighbourhoods and people are out in their yards having breakfast while they cheer you on. It’s beautiful,” said Janssen.

Graeme Wilson of Vancouver — third overall in the men’s marathon in 2:29:17 behind champion Omwenga and second-place Gilbert Kiptoo of Kenya (2:27:01) — concurred.

“Everyone was amazingly supportive — there are no dead zones [gaps in crowd support along the route] in Victoria,” said Wilson.

“It was a great day of racing. We even had a tail wind on the way back in.”

An unusual highlight of the marathon was the sixth-place overall finisher Adam Campbell. The Victoria lawyer ran the race in a business suit in 2:35:53, obliterating the Guinness World Record of 3:24:00 for the fastest marathon in a suit. Or, as Campbell said, the world’s fastest lawsuit.

“It’s silly but unique,” he said, at the finish line.

“Not everyone can say they’re a world-record holder. I’ll take it.”

The largest group of participants were in the half-marathon, with 5,503 registrants. In the men’s category, Rutto Kibet of Edmonton won in 1:04:27. The women’s half-marathon champion was Natasha Fraser of Port Moody in 1:14:06.

A total of 2,844 people entered the 8K race with Chris Winter of Vancouver taking the men’s event in 24:13 and Rachel Cliff of Vancouver the women’s in 27:43.

The kids race attracted 1,100 eager young participants.

“The marathon numbers have leveled out and the half-marathon has really picked up,” said Rob Reid, in his 18th year as race director for the GoodLife Victoria Marathon.

Although triathlons and ultra-distance running events have eaten into marathon numbers world-wide, there is still a mystique about the marathon. In many ways, it remains the classic distance race.

“It is and always will be a personal peak and pinnacle — an Everest — to aim for,” said Reid.

“The marathon is still out there as a mainstage distance of running and a top-three bucket-list thing in many people’s lives ” said Reid.

The Victoria race is classified as a destination marathon, with more than 70 per cent of the participants coming from off-Island to create an estimated $7-million annual impact on the local economy, according to SportHost Victoria.

There were more than 10,000 Canadians registered, with 9,000-plus from B.C. and most of the rest from Alberta, with nearly 800 runners from Washington state and more than 200 from Oregon. Participation was slightly higher than last year’s total of 11,424 overall participants. There were 23 nations represented, including Israel and Pakistan.

The race route is designed for maximum eye-candy impact and began on Menzies Street and snaked through the downtown core into James Bay and Beacon Hill Park and then along Dallas Road to Gonzales Bay. It proceeded into Fairfield, Oak Bay and Uplands before the turnaround to the finish line on Belleville in front of the legislative buildings.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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