Marathon Preview: The Elite Contenders

U.S. athletes seek Olympics through Victoria marathon

Last year's winner Philip Samoei

Last year's winner Philip Samoei

It’s common knowledge among marathoners: Victoria’s is a “faster” marathon,  offering one of the better chances for a long-distance runner to shave a minute or two off his or her regular time.

Sunday’s GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon isn’t too hilly, but it’s still a 42.2-kilometre route with heavy sea air and a good chance for rain.

Faster than some of the bigger marathons in North America, perhaps, but it’s still gruelling in every sense of the word.

“A lot of runners get their personal bests here,” said Jonathan Foweraker, in his first year as co-ordinator of the marathon’s Dairyland elite athlete program.

“It is known as a fairly fast course, with a very high proportion of marathoners getting their Boston qualifiers here,” Foweraker said.

Not everybody goes on to run in Boston, but it’s a mark of distinction among marathoners and is part of what draws runners to Victoria each October.

That trend continued last year with 516 of the 2,558 Victoria marathon finishers cracking the Boston time barrier, the third most for any marathon in Canada, behind Ottawa (715) and Toronto (520), according to MarathonGuide.com.

A longtime participant and volunteer, Foweraker is now responsible for bringing the big names to Victoria such as projected winner Thomas Omwenga of Kenya.

“We’re known for having a smaller size so we can give more attention to all our athletes. (Unlike some bigger races) we hope our elites won’t feel lost in the mix. The hope is to establish ongoing relationships to bring elite runners back again.”

Among those returning are last year’s overall winner Philip Samoei of Kenya, who won in two hours, 23 minutes and 24 seconds, and fellow Kenyan Gilbert Kiptoo, who suffered an injury in the final kilometres but was part of the elite group with Esquimalt’s James Lander (second in 2010).

Omwenga, if in good form, is within reach of breaking Steve Osadiuk’s 2006 course record of 2:16:49. A three-time winner of the Vancouver Marathon (2007, 2008 and 2010), Omwenga has a personal best below 2:11 and ran this year’s Montreal Marathon in 2:14:35.

The trio of Kenyans – Samoei, Kiptoo and Omwenga – will undoubtedly pace the marathon, with Ryan Day of Victoria and Steven Crane  of Olympia, Wash. possibly in that mix.

Foweraker also said no one should be surprised to see 40-year-old Graeme Wilson from Vancouver in the lead group as well. Wilson is aiming for 2:26, the masters’ record for Victoria.

Lucy Njeri of Toronto joins Vancouver’s Suzanne Evans as elites in the women’s marathon. Evans won three straight in Victoria from 2005 to 2007. Challenging them is a pair of Americans, Trisha Steidl (Seattle) and Chelsea Van DeBrake (Yakima), targeting the U.S. Olympic team’s qualifying standard of 2:46.

Steidl is a former NCAA rowing champion and current Seattle University track and field program head coach on an Olympic campaign.

The other halfLast year’s second-overall finisher in the full marathon, James Lander, is looking to win his first Victoria half-marathon title.

Previous women’s half-marathon winners, Lucy Smith (2003 and 2007) and Marilyn Arsenault (2009) – both from Victoria – look to defend the home course against visitors Kathy Butler, Natasha Wodak and Lisa Harvey.

Sun. Oct. 9: GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, start times: 6:30 a.m. marathon early start, Menzies and Kingston streets.7:10 a.m. eight-km road race wheelchair and visually impaired start, Belleville between Menzies and Oswego streets.7:15 a.m. eight-km road race start, Belleville Street between Menzies and Oswego streets.7:25 a.m. half-marathon wheelchair and visually impaired start, Menzies and Kingston streets. 7:30 a.m. half-marathon start, Menzies at Kingston.8:40 a.m. marathon wheelchair and visually impaired start at Menzies and Kingston streets.8:45 a.m. marathon main start at Menzies and Kingston streets.10:15 a.m. Thrifty Foods kids run at Kingston Street, just off Menzies Street.