Money on the run: Victoria Marathon

Despite Toronto's major cash prizes, Victoria still matters

Runners of all kinds completed the 32nd annual GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon

Runners of all ages and levels capitalized on the perfect conditions of the 2011 GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon on Sunday with a pair of elites netting serious cash.

Kenyan Thomas Omwenga led the day with a first-place time of two hours, 14 minutes and 33 seconds, breaking Steve Osaduik’s 2006 record of 2:16:49.

Omwenga pulled away with $7,000 in prize money, making it well worth his trip. Were he Canadian he would have scored a course record bonus of $5,000 more. As it was, Omwenga won $4,000 for finishing under two hours and 15 minutes and $3,000 for being first overall. Lucy Njeri also banked $3,000 for first in the marathon, plus a $3,000 incentive for running under 2:38.

That we’re seeing course records fall is part of an upswing in Canadian marathon running right now, said Brent Fougner, coach of the University of Victoria Vikes cross country and track running teams.

Omwenga, for example, owns a marathon best of 2:10:44.

Victoria was his second marathon in two weeks, having finished second at the Montréal Oasis Marathon on Sept. 26 with a nearly identical time of 2:14:35.

“You have to think he’s capable of going a bit faster,” Fougner said, of Omwenga’s quick turnaround.

Despite acting as the B.C. championship (with local Ryan Day taking that honour in third place, 2:26:42), the Victoria marathon is best known as a destination event for long-distance runners and is shadowed on the national scene by this weekend’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

“(Victoria’s) is a beautiful course and there’s always some quality athletes so people can witness a top runner, even if it’s not their top time.

“(But Victoria) hasn’t attracted our top Canadians because you can only do so many in a year and the Toronto marathon has gone after top Canadians and internationals, making sure it’s a fast race,” Fougner said.

Buzz around Toronto this week is about breaking Jerome Drayton’s Canadian marathon record of 2:10:09, which he set in Japan in 1975.

At $36,000, the prize to do so is considerable. Organizers of the Toronto marathon have put up $1,000 for every year the record has stood. One of the runners who could do it is Vancouver’s Dylan Wykes, who warmed up by winning last month’s McNeill Bay Half Marathon in Oak Bay.

Runners also prefer Toronto’s flat course to the inclines of Victoria.

Weather conditions were perfect on Sunday, however, helping Port Moody’s Natasha Wodak join Owmenga and Njeri in the money group by setting the women’s half-marathon course record.

Wodak won an extra $1,000 on top of the $1,000 half-marathon prize when she broke Marilyn Arsenault’s 2009 course record by 12 seconds, with 1:15:27. Arsenault finished third in the half (1:18:03) and was the top masters runner in that event with another former Vike, Craig Odermatt, who was fifth overall (1:10:43).

Kyle Jones won the eight kilometre road race in 24 minutes and 12 seconds, adding his name to the list of fellow triathletes who’ve won the eight-km along with Simon Whitfield in 2007 and Kirsten Sweetland in 2010.

Hilary Stellingwerff (28:01) doubled as the top overall woman and master in the eight-km with men’s master winner Kevin O’Connor (25:11).

Perfect day

A total of 10,042 runners finished out of 11,417 registered in all four events.

“That is a 88 per cent ratio of finisher to registration, higher than normal,” said Louise Hodgson-Jones.

Victoria’s Phil Nicholls, who won the Victoria Marathon in 1986, 1989 and 1990, said of all 15 marathons he’s run in he never had conditions as good as Sunday’s.

“The air here does get a heavy dampness to it that comes with the fall, and wind, and those add time on the run. But this time everything was right. Humidity was low, it was just a perfect day.”

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