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Many call it the perfect marathon. Course undulations and occasionally inclement weather make it a challenge but most agree that the Royal Victoria Marathon is a memorable ‘royal’ experience under any conditions.

A royal event

by Louise Hodgson-Jones

Royal Victoria Marathon
Sun 7 October 2007

Many call it the perfect marathon. Course undulations and occasionally inclement weather make it a challenge but most agree that the Royal Victoria Marathon is a memorable ‘royal’ experience under any conditions.

It attracts a wide selection of the racing fraternity – from the one-time marathoner to the elite chasing a course record. Hotel rooms on race weekend – the race is always held on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend – must be booked weeks in advance. With the marathon, half marathon, 8km road race and a kid’s run, over 9,000 runners with family and friends descend on British Columbia’s capital city to take part in one of most scenic races in North America.

According to race director Rob Reid, a running icon in Victoria, what stands the RVM apart is that: “It’s scenic, and we treat everyone royally”. He knows, because every year he is at the finish line shaking thousands of hands as runners of all ages complete in personal best times. Many are in tears, not quite believing they did it. “I remember Rob Reid shaking my hand as I came across the finish line for my first Victoria Marathon three years ago,” Catherine Wiggins recalls.

A seven-time marathoner from Vancouver, Wiggins calls Victoria “a unique experience.” It was so memorable that she came back in 2007 with her friend Deborah White. White had lost 200lbs (90kg) in five years by joining a Vancouver running group and progressing from 10km races to half marathons. Deciding to do Victoria was a big decision. “As race day approached I got very nervous, but I knew I had trained hard. My only goal was to run the race without stopping.” Supported by family and friends she finished in 4:57:40 – a huge achievement and one that will stay ingrained in her memory. “No one will ever need to ask me what my first RVM marathon time was as it is now tattooed on my foot,” she says proudly.

For others running Victoria is a matter of course – there are three runners who have run all 28 races and not to run the race would feel unnatural. “It’s such a tradition now that I can’t think of doing anything else for Thanksgiving,” says Rose-Marie Preston. A runner for over 35 years, her best time is 3:46 and she comes back every year to challenge herself over the scenic route. “My goal these days is to start and finish.”

Ken Bonner, a local Victoria runner, has run more than 160 marathons and used to average 10 marathons a year. Now he usually does three, with Victoria his favourite. “Victoria isn’t a big city marathon but has a class about it. It has a nice fall atmosphere with all the colors,” he says. One marathon stood out in his memory: “It was a foggy day and we were running on Dallas Road by the ocean when the fog started to lift. The sun was trying to peep through and it created such a surreal image.”

For Terry Slater, another Victoria runner, running the race is more challenging now, but he wouldn’t think of doing anything else. “It’s part of my life and even though I don’t run or train as hard as I used to, I still enjoy it,” he says.

The marathon course has seen some changes in its 28-year history – for the first four years it consisted of a 13-mile double-loop course that started and finished at Beacon Hill Park. 1985 saw it take on the shape it is today with an out and back course. Since 1986 the start has either been on Government Street or more recently on Menzies Street, a block away from the Inner Harbor, and the finish in front of the majestic Legislature, the B.C. Parliament building. Apart from a stretch through downtown at the beginning of the race, a trip through two of Victoria’s affluent neighborhoods, and a meander through the prestigious Royal Victoria Golf Club, the out and back route has ocean views for its entire length.

“The nice thing about an out and back course rather than a point-to-point is that you can see and say hello to friends as you pass,” says Ellis Andrews, president of the Penticton Pounders, who hired a bus for the club’s trip to Victoria. “It was a very scenic, and was so nice to see all the half marathoners coming back after the turnaround,” he says. Eighteen runners from the club participated in the race with four qualifying for Boston, five did personal bests and one finished her first marathon. “We had a great time in Victoria and it certainly was an adventure.”

The organization and the enthusiastic volunteers make this event what it is. With many of the organizing committee being involved for over 10 years – some for 20 – the race infrastructure runs like clockwork. All of Victoria – including the City, Mayor and residents – are behind the event 100%.

Elise Maltinsky traveled from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to run in the half marathon. She couldn’t believe the reception the runners are given en route. “Victoria has really shown us that they can be the most hospitable and kind people I’ve ever met. All weekend, people were so warm and friendly. We had a great run and just loved how every detail was considered – for heavens sakes, someone was standing on the sidelines offering us a Kleenex at one point! It was inspiring to see the kindness of strangers, the dedication of volunteers and the fantastic organization of this world class event.”

Victoria’s location on Vancouver Island is a great attraction for runners. “Vancouver Island is a big recreational backyard and what’s driving our numbers is that the average runner wants to run in a beautiful city” says Reid.

With the 30th anniversary of the race approaching in 2009, the marathon has a history to be proud of. Its future looks bright, with 2007 seeing record registrations. “We give great value over the weekend” says Reid. “We want runners to leave with a good feeling about Victoria, wanting to return.”

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