Runner's Web
Lynne Bermel
Lynne Bermel's Column

Contact Lynne via email @ lbermel@runnersweb.com

March 23, 2000

Sorry folks. I've been remiss. It's been over two weeks since my last column, which was an interview with Sarah Dillabaugh. What can I say? The weather has been so uplifting; I've been unable to draw myself inside. Not good enough? How's this thenů. The old laptop's giving me problems. Close but no cigar? Ok, truth is that I've been waiting for word back from Ironman New Zealand winner, Lisa Bentley. She said she'd be more than happy to be interviewed by Runner's Web but it appears the girl has gone incognito. Last we heard, she was hammering it out in a Sydney pool with the great Sharon Donnelly. Since then, Ms Bentley's been at a loss for words.

Failing our interview with Lisa, I had to turn to someone who's never without something to say -Ken Parker. Now, Ken, as many of you know, is not one to shy away from ANY controversy. The hotter the battle, the harder the chase.

Naturally, there are a gazillion hot topics we could have discussed wherein our Mr. KP would have had an opinion. Nonetheless, I thought it best to steer clear from rocky waters and tap into his experience with THE race in Ottawa - the National Capital Marathon. Ken was one of the founders of the NCM and has many interesting stories to share. Here are just a few.

How the NCM got its start

Back in the fall of 1974, a group of Ottawa marathoners got together and decided to put on a marathon "right here, in River City". You see, these outstanding physical specimens (or so they thought themselves) had been bumping into each other at the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon and others and would always comment how it was a shame that a beautiful city like Ottawa didn't have a marathon. "We had the parkway, the canal and we thought we should showcase the city," says Ken who was one of them.

One of the members at that first meeting was a guy named Bill Williams, who has run every National Capital Marathon ever since. At the time that this small group got together, the biggest marathon in Canada was the Oktoberfest Marathon in Kitchener Waterloo. They didn't want the Ottawa marathon to conflict with it so they decided it should be staged in the spring. (The Vancouver marathon existed but they figured it would not be as much of a conflict) They thought that this event should be associated with the tulip festival and got the NCC on board as well as the City of Ottawa's Recreation Branch.

The first National Capital Marathon was run in the spring of 1975. There were 146 runners, the biggest marathon in Canada at the time. Mehdi Jaouhar, a Moroccan living in Hull, Que, won it.

"It was an instant success," says Ken. He had approached CFRA to cover the race as a sponsor and reporter Ernie Calcutt got wrapped up in the whole marathon mystique after hearing the Phidippedes story (you know the one of the messenger carrying the news of the Spartan invasion)

The following year, the race became the site of the 1976 Olympic Trials. The field went up to 500 and just took off from there. The next year, it attracted 1000 runners. At its peak in the mid 1980s, the race had over 4500 runners. "Ottawa was a major contributor to the running boom," says Ken. "We didn't just get picked up and swept along by it. We promoted it."

"The National Capital Marathon became known as the "runner's race", says Ken, "mainly because the committee was made up of so many runners." "We were one of the first races in the world that had cups with lids and straws rather than the small Dixie cups. We were also one of the first races to use an electrolytic replacement drink." He adds that even as early as l975, the NCM offered finish line computerized same-day race results. "Even in Boston, they used to have to tear record the race number and time and key the results onto punched cards which were then read to produce the results. This was done the day after the race."

For years, the NCM drew the best of the best marathoners in Canada. One of his favorite stories is that of Brian Maxwell. Maxwell, who went on establish the PowerBar chain, was one of the top Canadian marathoners at the time. With a 2:18 on his resume, he was invited to race as one of the elite runners. Ken admits he was taken aback when he picked Maxwell up at the Ottawa airport. "He was short and stocky. He didn't look like a marathoner to me. I thought: "This guy runs 2:18?"

Maxwell won the race that year. He also turned out to be a crowd favorite, not to mention that of the sponsors. At the press conference at the Talisman Hotel following Maxwell's victory, he arrived, surveyed the assembled reporters, grabbed a Labatt's Blue from a side table and approached the microphone: "I love this stuff," said Maxwell. The Labatt's sponsors nearly lost themselves. They'd found a sponsors dream. "Brian Maxwell was an incredible winner," says Ken. "He didn't have enough good things to say about the race, the organization, the city. He took every opportunity to thank people and demonstrate his admiration for every runner in the race - regardless if they ran 2:20 or 5 hours."

Marathon Finish 1978
Brian Maxwell edges Paul Bannon by .2 seconds in 1978 National Capital Marathon. At the time this was the closest marathon finish ever recorded.

The following year, Maxwell was head to head throughout the race with Paul Bannon, a top 10km runner who trained under Paul Poce of the Toronto Olympic Club. He came to the race with equally solid marathon credentials. Paul pulled ahead of Brian with a few kms to go and it looked like it was over; the race won. "It was unbelievable," Ken recalls, who was also taking part in the race. "Literally everybody along the course was screaming for Brian. Ottawa had taken him on as their own." Brian recalled later that the cheers of support were almost deafening and he was starting to feel guilty sitting in second. He kicked past Bannon and won by .02 secs. The crowd went wild. It turned out to be the closest finish ever in a men's marathon.

Jerome Drayton was another repeat winner of the NCM who still holds the Canadian record. Unlike other winners like Maxwell, though, he was not much into the hoopla and media. He had little more than a monosyllabic response to every question asked. One year he registered for the race just a half-hour before the starting gun; and he won. Ho hum. When asked how it went, he had a single word, "Boring."

In 1984, the marathon was again the site of the Olympic Trials. Another record was set, this time by a woman. Durham's Sylvia Ruegger ran the fastest debut marathon by a woman runner anywhere in the world when she ran just over 2 hrs 30 mins. Local CBC personality Hub Beaudry reported "the decisive move when Rueggar went by a flagging Ann Marie Malone near Echo Drive. Rueggar looked so strong that Malone started looking behind her to see who might be in third place, knowing that first place was sewn up.

There are dozens of other NCM stories Ken has shared but for purposes of brevity and time, we'll stop there for now. I hope you'll watch the NCM this year with renewed interest.

 

Contact Lynne via email @ lbermel@runnersweb.com

For more on Lynne's background read this interview with Wayne Scanlan which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen.

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