The year was 2006. Emilie Mondor, one of Canada's top hopefuls for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was leaving her coach's house following a training run. After finishing her long run, with Coach Parker biking beside her, she came back to his house, had a drink, stretched a bit and then left to drive out to the highway. Little would anyone have known that this would have been the final run of this young woman's life because it was on her way to Montreal that Emilie was in a collision and killed. It was a tragedy that hit the running community hard. And it was in this fierce competitor's honour that a women's only road race was named to celebrate the potential of women and the road.
Women-only races have been around since recreational running took off in the mid-to late-1970s. Katherine helped found the world's first women-only road race in New York City in 1972. Today there are women-only races around the world including some well-established events in Canada; although they still account for less than one percent of races.
I have always believed that co-ed running is beneficial. If you can keep up with the boys, why shouldn't you be able to compete together? A runner is a runner. A time is a time. However, it is a fact of life, that boys generally run quite faster than girls and the level of competition is different, no less important, just different. Therefore, I think there is a time and place for women's-only races. These races are not meant to be exclusive to the boys or to show a "weaker, less competitive side" to road racing. On the contrary- women-only races give fast women a chance to be the front runners and to get a sense of what it is like to lead a road race, which will give them confidence and race exposure and can only raise their level of experience. Second, it gives slower women or first time racers, who might be daunted to run in a sea of men and testosterone, an opportunity to try out road racing. With a quick Google search, I found a whole website dedicated to listing all the women's only races. Some had themes about divas, and Hawaii, and others were extremely no-frill and all about running fast times.
Some of the lighter, more celebratory races include the inaugural Victoria Goddess Run on June 3 in Victoria, British Columbia. This race interested me because it was quite different from the rest. There is a chocolate station en route, silver jewelry instead of a clunky medal, bistro-style food for post-race nutrition, and is completed dedicated to celebrate the amity of women running with their friends, sisters, mothers and daughters. Cathy Noel, general manager of the Victoria marathon, and Andrea Carey, program director at the Pacific Institute of Sport Excellence, cofounded this run. They originally had 700 participants as a goal but within four weeks of registration, thanks to the wonders of social media, it was already surpassed. Carey wanted an event that was "accessible to every woman, even if they hadn't taken part in anything like this before." They also wanted it to be one that everyone would remember. Hence, the initiation of chocolate and necklaces. The race will also benefit local charities that help women and children. I think this is great. I can see all types of girls willing to join this race because of its welcoming feel and non-intimidating undertone. Besides- chocolate on route- who wouldn't want to run?
However, there are other women's only races that are dedicated to fast elite times. Especially one in my hometown- Emilie's Run. This year, Sports4 Emilie's Run will be held on Saturday June 23, 2012. Founded by Race Director Ken Parker of Runner's Web, the race made its debut in June of 2006 and was originally called the Runners Web 5K Race for Women. At the time, it was the only women's only race in Canada. By starting up a women's only race, Ken hoped to encourage first time women runners to participate, and "to provide an opportunity for competitive women to lead a race, set the pace, and be the overall race winners." Emilie Mondor was entered to run that year. However, due to an Achilles injury that had happened the week prior, Ken Parker advised her not to race. Despite wanting to race anyways, she took the coach's advice and it must have been good advice because when Emilie moved to Ottawa, she turned to Ken for coaching.
Mondor, who represented Canada at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was the first Canadian woman to break 15:00 for 5k. After setting her goal to race the marathon in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mondor moved to Ottawa and started training under Ken. Ken, who also coaches the all-women's Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team, recalls Mondor's first-ever training session with the group: "After every set, Emilie [who finished far ahead of the pack] would always high-five the girls as they were finishing. That was just Emilie." Her journey included shorter races like the 5k to tighten up her speed and prepare her for the Olympics. Little did she know that one day, a race would be named after her.
Devastatingly, in the fall of 2006, Emilie was killed in a car collision. Ken remembers that before she left he told her that if she did not slow down on the Rockcliffe loops (which I myself have done numerous times and are tough loops!) the following Tuesday he was going to cut her recovery time down to zero. She laughed and said, "Whatever, coach." and left. The next morning Ken found out on the internet that she had been killed. Because he had never met her parents no one from her family knew how to get hold of him. She had been on her way to Mascouche, PQ, north of Montreal to visit her parents and attend a high school reunion. This tragedy shook not only the world of road racing, but Canada's athletic community. She had been entered in the NYC Marathon that fall as an elite runner. The New York Road Runners sent a representative to her funeral and in the NYC Marathon the elite women wore a black ribbon in her honour. The following year, the Ottawa race would be renamed "Emilie's Run" in memory of Emilie.
This year is the first year that Sports4 will be the event sponsor. Emilie's Run has been considered the faster's women's only 5k in Canada. Year after year it has attracted an impressive roster of elite runners including Tara Quinn-Smith, who know holds the course record of 16:15:7.The year thirty-give women ran under the benchmark 20 minutes, by far the most number of women under 20 in an Ottawa race, one local shoe store staff said the course must be short, which was impossible because the course had been certified and sanctioned every year. The course is special in many ways; it was designed to be different than the standard canal course and also to be fast with the slight downhill start.
I have run Emilie's Run twice already and it was fantastic. There was a lot of hype surrounding the event and besides my track career; it has been the only time I have run with only women. I was out of town last year during the run, so I could not compete, but the year before Emily Tallen won the race. Tallen would eventually help coach my team at Queen's. It was amazing to be among the field of such talented women. I also saw my grade five math teacher and her children and I had the opportunity to meet some women who traveled all the way from close to Toronto to compete in their first road race. The course does have a hairpin turn but the kilometer marks really helped me gaged my speed and the road is perfectly flat and smooth.
Women should be allowed to run and compete with men. But sometimes, girls just need to be girls and celebrate our talent. I am very excited for Emilie's Run this year. It is a special race to me as it is in memory of one of Canada's best runners and I myself have become very close to Ken Parker. I saw Emilie compete once and she was a pleasure to watch. I also had the opportunity to speak to Emilie's parents who were present at one of the award ceremonies. Canada lost a great runner and a great athlete, but I think Emilie would be happy to see the progress that we have made, and continue to make in raising the bar of women's road races. And this year, on June 23, when we line up to start the race, the only option for cheering will be "you go girl!" Girls may just want to have fun, but we also want to run fast too.
The 2012 edition of Sports4 Emilie's Run sees the return of cash prizes for what is traditionally the "fastest" women's only race in Canada.
Sports4 is providing cash prizing as follows:
First Overall $1000
Second Overall $750
Third Overall $550
Fourth Overall $400
Fifth Overall $300
First Masters (40 & over*) $500
First Team (5 members) $1000
There are cash prizes for the following:
New Race Record: $1000, New Masters (40 & over*) Record: $500, New 5 Year Age Category Age : $100
*age as of Dec 31, 2012
"Dani Riendeau winning the 2011 Emilie's Run in 17:39 - Photo - Steve Bower"