By Mihira Lakshman
The course didn't take the runners past any cheetahs, but Regina's Simon Bairu did his best impression of the fleet-footed creature, breezing through the Oasis ZooRun in a time of 29:48, on a sunny Saturday in Toronto.
Track specialist Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, BC, clocked 33:41, winning the women's race by more than a minute over Megan Metcalfe of Edmonton (33:43). Denise Robson of Bedford, NS, finished third with a personal best of 34:59.
The race was the final event of the prestigious Canada Running Series, the Timex National Road Race Series, and it also served as the Athletics Canada National 10K Championships. The event also helped raise funds for the Toronto Zoo
Bairu and Elmore each took home $4,600 in prize money ($3,000 from Athletics Canada for winning the national title, $1,600 from Oasis and the Canada Running Series).
"It's really special," said Bairu, who also won the National title last year in Ottawa, and collected his eighth national gold medal overall when you include road running, cross country and track and field.
Bairu led the race from start to finish, at the front of a pack that included some of the top distance runners in the country. Canada's top marathoner in 2009, Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton, finished in second place in 29:58. Coolsaet's training partner, and 2008 Olympian Eric Gillis of Antigonish, NS, took the bronze in 30:01.
Both Coolsaet and Gillis train with the Speed River track club in Guelph, Ont., home to dozens of Canada's top athletes.
The course was rather technical for a road race, full of sharp turns, narrow trails, and a mix of pavement, dirt, and boardwalk surfaces. It also included many rolling hills, making it difficult for the runners to get into a comfortable rhythm.
"I like it. It's a good course, quite challenging. I hope they have the national 10K championship back here again," Bairu said.
"When I heard the course record was 29:41, I thought there are at least five guys who would get under that time. But it was real tough out there," he said.
Bairu separated himself from the competition, with a gradual surge over the second half of the race. Over the final three kilometres, they were running for second place.
In the women's race, Elmore was racing alongside some of the mid-pack men, using them as support and wind-breakers.
In all, there were 2,600 runners in the ZooRun 10K and 1,500 in the 5K. The event was so popular – it sold out weeks in advance.
"Having bodies around really helps for runners at any level, you want to stay in close contact," said Elmore, who is Canada's top 1,500m on the track.
A stranger to the roads, Elmore was pleased with the effort, in what was only her second ever road 10K.
Many may have expected Metcalfe, a strong 5000m runner, to have the advantage.
"Well, she just got married last weekend," Elmore said with a smile.
Oasis rounded out a day of smiles at the Awards Ceremony when they announced the renewal of their title sponsorship for another three years.
Malindi Elmore takes 2009 Canadian Women's 10k title
Simon Bairu, 2009 Canadian Men's 10k champion