TORONTO. March 29th. It’s “Opening Day for running” in Toronto this Saturday, and defending champion and Canadian Olympian, Eric Gillis, is all set to lead the charge over the hills of High Park at the 33rd Annual Harry’s Spring Run Off to fight prostate cancer. The run also opens Canada Running Series 2011 in the East. The Spring Run Off is Toronto’s oldest, continuously-held road race, a rite of Spring in the country’s largest metropolis, and steeped in tradition as well as its legendary hills.
The event has seen some epic battles on the Spring Road and Centre Road hills and around Grenadier Pond, between some of the finest distance runners in the world – from Britain’s Eamonn Martin who won the race in 1990 in 22:57, as then Commonwealth Games 10,000m champ, to Kenya’s Daniel Komen and Sally Barsosio, and Canada’s best.
A former world record holder in the 1500m, Komen scorched the challenging course in 22:35 in 1994 – a mark that still stands. And so many of the Canadian greats have battled the international stars and each other in High Park – Mike Dyon and Dave Edge, Peter Butler, Paul McCloy, John Halvorsen, Roger Martindill, Silvia Ruegger, Jacqueline Gareau and May Allison, to name but a few. The Spring Run Off is about tradition. For the past 5 years it has also been about fundraising, as more than $1.6 million has been contributed by the runners, walkers and corporate supporters, to fight prostate cancer, through research at Princess Margaret Hospital. This year’s goal of $300,000 is already in sight, just over that last hill, with 4 days to go. A sell-out crowd of 5,000 is expected to go over the top for racing, fitness and fundraising on Saturday morning, with 2,600 in the 8K and another 2,200 in the 5K. New for 2011, a Children’s 800m Run [ages 5 to 13 years] will add another 200 participants and bring some new talent to the sport!
This year’s Harry’s 8K offers a re-match of the thrilling duel between Eric Gillis and Josephat Ongeri from last year. Gillis, from Guelph’s New Balance Speed River Track Club, ran for Canada in the 10,000m at the Beijing Olympics and is now Canada’s #2 ranked marathoner, after a sparkling 2:12:08 at last Fall’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. To retain his title at the Spring Run Off 8K, he’ll have to again fend off Hamilton’s Josephat Ongeri, who has been a consistently strong performer in Canada Running Series over the past few years, Guelph teammates Chris Winter and Cleve Thorson, and Toronto’s Danny Kassap and Aleksandr Kuternin.
Last year Gillis had to fight Ongeri to the end, and the spoils were only decided in a sprint up Spring Road, that gave the Guelph man a narrow, 4 second victory. As with so many of the recreational runners, this will be Eric’s “Opening Day” for 2011 racing season that will see him go onto try to win the Vancouver SunRun on April 17th, and ultimately, to take a minute of last year’s time at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront to make the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:11:30, and punch a ticket to London 2012. “It’s early in the season,” said Gillis. “But my training is coming along well. Of course I’ll be racing to retain my Harry’s title, but I think I can better last year’s time (23:59), too!”
This year’s Harry’s Spring Run Off 8K women’s race also promises a good battle betweenrising star Dayna Pidhoresky of Windsor, Emily Tallen of Kingston, Toronto’s Ayesha Rollinson, Speed River’s Meredith MacGregor, and London’s Leslie Sexton. The 23-year-old Pidhoresky burst onto the road racing scene with an impressive 1:13:15 victory at the Detroit Half marathon last October – only a minute shy of Tara Quinn-Smith’s National Record. She then followed this up with a 2nd place finish in National Cross Country Championships in November. To show 2010 was no fluke, plus her commitment to the roads, she opened her season with a victory at the Around the Bay 30K Road Race this past Sunday (1:50:46). She hopes to go onto capture the National Half marathon title in Montreal on April 17th. With some of that 30K perhaps still in her legs, it definitely gives the rest of the women’s field a chance. Emily Tallen won last year’s Canadian Half Marathon Championships at Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal in 1:15:42, then went onto represent Canada at the IAAF World Half marathon Championships in Nanning, China. A recent graduate from Queen’s University now training in London, Leslie Sexton won the Acura Toronto 10 miler in Canada Running Series 2010. Originally from Surrey, BC, Meredith MacGregor is one of Speed River’s new-up-and-coming stars who will bring some track speed to the roads before moving back to the track later in the Spring. Combined, they’ll provide a strong Canadian pack and what promises to be an absorbing contest.
Race Director Alan Brookes has been at the helm of the Spring Run Off since 1986. “The Spring Run Off is very special to me,” says Brookes. “And I think it holds a special place in the Canadian running community and in the hearts of many Canadian runners – not just mine. It’s about tradition, history, Canadian legends. But it’s also about Spring, a new year, a new season full of hopes and dreams and expectations. It’s about Springtime-energy, best-dressed contest costumes, and fun. It’s a rite of passage. It’s that season-opening test of fitness that brings us all together. Many will go onto fast 10Ks or completing Spring marathons. Maybe Eric will make it to the Olympics. Others will complete their first race or raise money for a vital cause. But coming off that last, gut-wrenching Spring Road hill, with crowds packed on both sides of the course, we’ll know we’re alive, and ready for a new season.”
Brookes also added that there will be a moment of silence before this year’s race to remember Mark Dailey, a great supporter of the event, the race’s former MC, as well as “the Voice of Toronto”, who battled prostate cancer and lost a courageous fight last December. Another prostate cancer survivor and avid runner, Phillip Crawley, CEO and Publisher of the Globe and Mail, will also be out to run with his daughter and the Globe Team. It is also hoped that if his election schedule permits, NDP leader Jack Layton will also return as captain of Jack’s Team.
Entries are now closed for the 8K & 5K, but it’s not too late to sign up your kids for the new Children’s Run, and to make a difference by making a pledge to help in the fight against prostate cancer. Everyone is invited to pack High Park and cheer the participants up every hill of the legendary course. It is highly recommended to take the TTC to High Park station for the 10am start of the first race. Details: http://www.canadarunningseries.com/springrunoff/index.htm
The 1983 Entry Form shows an entry fee of $6 (!!!), and the 1982 winners: Canadians Peter Butler [who ran a 2:10:59 marathon] and Bev Bush.
By 1986, the entry fees had moved up to $10, but that included a free racing singlet for all participants!