(TORONTO. 27th September 2004)
It was another remarkable day on the flat, fast, scenic Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon course yesterday, with a mystical, celebratory atmosphere. Last year, 92-year-old Fauja Singh of the UK and 72 year old Canadian Ed Whitlock thrust the race onto the international stage with new age-group world records on what was hailed as "the marathon's greatest day". The Fauja and Ed Show, Part 2, took things over the top this year, with some wonderfully joyous side-bars.
This year's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront saw a record 9,000 runners from 25 countries and 38 US states—up a whopping 54% from 2003—and a sunny, clear morning with temperatures in the 12 to 18 degree Celsius range. More than $300,000 was raised for 45 different charities led by national NDP leader Jack Layton, provincial Minister of Health George Smitherman, and a cast of celebrity runners.
A relatively unknown local young man, 21-year-old Danny Kassap, a refugee from the Congo, struggling hard to make ends meet with part-time jobs in Toronto while learning English, surprised an experienced international field with a come-from-behind win in 2:14:50 for a true Cinderella story at the front of the pack. On the women's side, strong pre-race favourite, Lioudmila Kortchaguina, herself a "new Canadian", moving to Toronto as an immigrant from Ykaterinburg, Russia, three years ago, faded badly over the last 7k, but hung on to win in 2:36:32.
The sun shone, the bands played along the course, John "the Penguin" Bingham and Coach Jenny Hadfield ran the 5K then regaled the large crowd at the finish line from the announcer's stage. Michal Kapral, a Torontonian with a 2:30 marathon PR, set a new Guiness Book of World Records mark for "running a marathon while pushing a pram" (a.k.a. baby jogger) when he crossed the line in 2:49:38, pushing his 20-month-old daughter Annika. But the day truly belonged to Whitlock and Singh.
If Whitlock impressed the world last year when he became the first septuagenarian on the planet to break the 3-hour barrier with an agonizingly close 2:59:10, this year, he astounded us with a 2:54:49. Gone was the agonized look of marathon-exhaustion as he struggled to make it across the line in 2003. Yesterday, Whitlock looked strong and comfortable all the way. Now 73, he should have run 2 or 3 minutes slower due to aging, if the form-book is to be believed. Instead, he ran perfectly even splits, passing the half in 1:27:31, smiling and looking strong to the end as he came down the finishing straight in his blue Ranelagh club colours.
Last year, the Canadian phenomenon from Milton, Ontario, had clearly felt the pressure. He had been injured off and on. He had tried and failed at 70, running 3 hours and 24 seconds. His injuries had not afforded him adequate training time. And as he said, "I'm running out of time". This year, he'd trained consistently and injury-free, he had broken the magical barrier already, and all the pressure was gone. It was a run to enjoy and blow-the-doors-off the old mark.
Not to disappoint in the Whitlock and Singh Show, Fauja was up next to run the half, in what he has said was his final full or half marathon until he reaches 98, when he will hopefully take a run at being the oldest person ever to complete a marathon. This then, was "Fauja the Farewell Tour". Could he surpass his own half-marathon age-group record of 2:33 set in Glasgow this summer? Again, the large crowd that included a sizable contingent of Toronto's South Asian community, was on its feet as the adidas poster-boy made it home in 2:30:02. He then helped members of his Canadian charity, the Guru Gobind Singh Children's Foundation, serve free samosas, chapatties, and other Indian delicacies to all 9,000 fellow-runners, underscoring his commitment to charity and community, while sharing his secret recipe for his favourite ginger curry.
It was a magical, almost mystical "day for the ages" at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, a day where "Impossible was Nothing", where Cinderella stories and many marathon dreams came true. Book early for next year, 25th September 2005.