When the Firefighter’s Ten Mile Road Race began in 1910, about 21 elite-level runners took to the streets to compete.
Fast-forward 104 years and the event has become one of the crown jewels on the local running calendar, boasting about 1,000 runners and drawing people in from around the region and beyond.
One of the oldest ongoing road races in North America, the Ten Miler is open to runners of all levels, not just the elite-level athletes.
Still, the competitive nature of the event is front and centre.
With Kenyans Gilbert Kiptoo, the four-time reigning champion, and his country mate Paul Kimayyo, who finished just a split second behind Kiptoo a year ago, threatening to run away with the race again, organizers realized they needed some added incentive to keep local runners interested.
Last year they expanded the prize pool to include the top 10 finishers on both the men’s and women’s side, and plan to do it again in 2014.
“We want to make sure we encourage our elite athletes. But we also wanted to (reward) the top 10. It makes it more realistic for regular athletes to strive for as well,” race director Meghan Shanks said on Saturday, nine days before the Ten Miler’s Victoria Day start."
The competition should be hot and heavy, and while the Kenyans are assuredly the favourites – Kiptoo recently finished second at the Vancouver Marathon – there is plenty of local content to get excited about, Shanks said.
The list includes Dominic Aulagnon, Trevor Zimak and Mark Marones, as well as five-time former champion Jonathan Balabuck.
“We do have of local runners who have signed up once again. They came in sixth, seventh and eighth last year,” Shanks said.
On the women’s side, the field could be wide open.
Last year’s champion, Ellsworth, Wisc.’s Morgan Place, had not yet registered, leaving the door wide open for the likes of eight-time champion Katie McGee of Duluth and Thunder Bay’s own Nicki Wilberforce, a two-time champion who has eight runner-up finishes and crossed the line third in 2013.
“It seems like we have this flood of elite runners, so we’re pretty excited,” Shanks said.
Kevin Anderson, representing the Thunder Bay Professional Firefighters Association, said the race is important to his organizations.
Looking outside on Saturday, with the mercury soaring to 14 C, Anderson said hopefully the weather continues through to race weekend.
“I hope it’s like this next weekend,” he said. “The runners probably are hoping for something a bit cooler.”
Fellow sponsor Patrick Trevisanutto of Halfway Motors, which rescued the event six years ago, said it’s a great chance for everyone to come out, have a little fun and promote physical fitness at the same time.
“We hope that you’re either in the race or you’re going to come out and be a spectator,” he said.
Race registration closes on May 13.
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