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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018
Turning up the heat at the Canada Day Firecracker
by Randy Pascal

Personal best times were not the topic of conversation, pre-race, at the 2018 Firecracker Run Sunday morning. Not in the least.

The combination of a new course design, trekking through the quite appropriately monikered “HILL”crest sub-division in Lively, and temperatures that had soared above the thirty degree mark by race start time of 10:30 a.m., made this year's Canada Day tradition more of a mere survival event.

Yet despite the “smack dab in the middle of a long weekend” timing of the race, more than fifty intrepid souls did just that, surviving the challenge with smiles and a joyful willingness to share their tales of the pleasures of running.

When it comes to sharing tales, no one on hand could match the chronological depth that local race icon Tay Wilson brings to the table. The 77 year-old long-time academic boasts a fascinating life resume that included a decade spent in England, many moons ago, for the native of Medicine Hat, Alberta.

“I had ten years of just wonderful road running and cross country running (in England),” noted Wilson, a provincial champ in the 800m distance as a teenager in Western Canada. “We would race almost once a week.” It was in this setting, in his late thirties, that the specialist of Applied Psychology would also celebrate one of his favourite athletic memories.

Just prior to the 1976 Olympics, Great Britain opted to run a “first three past the pole” qualifying race for the marathon berths in Montreal, allowing about 300 people into contention. “I had run a 27-mile cross country race, in Cambridge, and I broke three hours, so they let me in,” recounted Wilson. “I knew it was my only chance, so I wasn't going to quit.”

And though he acknowledged that he was truthfully not particularly close to the lead pack, Wilson did manage to crack the top half of the field, overtaking some very impressive competition. “At the 19-mile hill, I will always remember, I picked up the Scottish champion, “ he said. “And at the time, our Cambridge cross-country team was third best in Britain, our best runner a county champion.”

“I took him, and then his brother, just because I was so stubborn,” he stated with a laugh. The very definition of a life-long runner, Wilson would go on to claim double gold at the Canadian Masters Track and Field Championships at the age of 46, finishing first in both the 200m and 400m events.

Shanel Belanger, by comparison, has no illusions of grandeur when it comes to her running accomplishments. She does, however, have an interesting story to tell, one that would spread right through the family tree when it came to race day on Sunday.

Now 25 years of age and set to be married to Pat Gascon come December 31st, Belanger admitted to a lack of general interest, in any way, shape or form, in exercise for the better part of her first quarter century on this earth. But a pending trip to Peru, last year, and the accompanying physical requirements of their planned agenda, prompted what has become a very healthy lifestyle change.

“I started in November of 2016 and my goal was to be able to do five kilometers by the time we did the Inca Trail in Peru,” said Belanger. “I started doing the “Couch to 5 km” app on my phone, and I couldn't even run a minute at a time. I completed my 5 kms, for the first time, two days before the trip, and then we hiked for four days on the Trail.”

This, alone, would make for a compelling story. However, Belanger's new found passion was also, seemingly, quite contagious. “I did a 5 kms with my co-workers at Kivi Park and my family all joked with me that they could do that to,” she said. “So I told them there was a 5 km, on Canada Day, that we should all do it together, as a family affair.”

“I was surprised that they all said yes. I thought that it was just going to be me and Pat, but even my gramma is here. My dad said he's going to get in the best shape of his life for my wedding, so now, apparently, we're all runners.”

A runner for the past decade or so, 48 year old banker Kevin Despot can so relate to that lure of running, no matter how absurd that might seem to those who have never availed themselves to the temptation. “I did my first race in 2009 or 2010, I think it was a charity run/walk,” he said. “I kind of got the bug and started doing it more consistently.”

“Now, I do it for a couple of reasons – physical health and mental health. I find it a huge stress reliever. It's a great way to clear your mind, and I love it. People talk about a running high, and it's true.” And though few in the race were keeping a close eye at all on their personal stopwatches, Despot also touched on an additional motivator that most who enter the sport will recognize.

“I'm not out there to necessarily be faster than everybody else,” said the man who posted a highly respectable time of 23:16, given the ridiculous running conditions. “I'm out there to be faster than my last time. My bench mark is my own results.” And then there is the young man who made it all happen.

The beneficiary of a government funded summer internship/work program with the Sudbury Fitness Challenge, Lo-Ellen Park graduate and second year Laurentian University student Casey Crowe was serving as race director for the very first time. “I'm looking forward to doing it for years to come,” said the 19 year old Business/Finance major.

He explained the rationale behind the shift of race venues from the former course, on the opposite side of the highway, that would run through “downtown” Lively. “We were looking at different race site opportunities,” he said. “Of course, on Canada Day, anything near Bell Park isn't much of an option. We were still looking to keep it as a road race.”

“It's always been a road race and we're kind of running out of those in the community.” And on behalf of all runners/walkers who took part, I will suggest that the course, itself, is fine. Just turn down the thermostat ten degrees or so when we reconvene in July of 2019.

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