Canada’s Fastest 5K? Will We Ever Know?

March 17, 2014 1

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© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

On March 12, 2014 the Synergy Health Management Bazan Bay 5K took place in Sidney, BC, located just 20 minutes north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. The race was won in the time of 14:12 by Geoff Martinson. Although this performance is a new course record Martinson, in breaking his own record of 14:20 from 2012, ran alone for the entire race. He has won the event three consecutive times. In the 2014 edition, he led from the gun and increased his lead throughout the race to end up winning by 36-seconds over Patrick Psotka, who was representing the University of Victoria Vikes, which is one of the more competitive teams competing in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). When asked if he thought he could have run under 14-minutes if challenged by a more competitive field, Martinson said, “who knows, I know I could have run faster, maybe around 14:05.”

Martinson owns a 5000 metre personal best (track) of 13:55.93. He competed in the 2011 IAAF World Track and Field Championships in the 1500 metre distance, where he owns a personal best time of 3:37.56. He is a former varsity runner for the Vikes and is currently retired from professional running. Martinson is staying fit just in case he decides to take a run at international competition again, specifically the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games. But what about this very fast road course where he ran a 5K personal best time of 14:12, unchallenged?

The Bazan Bay 5K is race number five of both the Frontrunners Vancouver Island Race Series as well as the Timex BC Road Race Series. Bazan offers a fast course and historically has produced good results, often without the lure of prize money. Prize money is typically a good draw to bring out faster athletes however, Bazan Bay is fortunate in that not only does it offer a fast course, it is juxtapositioned within a fantastic running environment. Victoria is home to the National Triathlon Centre (NTC) as well as LifeSport Coaching, which are two groups that provide training for triathletes who compete nationally and internationally in distances from sprint triathlons to the full ironman. Victoria is also home to the Vikes as well as Canada’s largest running club, the 800-member Prairie Inn Harriers.

Bazan has room to grow its participation numbers. Canada’s second largest 10K, the TC10k happens in April and boasts over 12,000 total participants including walkers and kid-runners who get their own 1.5K race. The TC10K is now expanding to include the half-marathon distance for its 25th anniversary race in 2014. There is also the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, half-marathon and 8K. They also offer a kid’s run. Again another 12,000 or so participants go at it, this time on Thanksgiving Day. There are several race series that happen on Vancouver Island with the largest being the Frontrunners Island Race Series, which provides eight road races that are as short as 5K to as long as the half-marathon distance, including the Bazan Bay 5K.

The Vikes often look for on-island events to compete in, which saves them from the complexities and costs of travelling off the island – not always an easy task. Additionally, the island is home to Canada’s most suitable weather for training as Victoria experiences the driest summers in Canada, having the least amount of rainfall; drier than the tip of the Sonoma Desert that extends into the bottom third of British Columbia. During the winter – although frost and snowfall can happen – it is rare and some years not a flake will be seen. When the snow does fall it is usually gone the next day. Finally, the city and the rest of the island (not near as small as one would think at roughly 460kms long), provides vistas, trails, mountains and hills for excellent on and off-road training. The city offers hundreds of kilometres of urban trails. In short, who wouldn’t want to train in the Victoria area? Hence the earlier comment about the Bazan Bay 5K race being fortunate in being able to attract a good number of local, but competitive athletes and participants of all abilities, without the lure of prize money or compensation.

Since 2010, seventeen of the top-50, 5K times run in Canada have taken place at the Bazan Bay 5K, for both the women’s and men’s rankings, including the fastest times overall. The fastest times (male and female) were both set in 2012 by Malindi Elmore and Geoff Martinson. They finished in 15:48 and 14:12, respectively. It could be argued that Bazan offers the fastest current road course in Canada.

The Bazan Bay 5K will typically host roughly 700 to 800 runners, who get to compete on the beautiful, oceanside out-and-back-route that is nearly flat and nearly straight – the only real turn is one, 180 degree turn-a-round located at the half-way point, which is fantastic for all participants as the leaders are visible to all as they make their way back to the finish line. The front end of the race often includes triathletes from NTC, as well as Vike team members and a collection of elite athletes from all over the island, but not many from Greater Vancouver.

Vancouver offers many of the same running and lifestyle benefits that Victoria does except there are more people as there are over seven times the population at 2.5 million (2011 census) to Victoria’s 344,321. With the greater population one would assume there would also exist a larger population of faster runners in Vancouver. So the question remains, would Martinson have run sub-14 if he would have been pressured by more competitive athletes?

The BC Endurance Project of Vancouver is headed by Coach Richard Lee. There is little doubt that at least a couple of his athletes would have challenged Martinson for the win. BCEP includes 2012 London Olympian and Canada’s fastest current marathon runner Dylan Wykes, as well as Rob Watson, who has run the marathon as fast as 2:13, twice. There is former UBC Thunderbird Luc Bruchet, who has improved significantly under Lee. BCEP also includes Kelly Wiebe from the University of Regina. He won the 2013 GoodLife Fitness Victoria half-marathon over Martinson with their respective times of 64:59 and 65:18. Wiebe has finished second in 2013 and fourth in 2012 at the National Cross Country Championships. He also won the 2012 CIS Cross Country Championships. These four athletes certainly would have challenged Martinson and if they had pushed him to a sub-14 at the 2014 Bazan Bay 5K, at least in theory, the race could have boasted four sub-14 minute 5K finishers – all without the lure of prize money – this would have been an attention-getting result, thereby providing excellent exposure.

Past winners have included Scott Simpson (twice) who is a former national 10,000 metre champion, four-time Olympian Simon Whitfield, who won gold in the Sydney Olympic Games. Also, two-time IAAF World Cross Country Championships competitor Jim Finlayson and Graham Hood, one of the best ever middle-distance runners for Canada, who starred with the legendary University of Arkansas Razorbacks under famed Coach John McDonnell. Hood is a two-time Olympian.  All of these winners were based in Victoria during the years that they won the Bazan Bay 5K.

Women who have won the race recently are Erin Burrett from Nanaimo, who ran a personal best time of 16:35. She represented Canada at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Cross Country Championships (NACAC), helping Canada earn a silver medal. Ellen Pennock, a triathlete with NTC, won the 2013 event in 16:29. Paula Findlay – a national triathlete won in the time of 16:33. The course record was set in 2012 by Elmore who won in the time of 15:48. Elmore had a 16-year international career that included the Athens Olympic Games, 1998 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and a 5000 metre personal best of 15:12.12. She is the only off-island champion, being based in Kelowna, BC; she combined her trip to Victoria to race with visiting her parents who happen to live in the city.

In speculation, the powerful mainstream media attention as well as the potential social media activity that the race could have generated, would be advertising that the race would otherwise not be able to afford paying for. For example, the investment required to take up the equivalent in advertising space of one, half-page editorial, by buying ad space in a daily newspaper could range from $2,000 to $5,000; imagine the value of a dozen newspapers reporting on the event.

Mainstream media attention would have promoted the race for all levels of runners who are interested in running to the best of their ability. It is not just the elite athletes who want to finish well. Those who enjoy improving their performances span the entire field whether the athlete is competing in their own age-group, as a master, senior, junior or someone who is new to racing.

The most effective way to grow a community race like the Synergy Health Management Bazan Bay 5K with its fantastic course – possibly Canada’s fastest 5K route – is to generate news for the mainstream media to talk about as well as to create activity with social media. For many runners (not just elites), knowing where a fast, certified and well-organised event happens to be, is very important.

The Bazan event is indeed well-organised as the race starts on time, the post-race food is always outstanding and the awards ceremony – although could be wrapped up more expediently – runs like clockwork. The host club, Team West Coast, provide a fantastic event for runners from Vancouver Island. Growing the event by attracting off-island athletes should be a given and would provide invaluable province-wide and potentially nation-wide media attention for the event.

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