Thirty-three years ago Qualicum Beach resident Robin Pearson and a couple of his running cronies decided it was time Victoria hosted its own marathon.
Fast forward to last Saturday and Pearson, 65, was front and centre at the Fairmont Empress’ Crystal Ballroom being introduced as a founder “and a pioneer” of the Royal Victoria Marathon (renamed last year the Good Life Fitness Victoria Marathon) as a special guest at the annaul gala carbo-loading dinner the night before the race.
“I grew up in Victoria and was running marathons at the time with a small group; we would run Vancouver, Portland, wherever we could find (a distance race). We would run trails, we did all kinds of stuff,” he recently told The News.
Around then he said that he and two others — Alex Marshall and the late Bruce ‘Gunner’ Shaw — started talking about a Victoria marathon.
“Originally we just ran for the YM/YWCA, and then in 1978 the three of us formed the Prairie Inn Harriers,” he explained, rightfully proud that what began with a team of three has grown to the largest running club on the Island numbering nearly 800.
“I guess we’d been running the club a couple years, and Alex and myself really wanted a marathon in Victoria. So I drew up a map of a course,” he recalled and laid out a dog-eared photocopy of the original.
“When I started this I thought okay, there’s about 12 of us in Victoria that run distance, and I thought if we can get a few guys from Vancouver, maybe a few from Seattle, you know maybe get a hundred guys,” he chuckled. “I had no idea it would be like this.”
Pressed for some insight into his passion for the sport, Pearson was, as always, as modest as he is honest when he said “I was a very good runner, but I was just back of the elites. On a really good day I could see the elite runners at the finish, and on a not so good day I’d be leading the second pack.”
The sport, he said, “was a huge part of my life — I defined myself as a runner for quite a while.”
Pearson said it took about two years to pull what became known simply as ‘the Royal Vic’ together, and yes the logistics were tricky.
Longtime Island runner and legendary mentor Bob Reid has been on the race committee since it was formed and has been the race director for years. A past-president of the Victoria Marathon Society, he was also the first person to join the Harriers — of which he is the current president and still an active member — after the original three, and it was Reid who wrote the speech for Saturday’s big gala, which was presented by Steve King, the voice of B.C. running.
The inaugural Royal Victoria Marathon was held Sept. 20, 1980 and was billed as ‘a Race with Class,’ “which is exactly what it remains.”
That year also marked the inaugural Prairie Inn Harriers 8K which Pearson also helped pull together.
“It felt great — it was amazing,” Pearson beamed when asked about the emotions connected to that day.
Tom Howard won that first race with a time of 2:21.45. Winnipeg’s Thomas Omwenga was the fastest on the day this year at 2:20.41.
After the first race the committee put out a training manual — Pearson, the only one of the three founders on that committee, led some of the training groups, and also provided illustrations and photos to the manual.
The Royal Victoria Marathon points out Reid, has grown from 681 finishers in 1980 to a regular field over 12,000 participants.
Worth noting is that the Victoria marathon now brings in about $7 million in economic benefits to the city.
Pearson was in charge of graphic design, a skill he developed during his career as a draftsman for BC Tel.
Around 300 people turned out for the carb loading dinner on Saturday.
Making the trip with Robin was his wife Vicki.
“He should be very proud of what he did,” she said.
A knee injury prevents Pearson from running long distance these days, “but I can sprint, so I play ball and I love it,” he said. Pearson’s PGOSA team has medaled in three of the last four BC Seniors Games. He and Vicki are well know in these parts for their ongoing efforts to provide baseball equipment to the kids of La Manzanilla, Mexico, where they winter.
At the gala Pearson was presented the original course map he drew along with a commemorative jacket.
“Thank you Robin,” MC King told those on hand at the gala, “for your foresight and for the gift that you have given the thousands of runners that will be taking to the streets of Victoria tomorrow morning.”