Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 1 Oct 1999 09:06:41 -0400

From Here to 2001

(from RC 289)

One of the great attractions of road racing is that we can follow in the footsteps of the the world's best runners. We can't play catch in Yankee Stadium or play touch football in Mile-High Stadium, but we can run the same courses as athletes who finish in half our time.

How often, though, do we get to lead them? It happened this summer at the Edmonton Festival Marathon in Alberta, where everyday runners led the elite by almost two years.

Edmonton will host the 2001 World Championships, an Olympic-level meet that includes marathons for both men and women. Their course is set, and it had its first test run in August.

This is the closest any of us can come to covering historic ground (or history-to-be, in this case) on this continent. The Los Angeles Marathon now finishes far from the 1932 and '84 Olympic site. The Atlanta Marathon can't use the track where the 1996 Games started and finished because the track is gone, along with half of the stadium.

The Edmonton Festival Marathon begins where the Worlds will start and finishes where these races will end, and goes most of the same places in between. Come along on a quick tour of this course. Better yet, come up and run it yourself next summer (or possibly in 2001 if the annual marathon can be moved to an earlier-than-normal date) when you too can lead the world's best.

The marathon departs from and returns to Commonwealth Stadium -- not to be confused with older and smaller Clarke Stadium next door. Clarke, which will serve as the final warmup site for the Worlds, has a history of its own. Track scenes for the Billy Mills biographical movie "Running Brave" were filmed here.

The newer stadium, seating about 65,000, was built to host the 1978 Commonwealth Games. It also housed the World University Games five years later but now serves mainly as home to the Edmonton Eskimos pro football team.

After starting inside the stadium, the course passes high above a river valley cut by the North Saskatchewan River. The race can't follow the trails along the river; they're too narrow for that but are the best place in the city to train and are only minutes from the downtown hotels.

The run through downtown comes early. The route then reaches the city's prime commercial attraction, the West Edmonton Mall, at about 15 kilometers. This is the world's largest shopping complex.

The only significant hills come between 21-K and 29-K. The first is a long downhill, bottoming at river level for a circuit of Hawrelak Park. This will be the scene of the 2001 World Triathlon Championships, just two weeks before track's Worlds.

Coming out of the park, the course climbs again for about two kilometers to the nearly flat rim above the valley. Key passages on the final third of the distance: Alberta School for the Deaf, site of another practice track now being built... the University of Alberta, which will house the athletes' village... the Running Room store, mother church of a nationwide chain... the High-Level Bridge, hundreds of feet above the water and featuring an artificial waterfall in midspan... the provincial capital buildings, alongside a short and sneaky-tough hill coming off the bridge.

The track where the marathon ends is now a quarter-mile of rough road. But it will become state-of-the-art, possibly in time for the next Edmonton Festival Marathon.

A new Jumbotron is already in place, and it gave each finishing runner a few seconds of glory this year. Come and see yourself next time, live and in color on the big screen.


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