The group is only loosely organized and there are no prizes for participation in the event, yet runners in Fort St. James took the road on Mother’s Day morning for a 39th annual event in which teams of eight run a relay-type event, covering the 62 kilometers from Fort St. James to Vanderhoof.
“There’s no money, no entry fee, no prizes and pretty much no advertising,” said Keith Gordon, the organizer of the event.
In fact, there is not really even a formal name for the event, although it’s commonly known as the Fort to Vanderhoof relay.
“The race was founded back in 1977 by a schoolteacher in the Fort. his name was Gordon Rennie and he was a big-time runner and wanted to do something different,” said Gordon.
Although the race has typically been run on Mother’s Day, it claims no connection with the occasion, instead having been chosen to allow for a two week recovery period following the Vancouver Marathon.
“Next year it will be our 40th anniversary and, because we alternate routes every year, we’ll be starting out in Vanderhoof and ending up in Fort St. James. Maybe we’ll have a special anniversary celebration or something,” said Gordon with a chuckle.
The relay does make note of the completion times for the runners and this year Yvonne Gilbert’s “Champions” came in first with a total time of 5:14:22. Next across the line was Team Advil, co-ordinated by Rhona Boyd, and presumably named for the inevitable need for the pain medication following the race. They finished in a respectable 5:24:37.
Finally, Peter van Zyl’s team, The Allied’s, finished only minutes behind the second place team with a time of 5:24:52.
According to Gordon (in a previous interview with Black Press) the race has had three occasions where a single runner has completed all eight stages of the race. There have also been instances when teams of elite runners have banded together and finished the race in less than four hours.
“It’s really not about speed,” said Gordon. “It’s about community and fun. No one involved in this past race had any illusions about being elite runners or setting any records.”
That’s not to say that some runners didn’t distinguish themselves.
Craig Houghton, the principal at Fort St. James Secondary was on a team with only seven members so he naturally volunteered to run two legs of the race.
“We also had two young men ride their bikes the full distance, and that’s quite an accomplishment as well,” noted Gordon.
Gordon, now 66, has been a runner for the past 38 years and over that time has seen the relay change with the times.
“WE’ve had years when running became really popular for some reason and we had a lot more team. We’ve also had years where more elite teams have entered. These days the teams are largely put together by word of mouth and people are just out there to have fun.”
Gordon’s one goal for the 40th running of the relay in 2019 is to inspire more Vanderhoof runners to join in that fun so that the race could truly link the two communities.