by Alison Conway
Malindi Elmore, from my home town, smashed the Canadian women’s marathon record on Sunday, running a blistering 2:24:50. Canadian Running observed that it has been a spectacular year for Canadian women runners. Twenty records have fallen over the past thirteen months. In Houston, as Malindi was crushing the marathon, Natasha Wodak became the first Canadian woman to run the half marathon in under 70 minutes.
Fingers crossed, Malindi will run for Canada in Japan this summer, and I know the Kelowna running community will be glued to the live stream when she races. The success of our home-town superstar reflects the achievements of a larger group of amazing women runners of all ages and stages. Liz Borrett, age 80, ran the Boston and London marathons back to back last April, winning her age group at both races. Christy Lovig was the top Canadian woman at the New York marathon in November. Diane Leonard, age-group winner of the 2017 Boston, was declared Grand Master of the Maui marathon the same day Malindi broke the tape in Houston. Kelowna is home to Cindy Rhodes, six-time winner of the Victoria marathon.
I have often speculated that there is something in the Okanagan water that makes for such greatness. But having run with the Kelowna Running Club for the past two years, I’m pretty sure it’s about the running community, a community that has fostered women’s running for decades, even when running—especially the marathon—was all about men. The loneliness of the long-distance runner is well documented, but in this place, everyone has your back, whether it’s Park Run or Boston that you want to race.
When I moved to Kelowna, my friends in Ontario warned me: “Those people out there, they’re not kidding.” And it’s true—they aren’t. They race to win. And racing to win is not for everyone. But the joy of racing, at any level, is the about the joy of testing your limits. And for me, testing limits and gaining confidence in the face of adversity (currently, the fresh hell that is the marathon), is part of the feminist work I undertake as a daily practice. The women of Kelowna push me forward when I want to step back. Of my half marathon performance in the fall, a running friend observed, “I thought you would do better.” When I say these words to myself, they are part of a language of self-criticism and defeat. When I hear them from a friend, they motivate me to reach the standard she has set for me. The same is true on a long run. When a Boston veteran tells me I had better pick it up for the last five kilometres of a 20 km run, you can be sure I get my ass in gear. I run harder because the women of Kelowna believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself.
On Sunday, while Malindi was chasing her PB in Houston, I was running a half marathon in California, and Diane was running her full in Maui. I thought of my fellow Kelowna women as I ran, knowing that all three of us were suffering. As I reached mile ten, a woman came up on my shoulder. “Let’s pass these guys,” she said, nodding at the men in front of us. In that moment, I remembered what is distinctly feminist, for me, about racing. Women prove, by their efforts, that they have great strength, strength that often goes unrecognized and unrewarded in our culture. We prove that we are determined to overcome the barriers we encounter. We prove that we will get to the finish line, one way or another, with the help of our friends and allies. Approaching the end of my race in Pasadena, I saw a young woman in front of me struggling. “You’ve got this,” I said as I came up beside her, and she took off. I kept her in my sites as I ran for my PB. I was doing my thing, and she was doing hers. But we were doing it together.
Alison Conway works and runs in Kelowna, BC.