When Sarah Norfolk joined a spring running group a few years ago, she’d have laughed if you told her she would be running a half marathon two months later.
“I didn’t even know what a half marathon was,” said Norfolk.
But, two months later, that’s just where Norfolk found herself, completing the 21.0975-kilometre run for the first time in her life in the Run the Great Lakes fundraiser.
“It was much more than I ever expected I would be able to do,” said Norfolk, 33.
Doug Richardson said he hears stories like that year after year.
Richardson, who organizes Run the Great Lakes, said the June run has become a bit of a right of passage for many local beginners. The event offers five-kilometre, 10-kilometre and half-marathon lengths, which participants are entitled to run or walk, at their discretion. For some, he said, it’s the first real race they run, and for many it gets them hooked.
“They all are quite surprised how much better they do on run day, on race day,” said Richardson.
Upwards of 225 people are expected to take part in the 14th annual Run the Great Lakes on June 3. It’s a fundraiser for the Lung Association and Sault Athletics youth track club.
Every year, a group of 25 or more novice runners starts training in early spring, with the goal of finishing the five-kilometre portion of Run the Great Lakes. The running group is organized by Athlete’s Foot in Station Mall, which Richardson and his sons Mark and Steve own and operate.
That’s where Norfolk trained for her first big run, and it’s where her running partner, Janis Gartshore, got into the sport as well.
Gartshore, 36, first ran the five-kilometre seven years ago and has since become a dedicated runner - to the point, four years ago, of completing the half-marathon while five months pregnant.
“Doug (Richardson) was kind enough to give me two medals - one for me and one for the baby,” said Gartshore.
Norfolk, who started running after she had her second child, “just to try and be healthier,” signed up again for last year’s running group and did her second half marathon at the 2011 Run the Great Lakes. In the fall, she competed in her first full marathon in Detroit.
She’ll run the half again at this year’s Run the Great Lakes and she and Gartshore will train this summer for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in the fall.
“It just got to be enjoyable. I guess, kind of addictive,” said Norfolk.
It’s how Nathan Mudge got started. Mudge, who helps run the running group, has gone on to become a competitive long-distance running, competing in numerous marathons, including the Boston Marathon, where he placed ?176th among 26,907 runners last year.
“Before (Run the Great Lakes), I though all runners were kinda nuts,” said Mudge, who won the half-marathon at Run the Great Lakes for the first time last year.
Richardson, 58, was himself a longtime competitive runner until arthritis slowed him down. He’s getting back into running now, though as organizer of next month’s run, he won’t be competing.
He said that while some come out to the run to compete, the recreational runners are the fundraiser’s bread and butter.
“We wouldn’t be able to put on the event if we just catered to racers,” said Richardson.
To attract more runners, the event this year features a corporate challenge sponsored by Delta Waterfront Hotel and Conference Centre, with prizes for the businesses with the largest teams.
Richardson said he hopes to attract as many as 300 participants this time around.
Registration takes place June 2 from 2-5 p.m. in front of the Athlete’s Foot in Station Mall. To pre-register, call the store at 705-942-3934.
Entry fee is $25 for the 5-kilometre and 10-kilometre, and $35 for the half-marathon if you sign up before May 21.