The cheers swelled up from the crowd in University Stadium's stands as the lean man came into view, a standout in his lime-green shoes and in his speed.
He pressed on in the final stretch of track, legs pushing past the dozens of runners jogging the final metres of their half-marathon. Then, two hours, 28 minutes and 17 seconds after he started, Evans Maiko punched through the finish line as the winner of the men's Manitoba Marathon.
Twenty seconds later, Winnipeg runner Brian Walker crossed the line, finishing second for the second year in a row. The two men had been neck and neck all down the course. But though Maiko, 31, had never ran a full marathon before, the Kenyan came to Manitoba to win, driven by the encouraging words of friend Thomas Omwenga, who won last year.
"He told me, you can win, it's a nice (course)," said Maiko, who trains in Hamilton, Ont. "I am happy with my time, because I was not training for a marathon, I was training only 10 kilometres and half-marathons... maybe next year I will try to run 2:15."
The triumph of Maiko's body, in that moment, was echoed by the man who hung a medal around his neck. For years, 76-year-old Ron Latter was a familiar face on the province's marathon scene: he ran the first Manitoba event in 1979 and went on to organize the Grand Beach Sun Run while finishing about a dozen marathons of his own.
Then in 2002, a terrifying moment: Latter collapsed only a kilometre into the race, felled by a heart attack that would force him into major heart surgery and rehab.
He survived -- and this year, he returned to the marathon as a volunteer. "I'm very proud to be here," Latter said, waiting alongside wife Elaine for the winners to arrive. "It's my first year back, and I think it's marvellous."
Even as Latter readied to bestow the medal on Maiko, another marathon winner was on the way. Gina Tranquada broke the tape at 3:02:03, the first woman to cross the line of the full race. It's the second time the Winnipegger, who works at St. Amant Centre, has taken top place -- she won in 2011 with an even faster run. This year, she was gunning for a time of 2:55, but said she was nonetheless pleased with the result.
"I think I started too fast, so I bit the bullet at the end of the race," Tranquada said, as she waited for her father to finish his half-marathon run. "On race day, you need everything to align to get that time. So I'm happy running as hard as I could today. My first few marathons it was all about time... now it's become just more about having fun and the experience."
Wheeling to win
OF course, Maiko and Tranquada were not the first winners to cross the line on the warm but windy Sunday morning. Before them, there was Saskatoon's Dale Schiissler, 62, who started training for a full wheelchair marathon just three years ago and cruised to first place in his first try. His time: 1:44:31. "I do it for trying to keep in shape," Schiissler said, describing the course as a "nice look at Winnipeg."
There was Darolyn Walker, who hoisted her 18-month-old son, Braeden, on her shoulder to accept her winner's medal of the women's half-marathon. "It feels good," said Walker, 31, whose time of 1:26:42 fell just a touch short of the 1:23 mark she ran earlier this year. "A little slow, but it's to be expected given the heat."
Just under 16 minutes before Walker took her final step of the race, Corey Gallagher's feet crossed the line to defend his title as men's half-marathon champ -- though he admitted it wasn't easy.
"I guess going to UFC last night wasn't a good idea," the 26-year-old 'Pegger said with a laugh, noting he stayed awake until 1:30 a.m. to take in the spectacle. "I fell apart pretty hard... one more mile and I would have been done."
One more mile, one more metre, one more step towards the wall runners face down in themselves -- this is what the marathon is about. It is what makes the sweat, and heat and the trails of blood spilled from chafed skin worth the living. It's what makes the streaks of sawdust marking the resting places of exhausted vomit bloom, and what makes those stomach-churning seconds just as quickly forgotten in the sea of colours, and faces, and arms raised over ecstatic smiles.
In all, 13,390 people signed up for that experience this year, including 673 runners in the full marathon and 3,865 for the half. They ranged from elites such as Maiko to tykes trotting through the 2.6-mile Super Run alongside doting parents. They came from across Canada, the U.S. and as many as 15 countries worldwide, organizers said.
"We had people from all over the world this year," said marathon director Shirley Lumb. "We're getting known as a good marathon, which is awesome for us."
All these people who ran, ran for so many things. They ran to celebrate their lives, and love and love that has passed. "My dad came to almost all my races," said Steinbach triathlete Les Friesen, 31, who paced through the half-marathon in a white top bearing his father's name and life-dates, 1943 to 2012. "Thinking about him on the course definitely kept me from stopping... my dad had cancer for a long time and was in a lot of pain. When I was hurting, I thought about that."
'Because I can'
SOME runners, well, they ran to show they still could.
At 2:52:24, a wall of bright pink washed over the finish line: Deb Pfrimmer, 49, her husband, Paul, and daughter, Amanda, 18, crossed as they clutched hands. This, for the family, is old hat: Deb, 49, and her twin sister, Donna Bell, ran the first Manitoba Marathon in 1979, and they've been running ever since, eventually bringing husbands and children into the act.
So much is running a part of their lives that when Deb was diagnosed with lymphoma three months ago, she never considered staying home. Instead, she went through her first two rounds of chemotherapy, pulled a cap over her freshly bald head and cut her usual full run back to the half-marathon. "I knew I was going to do today, I just didn't know how bad I was going to feel," said Pfrimmer, relaxing by the sprawling RV her family takes to races as she waited for Donna and son, Evan Pfrimmer, to complete the full race.
In the end, though Deb's half-marathon time was slower than she normally runs, she still finished. And this year at least, that was enough.
"It's a little humbling, but I know why I run -- because I can," Pfrimmer said, as she waited for her sister and family from the full marathons to finish. "Exercising as much as I can do helps me with my treatment, so anybody who's going through this... even when you feel like you can't do it, you can do it."