When Jonathan Torchia started planning the first annual Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Half Marathon, he was hoping for 500 people to sign up.
So imagine his surprise upon learning that more than 1,600 runners are expected to hit the streets of Charleswood for the Sat., Oct. 20 event.
"These are numbers I anticipated for year five, not year one," Torchia said with a laugh prior to the race, noting it’s also the first time he’s planned such an event.
"It’s very overwhelming. It’s unbelievable. It’s going to be a great event and a huge success."
The 25-year-old Charleswood resident, an avid marathon runner and three-year WFPS member, began lacing up the event particulars in February, approaching city executives and WFPS officials to green light the event, which will support the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba.
Torchia chose to support Heart and Stroke for both personal and professional reasons — his grandfather suffered a stroke five years ago, and recently passed away, and the WFPS already has a close working relationship with the agency, he said.
"It was tough with my family," he said. "Since then I’ve been an advocate for the foundation and its work."
Torchia expects to raise about $30,000 for the foundation.
The half marathon will begin at 9 a.m. at the Canadian Mennonite University in Tuxedo.
Runners will run up Shaftesbury Boulevard to Corydon Avenue and into the Assiniboine Forest onto the Preston and Harte trails before finding themselves on the back roads of Charleswood — including Rannock, Eldridge, Ridgewood, Elmhurst and more — before making their way back to CMU.
The Charleswood community needs a yearly marquee event that attracts people from across the city, Torchia said.
"I think running down the Harte Trail in the fall is absolutely beautiful, and I wanted a staple event for Charleswood itself," he said.
"It’s a great opportunity, and a cornerstone for the community and residents involved."
The marathon will also be a first for 44-year-old Blaine Sliwany.
Sliwany was encouraged to sign up by his neighbours who, over the last year, have put him through grueling four- and eight-kilometre runs thrice weekly to improve his health.
"A year ago, I’d never run in my life," said Sliwany, who works in construction and who lived in Charleswood for 12 years before recently moving to The Oaks.
"I was out of shape, gaining weight. I was in the worst shape of my life."
Sliwany admits the 6 a.m. starts didn’t come easy.
"I hated it. I hated waking up at 6 am, I hated the run," he said.
"But it slowly started getting better, and I was getting into it more."
Sliwany has lost 20 pounds, and has improved his endurance and his energy levels. He and his neighbours have been running 15-kilometre trials on the weekend in preparation for the 20-kilometre marathon.
Sliwany hopes to see a big turnout from the Charleswood community.
"Living in Charleswood, I notice anytime there was a festival, a lot of people would turn up for that," he said.
"That’s what people in Charleswood do. They support the community and I really loved living in Charleswood for that reason."
The marathon will also include a five-kilometre and 10-kilometre route.
For more, visit www.wfpshalfmarathon.com.