IRA 40th ANNIVERSARY Speech at the Midsummer 8K
First, congratulations to all who ran today. Whether you came in first or last in your age class is not important. Just finishing is important, as it means that your fitness and your health, is miles ahead of the average person.
Forty years ago, a group of runners from Kamloops, Penticton, Vernon and Kelowna got together at the Royal Anne Hotel and started the Interior Running Association. The idea was to take existing races held throughout the Okanagan and incorporate them into a road running and a cross country running series. Doug Smith from Kamloops was the first president, I took the reins in the second year and was President for most of the next 20 years.
The race you ran today was in the series the very first year, it was a 10K and was called the Pre-Regatta run. Over the years it has been run as an 8K and a 10K. Also, in that first year of the series was the first running of the late, lamented, Peak To Peak Run which I founded and organized for its first 15 years. The first Peak To Peak, which started at the top of Knox Mountain and finished at Mission Hill Winery at the top of Mount Boucherie, was an all Kelowna race. This race was won by Al Barrie who now lives on the Island, second was Mike Whitaker who is still, at 82, a keen runner and supporter of the KRC, as is John Lopes who came in third. There were 60 runners in that first race but by the 15 year mark we had had a few years of over 300 runners.
Over the years there have been many races that have come and gone in the series, races in Revelstoke, Grand Forks, Barriere, Armstrong, Summerland, Okanagan Falls and the very tough, tough Coalmont to Princeton race. We even had the Kamloops Marathon and the Kelowna Half Marathon as a part of the series for a few years.
In those early years, we often had larger numbers of participants than we have today, as our runs were the only game in town. As our population expanded and running grew as a participation sport other runs sprang up around the valley and while we welcomed them, they did affect our numbers.
There are a few runners who ran in the first IRA series 40 years ago who are still active today. Penticton’s Allan Kerr, who now is in his 80s, is still running races and winning, as he always has. Tom Reid who was the first president of the Vernon Pacers. Also, my two best running friends, Mike Whitaker and John Lopes. I raced until I was 72 when an old knee injury from my university days raised its ugly head. I had to quit my beloved sport and switch to cycling. It was very tough to face the fact that my running days were over, as running had been so important to me for much of my life. However, I now enjoy my cycling and believe that it is a better endurance sport for people past 70 as it is easier on the body. I still compete in cycling events and last Sunday won my 80+ age class in the 122 KM Okanagan Granfondo.
The Interior Running Series has been the birthplace of many exceptional runners. This includes Cindy Rhodes our current IRA President and who was, until the great Malindi Elmore came along, the finest female runner in the Okanagan’s history. One of the greatest male runners Canada has ever had, Phil Ellis, ran in our series in the very first year. In the 1983 Kelowna Half-Marathon he surprised everyone by leading for a while and, at only 15 years old, finishing fourth. Ken French, who was the dominant Okanagan male runner at that time and an Ex Team Canada runner, and I were in awe of his performance. I suggested that Ken take Phil under his wing and help him with his training. Phil held the Canadian 5K record of 13:57 for 16 years, and when it was finally broken it was by only 3 seconds. Phil also, won the Harry Jerome track meet 10K in 28:40, the third fastest 10K time ever in Canada. Phil still holds the course records at the Peak to Peak, the Penticton 10 Miler, and for this run when it was a 10K. Phil was recently inducted into the Central Okanagan Hall Sports Of Fame.
During the first several years of the series, we had only 3 runners in what was then the Senior men (50+) category. We all thought they were amazing! In today’s race we have 6 runners over 80! Peter Benson, Tom Reid, Shelly Herard, Robert Mayne. Also, Jim Lawrence and Nina Larson who are in the 85+ class. Nina had a great run finishing ahead of 41 younger runners in a wonderful time of 55:36.
It has been a great 40 years for Okanagan runners!
I know that with Cindy Rhodes as IRA President the immediate future of the series is in good hands!
I hope that the Interior Running Association continues to have the same good leadership and success over the next several decades.
Written by Bill Stephens
Speech at the Midsummer 8K
July 16, 2023