Photograph by: Christina Ryan, Calgary Herald
CALGARY - The altitude hit Predrag Mladenovic of (Aloe Vera Canada Team) quicker than he thought.
Only two kilometres into Sunday’s 45th annual HSBC Calgary Marathon, the Serbian-born professional runner felt the elevation change from Toronto, his home for the past seven years.
It was the 37-year-old’s first time racing in Calgary, 1,048 metres above sea level, and he knew the rest of the race was going to hurt.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Mladenovic, who, regardless, was the first to finish the 42.2-kilometre circuit Sunday. “I really felt it from the start. After two-K, my legs worked well, but I couldn’t breathe.
“I was tired after 10-Ks and I had 32-K more,” said Mladenovic, who motored through a new course to top the field of about 1,350.
The fresh circuit design was one of several changes this year, the biggest of which was switching the race to Sunday from the event’s traditional time during the Calgary Stampede in July.
He crossed the finish line at Bridgeland’s Murdoch Park in two hours, 30 minutes and 15 seconds — significantly slower than his personal best, which was a 2:23:16 he clocked in the 2007 Mississauga Marathon.
“I was surprised,” said Mladenovic, who was cheered at the finish by a handful of his friends from Europe now living in Calgary.
“I couldn’t believe how I feel here . . . it feels like it’s 2,000 or 3,000 metres.”
Not only was the altitude change a challenge for Mladenovic and many other out-of-town runners, the race route led them to Shaganappi hill — an addition to the course this year in place of a flat loop into Shouldice Park.
The incline was a doozy according to Graeme Wilson, who finished second behind Mladenovic in 2:31:19.
“That giant hill took me off guard,” said the 38-year-old resident of East Vancouver, who came to Calgary with his wife Heidi and sons Emon, 3, and Noah, 1, to run the race for the first time.
“My strategy is to stay at a consistent pace and see who burns off at the back, rather than actually attacking and increasing the pace.”
Wilson, Calgarian Chad Kozak, and former two-time winner Jason Loutitt (2005 and 2006) were duking it out for second, third and fourth place while Mladenovic inched further and further ahead before breaking away entirely at the 35-km mark.
When Loutitt, formerly of Canmore, and of Vancouver Island, dropped out with a sore calf at the 30-km mark, Wilson and Kozak were left to fight for second and third.
Kozak, a 33-year-old Calgary engineer in his first HSBC marathon, managed third behind Wilson at 2:32:29, despite running on fumes. He was happy with Sunday’s performance, which bettered the 2:37:58 he posted at the Houston Marathon in January.
“It was a pretty good day,” he said. “I just ran out of gas in the last six K, Graeme dropped me with five or six K to go and I ended up third.
“The downhill on Shaganappi was worse than the uphill because the downhill rips the quad (muscles). And it hurts.”
Mladenovic, Wilson and Kozak earned $1,000, $750 and $500 cheques respectively. They also received $500, $300 and $200 for being the first-, second- and third-placed Canadians and landed immigrant runners — prize money which was new to this year’s race and given out in the men’s and women’s marathon, half-marathon and 10-km races.
Calgarian Melissa Kalyn cashed in big for claiming her first — and, perhaps, last — HSBC Calgary Marathon women’s title.
“I wanted to run it until I won it,” said Kalyn. “So, I was like, ‘Please, let this be the last time.’ “That was the goal.”
Having specialized in the 1,500 and 3,000 metres on the track and the five-km cross-country with the University of Calgary’s varsity track team, Kalyn ran the 2007 HSBC Calgary marathon in 3:04:52, but opted to run the 10-km last year and completed it in 39:50.
This year, the 25-year-old managed to squeeze in a few more three-hour training runs while she was finishing up her biological science degree at the U of C this spring.
It paid off and Kalyn finished in 3:02:39 — well ahead of No. 2 women’s marathoner Karen Kozak, wife of the third-placed finisher on the men’s side, who finished in 3:13:03.
“Shaganappi hill — not nice,” said Kalyn, grinning. “I heard a rumour that (local competitive runner and elite athlete co-ordinator of the race) Jeremy Deere put the hill in the course to make it more difficult.
“But it was a good course. It felt pretty good until 30 K, which is typical.”
Kalyn is putting her running plans on hold until after her wedding in August to Nathan Kendrick, a former Dino and local competitive runner.
Calgary’s Shannyn Clancey was third in 3:13:26.