Jim Van Bakel was the surprise winner at the 39th annual Labour Day Classic.
"I've never won a long distance race that's why it's a bit of a shock," said the 38 year old. "I think that a lot of the good runners weren't here."
Van Bakel was one of 138 competitors taking part in the annual Classic run/walk event held in downtown Prince George on Sunday.
Van Bakel moved to Prince George from Edmonton about a year ago and credited his work colleagues and training partners Shar Jackson and Jacqui Benson with helping him earn his first 17-mile run win in a time of one hour, 57 minutes and 37 seconds (1:57:37).
"Just running with both of them is teaching me a lot," said Van Bakel.
Jackson, the 2011 women's 17-mile winner, chose to take this year off, which opened the door for Benson to capture first place for women in 1:58:48. The two Prince George women have alternated winning the distance race since 2009.
Van Bakel said there was a bit of a friendly competition as he and Benson ran the first portion of the race side by side.
"We talked most of the first lap but there wasn't nearly as much talking on the second lap when I think everybody kind of picked it up a little bit," said Van Bakel. "We ran together most of the way until probably with four miles left. I actually thought that she was going to take off with me when I kind of picked it up a little bit."
Before arriving in Prince George, Van Bakel said he ran with a masters sprint group in Edmonton so the long distance run was something new for him.
In addition to the 17-mile distance the Classic also had a five-kilometre run, an 8.5-mile walk and a run of the same distance and a 3x3 kilometre relay.
Angela Wheeler of Vanderhoof was the women's 8.5 mile run winner in a time of 1:02:48, while a father-son duo from Vanderhoof ran away with the men's 8-5 mile and the five km run trophies.
Brian and Alexander Nemethy showed running is in the genes as Brian finished the 8.5 in 0:51:49 while his son completed the five km sprint in 0:17:48.
"It's a lot of fun," said the elder Nemethy. "It's not like I'm trying to beat him or he's trying to beat me; we're just trying to do our best times."
In the shorter sprints Alexander usually finishes ahead of his dad but the 51 year old has bragging rights in distance events. It was a family day Sunday for the Nemethys as mom Wanda did the 8.5 mile run (1:03:43) and their youngest son Simon ran with the NVSS cross country team in the 3x3 km relay (1:02:45).
Brian said he was using the Classic to gage his time and compare it to last year so he knows what he needs to do before competing in the Victoria half marathon, Oct. 6-7, while Alex is gearing up for the Nechako Valley secondary school cross country season - races that are generally six to six and a half kilometres.
The 15 year old will be a favourite at the 2012 B.C. High School Cross Country Championship, Nov. 3, which will be hosted by the NVSS Vikings at the D.P. Todd secondary school field due to the more than 600 athletes from across the province that will compete.
"I like to just go out there and do my thing trying to beat my best time," said Alexander.
It's his goal to win the cross country zone championship, also held at D.P. Todd, in mid-October and then place in the top 10 at provincials.
"It's going to be really hard because there are a lot of really fast guys in the Vancouver area," said the Grade 10 student. "Last year [at provincials], I didn't have such a good race because I had a side cramp and ended up finishing ninth."
Other runners in the Classic included brothers Nick and Austin Bartell who finished the 8.5 mile run in second and fourth, respectively, in times of 0:52:13 and 0:56:09. In sixth place was Inner City Boxing Club fighter Jag Seehra (0:57:41).
The next race in Prince George is the Masich Mile, Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m., while the 2012 Mad Moose Marathon is Sept. 23. Van Bakel and Brian Nemethy are two of the four runners who had signed up for the Masich Mile, while there are 41 names listed for the Mad Moose - half, full or ultra (63 km) marathons.
To register online for either the Masich Mile or the Mad Moose visit the Stride and Glide Sports website at www.strideandglide.ca and click on the events link.