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Meet Tom Howard, winner of first three Vancouver Marathons

Tom Howard, who won the Vancouver Marathon in 1972, 1973 and 1974, still gets on the podium in his age group in the half-marathon. Photo: RUNVAN

Tom Howard, 70, of Surrey, B.C. won the first three editions of what is now the BMO Vancouver Marathon, back in 1972, 1973 and 1974, when it consisted of five and a half 8K loops around Stanley Park. He also competed in the marathon in the 1976 Olympics. This year Howard, now 70, despite some health setbacks, returned for the Vancouver Half-Marathon on May 5, finishing second in his age group, in 1:48.

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Howard, who lives on Vancouver Island with his wife, Cheryl (a rower who competed at the 1976 Olympics) and is a grandfather of eight, has been working his way back to running after some health setbacks, though he had run the Vancouver Half-Marathon a couple of other times in recent years.

Early days

Howard trained with the Richmond-based Kajaks Track and Field Club, founded by Olympians Doug and Diane Clement, in the late sixties. After traveling to Australia and Europe for a couple of years in 1970-71, Howard returned to the Vancouver area and resumed training with his old club. It was Clement’s idea that some of them should target the marathon, which is how Howard came to win his first marathon in the first iteration of the Vancouver race.

Tom Howard at Oktoberfest Marathon in Waterloo, Ont. in the mid-1960s. Photo: George Aitkin

The first Vancouver Marathon

“Somehwere around the 10-mile mark, there were four or five of us grouped together, and I just thought, this is a little slow for me, and I went off on my own and led the rest of the way,” Howard recalls. “At some point I was two or three minutes ahead, and then a fellow from Bellingham, Washington was closing quickly and I ended up winning by only about seven seconds.” Howard’s winning time was 2:24. He recalls that he spent the evening vomiting while his roommates went out celebrating.

Later successes

Howard went to the Canadian national marathon championships in ’72 and ’73, running against former Canadian marathon record-holder Jerome Drayton. In ’73 he successfully defended his Vancouver Marathon title, bringing his time down to 2:21. In 1974, he won again, in 2:14. In ’75 he won the bronze medal at the Pan Am Games in Mexico City. “That might have been my very best ever race because of the altitude,” says Howard. “The 1st and 2nd place finishers had both spent a lot of time at altitude, and I was a sea level guy, so it was a bit of a surprise that I was able to sneak in for a medal at that one.”

He finished 30th in 2:22:38 in the marathon at the 1976 Olympics (Drayton finished sixth that year, and the US’s Bill Rodgers finished 40th), and seventh at the 1979 Pan Am Games. Howard also ran the Boston Marathon three times, setting his personal best of 2:13:23 there in 1975.

Howard admits that though his last marathon was in 1988, he would love to run more marathons if his body will allow it. He also says he has come to enjoy trail running much more than road or track running in recent years.