Julia (Howard) Kawamoto will compete in her second ever Tely 10 Mile Road Race this Sunday morning, but unlike her first time through the famed course, she probably won’t be the first person across the finish line.
In 1997, as a 13-year-old, she and two friends registered as recreational walkers for the 70th running of the event. At the time, walkers were permitted to start some 30 to 45 minutes prior to the competitive runners.
So at 7:45 a.m., she and 115 walkers set off for Bannerman Road.
“Me and my friends had gone for a couple of three-kilometre runs around the odd trail... but at 13, you don’t think you’re going to be able to run a full 16 kilometres. We thought it was the thing to do in St. John’s,” recalled Kawamoto.
“I was planning on a walk-run, But I didn’t stop running the whole way.”
She ended up clocking a time of one hour, 30 minutes and 19 seconds, and thanks to the head start, crossed the finish line well ahead of the actual first-place finisher, Scott Young (50:32), runner-up and six-time winner Harold St. Croix (50:41), and miles ahead of the top female finisher, Susan King (1:04:01).
“When I came towards the finish line, I do recall seeing a few people looking confused, thinking ‘who is this person?’
“I think partly as a result of that, they changed the way they started the races so the actual first person to cross the finish line would be a runner, the actual winner,” she said with a laugh.
In the years following her unofficial win, Kawamoto turned her attention to track and field, establishing herself as an elite middle-distance runner specializing first in 800m and later in 1,500m events. After high school, she attended Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, where she went on to become a 10-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) All-American and was once named the school’s athlete of the year.
After her collegiate career wrapped up, Kawamoto began focusing on earning a place on the Canadian Olympic team for the 2008 Beijing Games, and, after that didn’t materialize, the 2012 London Olympic squad. As a result of the intense training, Kawamoto ended up with tendonisis in one of her ankles and her Olympic dreams were put on the shelf.
“It took a really long time to get over that injury,” she says of the injury, which is similar to tendonitis but with a significantly longer healing time required.
“During that time, I had a lot of time to think about what I was going to do next with my running and if I was ever going to be able to run competitively again, because it was taking so long.”
“Fell into” long-distance running
While track and field is now and always be her “one true love,” Kawamoto “fell into long distances as a result of trying to get back in shape again” after recovering from the tendonisis.
After running a scattered race in 2013, she’s entered and won three local races this summer, starting with the Athletics Northeast one-mile road race. Since then, Kawamoto has been the top female finisher in the Molson Canadian 67 Mews Memorial 8K (27:01, 6th overall) and Garnish 10K (36:26, 4th overall).
“I’m justing getting my feet wet over the longer distances, really. It’s sort of a change in my relationship with running at this point. I’m looking forward to new challenges within running that I’ve never had before.”
The Tely 10 wasn’t a goal of hers this year. In fact, entering was something of a last-minute decision and even now, she admits to not feeling “super-prepared to run such a long distance.”
But with promising results behind her, Kawamoto is looking forward to seeing what kind of results she can put up in a deep women’s field led by two-time ladies champ Kate Bazeley.
“I have great respect for Kate. She’s ran some excellent times over the longer distances and she’ll be an excellent competitor to have there on race day.”
“If she goes for the record, I can’t say what my strategy will be,” Kawamoto explained. “I’m going to make an attempt to go with her, but it’ll come down to how I’m feeling on the day.
“What happens after 10K is anyone’s guess.