More than 150 hearty runners, most sporting multiple layers of clothing topped with toques and many wrapped in scarves, took to chilly city streets Sunday morning for the fourth and final instalment of this year’s Orillia Snowflake Series.
And while bone-chilling temperatures kept a few people away, the lengthy cold snap which has kept local residents in its grip for two weeks did not deter most runners, said Jeff Taylor, who helps organize the popular event on behalf of the Rotaract Club of Orillia.
“This year has definitely been really cold,” Taylor said of the four-race series which started Dec. 3. “I spoke with the previous organizer and she said she didn’t remember a year that was this cold. It has, unfortunately, impacted our numbers, but the regular, committed people – many who have been participating since Year 1 – continue to come out.”
Taylor said the series, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has persevered through snowstorms, sleet, wind and rain. “I think it just encourages a lot of people, especially over the holiday season, to get out and stay active no matter the weather. It provides some accountability when people have to pre-register … people just love it.”
The series – the only winter race series of its kind in Canada – has always been open to people of all ages and abilities. It’s also become a family affair for many. “One thing we’ve really tried to do is encourage families to participate together,” said Taylor. “As you saw today, there are a lot of families that run together, so we’ve incorporated a family rate and kept that rate the same to encourage kids.”
Since its humble origins in the early 1990s, the race has also served as a fundraiser for community causes. Last year, the event raised more than $5,500 for The Sharing Place food bank and a $500 donation was made to help a resident participate in a unique introduction series to post-secondary education at Lakehead University.
“All the money goes back into the community,” said Taylor. “We’re all volunteers and we’re all committed to this event.”
This was the third winter that Rotaract volunteers have organized the event after they took the reins from long-time organizer Lisa Avery. During that time, a new chip timing system was introduced and, this year, a new website (snowflakeseries.com) was created. “The electronic chip timing was something that the runners really wanted and that has been well received,” said Taylor, who encourages willing volunteers to step up and help by going to the website.
This year’s four-race series culminated after Sunday’s five-kilometre race with an awards celebration at Orillia’s Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 34).