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Marathon truly a family affair

Matthew and Jessica Van Mulligen are eager to follow in their daddy’s footsteps on the distance running circuit.
Jessica Van Mulligen

Matthew and Jessica Van Mulligen are eager to follow in their daddy’s footsteps on the distance running circuit.

For the second year in a row, the 13-year-old twins have joined father John Van Mulligen in the Woody’s RV World Marathon and Half Marathon held Sunday in Red Deer.

Matthew said he was inspired by his father to start running. After all, his father helped found the event, now in its 11th year.

And it didn’t take much prodding from his father to lace up. Matthew is an all-round athlete.

In January, Matthew began training four or five times a week for the half marathon. His sister did the same kind of effort.

“I do short runs and then run a long run every week,” said Matthew.

And the training, which Matthew says isn’t that gruelling, has paid off.

Last year, he placed first in the 19-and-under category after finishing in at just over one hour, 37 minutes. He bettered his finish this year with a one hour, 33 minute finish.

Jessica also finished quicker than last year, coming in at two hours, three minutes. Part of her game plan involves resting up the day before and eating lots of carbohydrates prepared by her mother. On race day, the teen tries to set a good pace without running too fast.

“I really like getting out and challenging myself, especially the last part of the run,” said Jessica.

Jessica also enjoys dancing and playing on all the sports teams at Gateway Christian School, where her brother also attends.

Both children figure they’ll keep running well into their adulthood. John Van Mulligen said he’s proud that his children take such a dedicated interest in marathon running and sports in general.

“He doesn’t push them, but helps them by encouraging them,” said wife Loree, who supports her family from the sidelines.

Van Mulligen, 55, donned his runners in 1979 and since then has competed in 73 marathon/half marathon events and seven Ironmans. This August, he will enter Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C. which involves a 3.8-km swim, 180-km cycle and 42.2-km run.

He remembers when he kicked off the first Red Deer marathon event in 1999. There were 555 runners then, he said.

Sunday’s event attracted more than 1,100 runners for the 13-km half-marathon and 42-km marathon.

Almost 500 runners from Central Alberta were joined by participants as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The participants consumed a lot of food and beverages on hand — including five cases of oranges, 2,500 cookies and 1,300 juice boxes. Any leftovers were given to the Loaves and Fishes charity.

Several hundred volunteers help, including individuals with the Parkinson’s Society of Southern Alberta, the official charity for the 2009 race.

Society co-ordinator Marilynne Herron said they supplied 20 volunteers and in turn, the marathon organizers gave $3,000. That money will be used for client services in the Red Deer area.