Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. runner disappointed Tokyo Marathon dreams are dashed

Judy Sheppard, 68, would have accomplished a huge feat for amateur runners if she had finished the Tokyo Marathon. Instead, she had to cancel her flights and hotel.

Tokyo was the last of 6 major marathons for Judy Sheppard, 68

Judy Sheppard began running just before her 50th birthday. Eighteen years later, she's run 26 marathons, including five of the six major marathons in the world. (CBC)

Since turning 50, Judy Sheppard has done every major marathon in the world with one exception.

The Newfoundland runner has tackled London, Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston — but she's never done Tokyo.

After years of trying to get into the race, this was her lucky year, until the Tokyo Marathon was waylaid due to the spread of novel coronavirus.

"I had packed masks, gloves, gels. Everything was ready to go," she told CBC Radio's Weekend AM. 

More than 2,000 people have died from the virus worldwide. Only six of those cases have happened outside mainland China.

Still, it was deemed too big a threat for the hordes of people who descend on Tokyo every year to take part in the marathon. More than 38,000 people were expected to run this year on March 1. 

For the 2020 event at least, it is limited to the world's most elite runners and whleechair athletes, resulting in thousands of participants not getting to be part of one of the biggest marathons in the world.

Medals will wait

More than 300,000 people enter the lottery annually for a spot in the race.

Sheppard, 68, and her friend and fellow marathon runner Josee Hotton were accepted to run this year. Sheppard found out it was cancelled when Hotton texted her the bad news.

Runners fill the street at the start of the Tokyo Marathon in 2015. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Their bids for six-star medals — representing each of the major marathons — were dashed for another year.

"I was really looking forward to that one," Sheppard said.

The runners will be able to compete in next year's Tokyo Marathon without going back into the lottery.

Boston bombing

The two friends have been through the worst of marathons in the past. Hotton had just crossed the finish line when the first bomb went off in Boston in 2013.

Sheppard was a short distance behind her.

"I was 800 metres from the finish line and we were just stopped right in our tracks," Sheppard said. "It was nerve-racking for my husband [and] my family because we didn't know what was going on."

Josee Hotton, pictured here running in Mount Pearl in 2012, had just completed the 2013 Boston Marathon when the explosions occurred. (Courtesy of Hugo LeBlanc)

Three people were killed and 264 were injured.

Despite the scare, Sheppard was back a year later to finish the race.

Violence and viruses are not enough to dissuade her from international marathons in the future, however. She plans on getting her six-star medal, no matter what it takes.

Instead of running the Tokyo Marathon, she'll go for a run at home instead. But all her training throughout the winter will not go to waste; Sheppard is running the Boston Marathon again in April.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


  • A previous version of this story stated that the Tokyo Marathon had been cancelled. That is incorrect. The event is still happening, but only elite runners get to take part this year.
    Feb 24, 2020 11:32 AM NT


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