SURREY - To slim down and get pumped for her job as executive director with the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, Elizabeth Model would go for her morning power walk.
"I was overweight and I wanted to get healthy," said Model, a brainchild behind the Surrey International World Music Marathon, set for Sept. 30, 2012.
One morning, one of the chamber's board members, a marathon runner, noticed her swift rhythmic strides and advised her to start running. Coming from a family that valued academics over athletics, Model was never "super athletic" and brushed off the suggestion but her adviser persisted, telling her she had "what it takes."
With her crazy schedule, Model didn't have time for the discipline of a running club, so just ran on her own whenever she was in the mood or could spare the time.
But it didn't take her long to get hooked on running and soon she was setting her sights higher and higher.
In 1999, she achieved a major milestone.
"I ran my first marathon - which was Vancouver - at 40," she says.
The huge satisfaction of that accomplishment made her see everything anew and led to a personal and professional transformation within six months of her run in the Vancouver Marathon.
"It literally changed my life," she says during the interview in the offices of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association above the Rickshaw restaurant in Whalley.
"It made me focus more on personal goals."
Model, 52, was soon travelling to cities around the world to participate in marathons.
"I've done New York, I've done Boston and Chicago and L.A. and all the great ones."
In the year of the summer Olympics in Greece, Model ran a marathon there, an emotionally powerful experience that hasn't lost its power to move her to tears.
"It was just an amazing experience," she says, groping for the words to describe the elation that swept over her as she entered the stadium in Athens, adorned with the Olympic rings.
"I wish everyone had the experience. It was so emotional, it was so special," says Model, who keeps a photograph of her triumph tacked onto her refrigerator door.
Marathons led to Ironman Triathlons, those grueling events that consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon run, raced in that order without a break. She competed in her first Ironman event in 2004 and her most recent one this past May in Australia, for a total of 26 competitions.
Her marathon time is respectable.
"I'm a four-hour marathoner, which is average."
Wanting a career change, Model left the Tri-Cities chamber and joined the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association as executive director. Part of her role is to promote economic development through events that generate commerce for the city.
Since runners are "a demographic with fairly high incomes" and willing to travel the globe for the privilege, a marathon hosted by Surrey to promote the city and sports seemed like an ideal event.
"I've travelled all over the world, I see marathons that generate huge stimulus to the economy," she says.
The idea for a Surrey marathon was has been brewing for some time but it was the exhilaration of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Surrey's success in hosting an official celebration site that convinced Model and other key figures in the city that Surrey was ready.
"This is an economic generator, it'll put Surrey on the map internationally for the running world," she says.
Model presented her business case to the Downtown Surrey BIA board of directors, which endorsed it enthusiastically.
A society was created to lead the project, with Model as president. With the support of top city managers and Surrey councillor Linda Hepner, the city's former economic development officer for 20 years, and others the project became a reality. Blackwood Partners, owners of Central City shopping centre, has signed on as the presenting sponsor.
The Surrey International World Music Marathon will begin and finish in the plaza of architect Bing Thom's award-winning gem.
Once the basics were nailed down, John Donnelly of Donnelly & Associates, the force behind Surrey's Olympic celebrations, Canada Day party and Fusion Festival, stepped in to take charge of the branding aspect.
Donnelly and his group mixed marathon with the hugely popular fusion-fest and came up with "cultural music miles." Along each mile of the marathon route, visitors will be able to cheer on the runner while enjoying the art, music and food of its culturally diverse citizenry.
Donnelly and the others are busy spreading the word about the Surrey marathon in the running world and far beyond.
Model admits it's hard to gauge numbers for an inaugural event, although organizers have set goals.
"We hope for a minimum of 3,000 to 5,000 runners," said Model, who will be one of those participants.