45 years and running: A look back at Ottawa's great race

Eleanor Thomas, the first woman to cross the finish line at the inaugural Ottawa Marathon 45 years ago, keeps the shield and medal she won that day tucked away in her attic.

On Wednesday, the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame will put the history of the marathon in the spotlight with its newest exhibition.

'I distinctly remember someone hollering out, 'Oh my God, there goes a woman!'' - Eleanor Thomas

Ottawa Marathon: 45 Years Running traces the evolution of the race from its humble beginnings to a multi-day festival of athleticism that draws runners from across the country and around the world. 

It will display artifacts, photos, videos and relics collected since 1975, and is presented in collaboration with Ottawa Race Weekend and Ottawa Archives. 

Only 3 women in 1975

Thomas remembers that first race, then called the National Capital Marathon, where she was one of only three women competing.

The course began at Carleton University, then followed the edge of Dow's Lake and on toward Parliament Hill before returning to the campus. 

"The course was beautiful," she said. "You really see the Ottawa waterways."

Supplied by Eleanor Thomas

Thomas was the first woman to cross the finish line in 1976, too.

She said back then, people lining the route were shocked when they saw her. 

"I distinctly remember someone hollering out, 'Oh my God, there goes a woman!'" 

In the 1970s, Thomas said, it was rare to see people out for a jog, let alone women. She was sometimes harassed when she ran, she said. 

Now, if she's in Ottawa on race weekend, Thomas will put on the blue T-shirt she got back in 1975 and join the crowds along the route, cheering on the runners.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC