I have been a runner since I was in middle school. I did my first “long distance” run of about 1 kilometer in a gym class. My good buddy, Larry, and I had tried a variety of sports with very little success. Then one day the gym teacher decided he would show us what cross-country running was all about. We set out in a mob of 30 with the usual jocks blasting off as the starting gun sounded. Larry and I loped along in the pack, expecting our usual mediocre showing against the basketball, rugby and soccer players. At about 200 meters, however, the jocks began to lose some of their vigour and were slipping back to us mere mortals. Larry and I, both scrawny, (I was known as Scrawny Ronnie at one time) found ourselves surging into the lead. By kilometer one there was nobody near us. We finished one, two and presumably had found our sport. Larry went on to a career of criminality where his running talent was, no doubt, useful at times, but less than successful.
My newly discovered running prowess initially had little impact on my life. I ran only in gym class through high school where I continued to enjoy success but never joined any running program or entered any race. I had, however, developed a keen interest in physical activity and its impact on my ability to enjoy life to the fullest. I soon discovered that I could eat and drink to contentment as long as I ran a couple times per week. Oh, to have the metabolism of youth!!
At university I enrolled in a physical education program and gained a good understanding of a variety of sports, but still called myself a runner. I was considered a long-distance runner, even though I had never run a distance longer than a mile. In those days, most runners were competing in track events and the mile was considered long distance. My one or two miles per week of running was mostly to compensate for an unhealthy lifestyle, to keep myself fit enough to compete in other sports, and to pass myself off as a jock to any potential feminine interests.
After graduating from university, my new wife and I travelled through Samoa and Fiji to Australia in 1979. We were about two weeks on each island and 6 months on the continent of Australia. We purchased a vehicle and set off to discover that vast and beautiful continent. Logging countless miles, we would stay a few days to weeks in areas that appealed to us. Our longest stop was on the Atherton Tablelands of Queensland where we worked on a tobacco farm for about 6 weeks.
While travelling, we would drive many hours daily and spend our nights in campgrounds or the occasional hotel. Australia is a big and very hot country, but we were on holidays and allowed ourselves a few hours each day for discovering an area or to just relax. With little else to occupy my leisure time, and to compensate for the long hours of driving, I began to run a few kilometers in the mornings and another few in the evenings. Australia was not a very populated country in the 70s and there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of kilometers of vacant beaches due to the seasonal jellyfish plague that deterred swimming. Jellyfish weren’t on the beaches, however, so I would find a quiet road or sandy shore to run a few kilometers. New sights and sunny days stimulated a further strong incentive for embarking on my daily runs. After a few months I became so addicted to this daily routine that I occasionally ventured out during the heat of the day. While working on the tobacco farm there was a two hour siesta in the afternoons when the other workers would stop for a nice nap. I created some concern among my fellow workers as “that crazy Canuck,” when I would use my siesta time to run a few kilometers. Much of our stay on the tobacco farm never saw the thermometer descend below 40C. Perhaps I was a bit touched by the heat.
On one occasion we stayed a few weeks in Townsville, Queensland, where I developed a daily routine of running several kilometers among some giant ant hills in “the bush”, as the locals called it, across from our trailer park. I had been running through these fields for about a week when a local resident accosted me after a run and enquired if I had been running in those fields, as he pointed across the road with a shaky finger. I replied that I had and found the bush to be a wonderful area for running as it was away from the traffic and community. He gasped and informed me that nobody ever ventured into those fields known as “Death Adder Gully”. It seems the Australian Death Adder can kill a human in 7 seconds or less. I stayed on the roads thereafter.
Feeling very healthy, and considering myself some sort of runner, I entered a fairly unique competition in Townsville. I wouldn’t call it a race but, rather, an experience. A group of young men and women gathered at a local pub that was situated at the bottom of a huge pink granite monolith, called Castle Hill, in the centre of Townsville. The one narrow winding road that led to the top seemed endless and very steep. I later learned that it was only 2.6 kilometers but it felt like 100 in the heat. For the event we were required to drink a beer before our departure, run to the top where another cool beer was awaiting our disposal, then a quick run to the bottom for a third swill to mark the finale. I did not distinguish myself in any way at this event and after three beer, and 40C heat up a mountain, I was ready for a long nap.
This did not deter me, however, as I continued running daily throughout our trip and the few weeks on Oahu during our trip home. I had pushed my runs up to about 10 kilometers and was running about 6 days per week. I was feeling pretty fit. Returning to Canada we soon reverted to our working lives and within a few months had adopted our son and a dog, purchased a home, and secured full-time jobs. I continued to fit my runs into my days but had still never entered a real race, except the Castle Hill event that could only be loosely termed a race. We lived in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island where I noticed a Spring Runoff advertised by the local running club. By this time I had about a year of running consistently behind me and thought of myself as a real runner. It was time to test my metal against others of similar interest. I entered the Comox Valley Spring Runoff.
I trained diligently, although not knowing what that really meant. Comox was not the epicentre of the running world in 1980 but there were a half dozen people that would be considered runners in this small oceanside community. There was even a small running club of which I was not a member. I was entirely unknown to the running community and would most certainly be considered a dark horse in any race.
The big day finally arrived and I toed the line with about 30 other emaciated young men and women. I soon became aware that my toes, however, looked significantly different than everyone else’s. I was wearing Stan Smith tennis shoes, having no knowledge that there are shoes specific to each sport. The other runners had real running shoes not to mention that my Stan Smiths had sustained me throughout Samoa, Fiji, Australia, Hawaii, and several months upon our return. Being the father of a young family and very poor, there was simply no place in our budget for $100 running shoes. It wasn’t until a couple years later when the kids from the local jail where I worked pooled their humble resources and bought me a shiny new pair of Nike running shoes. I think they felt sorry for me.
On this day, however, I was running in Stan Smiths. Feeling immensely intimidated as the gun sounded, we were off in a flurry. I moved out with the pack but soon found myself in front of the field. There was pain and discomfort but I generally felt pretty good. All those runs through Death Adder Gully did not seem dissimilar to running in front of a pack of real runners. About half way through the race I found a Stan Smith lace flapping on my opposite leg and had to stop for a retie. Was this race ever going to end? It did and I managed to finish the race in first place with no other incidents, completing my first 10 kilometer race in under 37 minutes. I had no idea if this was a good or poor time but, having won the race, I was elated and felt fairly certain I had found my sport.
This little race and, most probably, that gym class in middle school was the start of a lifetime of running where I learned how to train properly, push myself, and achieved far beyond what I had ever considered. Running soon permeated much of my life with involvement in a series of running clubs, diet changes, hundreds of races, and a general lifestyle of health and fitness. Being a person never satisfied with the status quo, I went on to swimming races, biathlons, triathlons, cycling, and completed the Ironman Triathlon.
I even returned to my old high school at my 10 year grad reunion and entered one of those reunion basketball games to see how I could perform against those, formerly unearthly, high school jocks. These games are fairly common events at reunions where the former basketball greats attempt to regain some semblance of past glory in front of the mortals who previously paid homage to their ethereal powers. The game is similar in implication to the little questionnaire handed out at these events where we are asked to reveal our annual income or who has earned their first million dollars. My basketball skills were never great but I had played some full contact basketball with young criminals in the jail where I worked and my fitness level by that time had far outpaced these former idols. About 5 minutes into the game the, now tubby jocks, were red faced, staining their rather tight tank tops, and gasping for breath, while I was waiting under the basket for a pass. The game was a bit of an anticlimax, however, as someone must have wished to avoid any unsightly health emergencies, declaring the game ended after only about 15 minutes with yours truly as leading scorer. If only Larry could have been released to enjoy the moment?
For many years physical activity was a focal point of my life. I would always slip a run into most days on any trip and travelled to destinations to participate in certain events. You don’t need anyone else to participate in this sport with, a sturdy pair of running shoes, appropriate clothing, and a few kilometers of ground, the only accessories. I have run into the middle of volcanoes, around lakes, along famous beaches, across international borders, rush hour in Phnom Penh, at midnight in Alaska, encountered bears, elephants, wolves, and topless sunbathers. Running is a wonderful way to explore the world.
Running is also an exceptional social stimulus. Runners are everywhere. You can find a local running club almost anywhere in the world and be welcomed with open arms for a run or social event. Many larger communities have an organization known as the Hash House Harriers who are loosely known as a drinking club with a running problem. I have run (and drank) with the Harriers in Hong Kong, Victoria, and San Francisco. My home club is the Kelowna Running Club where I have been a member for over 30 years and I consider many of these runners my closest friends.
Although my racing days are long past, I continue to enjoy a ‘jog’ three times per week and the camaraderie of other like-minded people. The pace has seriously diminished as I age but I continue to slog through the kilometers no longer looking for Castle Hills to conquer or heroes to vanquish. I probably find myself most enjoying a nice flat run in a foreign land, at moderate temperature while ear buds recite an adventurous novel to keep my mind off the effort, and no beer, at least until after the run. As long as my knees hold out I plan to run until I am no longer able, hopefully well into my 90s. Come along. You won’t regret it.