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Vancouver turning into a hotbed for distance running

Running season in Vancouver doesn't stop and next year features more than 100 races of varying lengths.

A man jogs along the seawall in on a foggy day in Vancouver on Dec. 6.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro / Vancouver Freelance

A man jogs along the seawall in on a foggy day in Vancouver on Dec. 6.

Whether running up the trails winding through the North Shore mountains or pounding the pavement of the Seawall, long distance runners are a special breed. More and more Vancouverites are lacing up their shoes and challenging their bodies and minds to run for hours at a time. With over 100 upcoming races of varying lengths in 2018 alone, Vancouver is the ideal city for runners.

Frank Stebner, president of the Lions Gate Road Runners Club (LGRR) first got involved in running in 1979 when a friend dared him to run the Manitoba Marathon. He had six months to get ready.

“That got me hooked,” said Stebner. Although he doesn’t run much anymore, over his career, Stebner has run 18 marathons in Vancouver, Victoria, Honolulu and Manitoba.

“I used to do a lot of problem solving during my long runs,” he noted.

LGRR is considered a pioneer in organizing road races. 2021 marks their 50th year. It was the first road running-only club in B.C., founded by Dr. Jack Taunton, a world leader in sports medicine who was the chief medical officer for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and a co-founder of the Vancouver Sun Run.

Many of Vancouver’s biggest runs were founded by the club, including the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 1972, the James Cunningham Seawall Race, and the Gunner Shaw cross-country race.

Stebner attributes Vancouverites’s love affair with running to range of places to run, like parks and the Seawall, as well as the mild climate. He thinks people are drawn to running because of the desire to be outdoors and to share experiences with other runners.

"Running is a great equalizer in that it brings runners from all walks of life together.”

Stebner noted that 90-year-old Betty Jean McHugh (also known as BJ) of West Vancouver recently set a women’s 90+ world record at the Honolulu Marathon.

Those wanting the ultimate test of their skills have multiple ultra marathons (longer than 42.195 kilometres) to choose from in the Lower Mainland. The Dirty Duo, for instance, offers a trail run in North Van ranging from a mere 15k to a punishing 50k. Organizers recommend that participants be comfortable running three to four hours straight.

LGRR member Benoit Gignac started running in 2008 after moving to Victoria. He’d hoped to find a hockey team there, but when he couldn’t, he started running to stay in shape. He hated it at first and found it boring. But six to eight weeks in, he started “truly enjoying running.”

In 2015, he completed in a 65-km race called Harricana.

Gignac pointed out that training for distance running is long and slow.

"If you’re more competitive, back-to-back long runs can get you ready for an ultra. Long runs with a hard finish are, in my view, the most demanding,” he said.

Gignac believes it takes a particular kind of person to do long distance runs: “People who like to accomplish ambitious goals, are hardworking and tenacious, who can find comfort in pain, who love nature, and who didn’t realize that having a good Facebook post would be so hard on the quads!”

For Gignac, the pleasure comes from the freedom it brings. “I like to think that it’s something you can practice and refine your whole life. The feeling of accomplishment clears the mind and answers some of your questions. I like the precision you can find with running but also the unstructured aspect of it, when you only run for peacefulness.”

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