Let’s run with this idea

May 20, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 19/05/10runners

Vancouver has its natural beauty. Stratford has its Shakespeare and Bieber Fever. Montreal has its hockey riots.

A lot of Canadian communities have their thing. You know, that sense of identity that makes a city a place where things happen. A thing that makes it unique, helps it stand out, makes it a place you’d want to visit.

Then there’s Guelph. What comes to mind when visitors think of our city? The agriculture research city? The road work city? The Hanlon Creek occupation city?

Into this vacuum comes the idea that Guelph could become Canada’s running capital. It’s an ambitious suggestion that this town, with its cluster of Olympic and world championship-level runners and coaches, could be turned into a world-class training centre for runners.

Some think we could be known as a mecca for recreational runners, too, with more trails, clubs and marathons for hoofers of all stripes. I can see it now. You’re entering town and pass a giant sign that says “Welcome to Guelph . . . We’ve got the runs.” Sounds nice.

We’ve seen before how a small group of people can help define a place. In Tofino, B.C., a few hippies with long boards and wetsuits transformed a tiny, isolated fishing village on the western edge of Vancouver Island into a mecca for cold water surfing.

Today, it’s crawling with kids in shaggy hair, neon Ray Bans and beat-up VW vans carting boards to the beach. You can still find a few glimpses of the old village. But you need to fight your way past the organic burrito shops, fair trade coffee vendors and waterfront condos to do it.

Guelph doesn’t have much in the way of oceans. But we are blessed with an extensive network of trails that run along our rivers, across our many parks and around our gem of a lake. Our city is still small enough that a runner can leave downtown on a trail and within 20 minutes or so be out in the country, surrounded by fields, trees and water. That’s a quality of life thing, and we ought to promote it more.

The problem with building a reputation around non-elite running, though, is that it’s hardly unique to Guelph. Think you’re seeing more sweaty people pounding the pavement past your house? They’re seeing that across the country.

The popular appeal is obvious. Running is a cheap sport to get into, and free to do. But if Guelph really wants to be Canada’s Runnerville, it ought to look at an American city that already makes the claim.

Eugene, Ore., has long styled itself as Track Town, USA. It has infrastructure that Guelph doesn’t, including premier ovals such as the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, one of the most famous track and field facilities in the world. It has major marathons, and trails exclusively for runners and hikers.

Guelph, not so much. Our ‘‘best’’ running tracks are potted with holes, unfinished and or in need of repair.

“I would say our facilities are woeful,” conceded local running coach Dave Scott-Thomas, one of the people behind this running mecca idea. “I wouldn’t put (Guelph) in the top 200 tracks in Canada . . . it wasn’t hard to come up with lots of smaller, more isolated or perhaps less economically advantaged communities than us that are way better off.”

And we’d need more high-profile running events. Our two biggest runs, the Thanksgiving Day Races and the Guelph Lake need to be bigger, broader and better-promoted. And while we’re at it, how about a marathon?

Runnerville, Canada? Heck, it’s just an idea. But it’s something.

One Response to Let’s run with this idea

  1. Doug Atkinson on May 20, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Greg – I enjoyed your article and agree with the sentiment. I must offer one small correction; “marathon” is not simply another word for a running event, it is reserved for a long distance running event with a specific distance, namely 42.195 kms, or 26 miles 385 yards (usually expressed as 26.2 miles), no more and no less. The Guelph events you named don’t exceed 10 km in distance.

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