The Roadrunner

Posted: August 17, 2016 in In Transition
Tags: , ,

When I was growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, we lived fairly close to the Welland Canal.  For those you not in the know, the Welland Canal is a ship canal which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie., traversing the Niagara Peninsula from Port Weller to Port Colborne.  The canal forms a key section of the St. Lawrence Seaway, enabling ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls.

So, yeah, it’s kind of a thing in this area.

Anyway, the canal played a major role in my life as a kid as we would take many a family picnic on the weekends to the Lock 3 Viewing Complex (now called the Welland Canal Center) to watch the ships pass.  When foreign vessels passed through we could toss coins out onto the ships deck and the deck hands would often toss back their own foreign currency (I still have these coins in an old tin on our mantelpiece at home – click HERE).  As a kid, this was my first exposure to the outside world.  Other times, we would walk our dogs down to the canal and play along the many footpaths that existed between the current canal and the old (3rd) canal which ran more or less perpendicular to the modern one.

On some occasions, my buddies and I would ride our bikes along the Canal Rd. which ran alongside the entire length of the canal in St. Catharines down to Lock One where my dad worked nearby at a factory.  I remember these bike rides as being long, arduous trips that took most of the day.  I now know, of course, that the total round trip distance was only around 25 to 30 kilometers or so but, still, when you were riding an orange Schwinn bike with a banana seat and ape handle bars, it may as well been a stage of the Tour de France.

I bring this all up now, because one of the features I remember well from the Welland Canal, as popular as any of the ships we saw regularly, was a guy named Dennis, or as my dad had nicknamed him, “The Roadrunner”.

On any given day, most days usually, you’d see Dennis running along Canal Rd. down to Lock One and then back again.  He’d be lumbering along the side of the road (this was long before there was a convenient footpath), topless, with a steely look on his face.  Now, knowing how far that distance seemed on my bike, I thought Dennis must be certifiably superhuman.

In essence, Dennis was my earliest recollection of long distance running.  I wondered what would drive someone to run such long distances.  Did he do it voluntarily?  Did he actually enjoy  it?

Judging by the expressionless look on his face, I couldn’t tell for sure.

God only knows.

Now, contemplating both the distance and time it must have taken him to run that distance, never mind the frequency in which he did it, well, let’s just say that my tiny little lizard brain just couldn’t conceive why anyone would do such a thing.  Not knowing anything about marathons or endurance sports, I just figured he was crazy.

Why am I bringing this all up now?

Well, let’s fast forward nearly 25 years to 2012.

This was the year I first really got acquainted with long distances as I was preparing for my Ironman.  My weekly mileage on the road that year averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 kilometers a week depending on the schedule.  Often, I used the same Canal Rd. route for these runs.  Needless to say, I had lots of time to think and reflect and, of course, some of those random thought processes have already been recorded here in these blog posts.

One of the things I sometimes found myself thinking back to (especially when running Canal Rd.) was ‘ol Dennis and how incredibly superhuman he seemed to me in accomplishing what I had originally thought to be the impossible.  I often used that memory to keep me going, knowing that, yeah, it is possible.  I mean, never in my wildest imagination would I ever have thought that I’d ever be that crazy to run those kinds of distances regularly but, hey, here I was…doing  it.

It was  possible.

Motivation sometimes comes from strange places, what can I say?

Now, fast forward again to just these past few years.

Often my runs will take me along the Friendship Trail which runs near my house in Ridgeway (where I live now), which spans between Fort Erie and Port Colborne.  When I’m not running along it I might cycle it as a convenient thoroughfare to either end in order to begin my long bike rides out to Niagara Falls, St. Catharines or out to Dunnville and Nanticoke, or simply (as it was today) to get to the YMCA’s that are also conveniently located at either end.  The trail is also popular with other local runners, dog walkers, recreational cyclists, hikers, etc.

Periodically, I’d see this other runner out on the trail, usually in the sections that were the most remote and removed from the other nearby townships which the trail runs through.  For whatever reason, this runner intrigued me as he seemed so….familiar, for whatever reason.

Then it hit me:  Dennis?

Now, bearing in mind that this was approximately 25 to 30 years later, how odd would it be that this same guy would suddenly appear in my area…much less running!  Doubtful he would remember who I was anyway.  I mean, I was just a kid then.  Sure I used to deliver the newspaper to his mom and periodically, he’d be there and say ‘hi’; he was a friendly enough guy, of course.  But, still, 25 to 30 years is a very long time.

Anyway, on Monday I was riding the trail to the Port Colborne YMCA to teach my spin class and, low and beyond, there’s this guy….topless, lumbering along with that oh, so familiar steely glare on his face.

I decided to take a chance.

“Excuse me, are you Dennis (last name withheld)?”

The reaction I got was priceless.

I mean, really, when a weirdo dressed in a Lyrca cycling kit stops you in the middle of nowhere, and identifies you by name…well, just imagine the look of surprise you might have on your face.

That was exactly the look I got just then.

Long story short:  it was him.

The Roadrunner!

Small world, eh?

I rode alongside him for a brief spell and explained who I was and, yes, he even remembered me (or, at least he was polite enough to fake it anyway).  I told him of my own long distance experiences over the past few years and how I had often thought back to him running along Canal Rd. as a kid, and how much motivation those memories had provided me in those dark moments that will inevitably come at certain points during long runs.

Then I told him how crazy I thought he was and he laughed (thankfully).

It turns out that Dennis now runs “Pony Paradise” at Saddlebrook Farms in Sherkston where, as it just so happens, is where I tend to see him running the trail.  Obviously, Dennis still runs, albeit not the long hauls he used to.  He keeps his distances short (approximately 5 or 6 kilometers) and regular and prefers the trail because it’s “peaceful”.

I guess that answers my question from way back when: yes, he must really  enjoy it.

Now I’m not going to wager how old Dennis is these days but, let me put it this way:  if I’m still running 5 or 6 kilometers with any regularity in, say, another 10 to 15 years or so – and enjoying  it – I will be very pleased with myself indeed.

Again, motivation comes from funny places.

It does bother me a bit though that Dennis, at whatever age he is now, still looks better with his top off than I ever have or, likely, ever will.

Good on ya, Dennis!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s