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Active Learning/ReLearning – Jackie Shane, The Bathhouse Raids, and Will Munro

Runs, Tours & Experiences Posted on Thu, July 02, 2020 06:10PM

The ‘Pride’ celebration in Toronto is a daily feature on the social feeds of several friends. It looks fun, colourful, inclusive and with just the right amount of political and social commentary. The posts help me realise that I don’t know much at all about gay history or life here, or the motivation behind the celebration. It doesn’t feel right to be as ignorant about something that’s clearly so important to some of my friends. Time to get my running shoes on and go to school! 

To begin this week’s learning I have a look at the ‘Driftscape’ App that features material from an organisation called ‘Queerstory’ (, and skim and follow links until I find something that really catches my attention.

“I have never felt that I had to change or do anything that wasn’t natural to me. I will never, ever be some kind of wishy-washy creature that pretends or lets others guide me. I guide my life. It is mine. No matter what anyone says, I’m going to be Jackie. That’s all I can be. That’s all I know. It’s what I feel from my heart and my soul. If I was not doing what makes me live the way I do, makes me think, makes me feel, makes me be the person I am, then there’s no point in me being at all. I’ve got to be who I am. Most people are planted in someone else’s soil, which means they’re a carbon copy. I say to them, uproot yourself. Get into your own soil. You may be surprised who you really are.”

I read this and know that I want to know more about the speaker. Then I hear her sing…

This is Tina Turner, Little Richard, and James Brown meets the Northern Soul and Ska sounds of my youth. There are chord changes and grooves in there that a remix DJ could blend seamlessly with Hendrix (listen to ‘Walking The Dog” alongside ‘Foxy Lady’ and ‘Can You See Me’). And a controlled rawness that suggests the earth using a human voice as a conduit for ‘original expression’. This is fantastic. This is Jackie Shane.

I listen – and read – on. Jackie was a black transgender artist who for a few years in the mid to late 60’s was one of the most popular singers in Toronto. By all accounts she never tried to hide any aspect of herself, appearing dressed in a way that caused many to ask if she as male or female and encouraging people to express themselves any which way they chose. “Baby, do what you want, just know what you’re doing” she’d rap between verses in the song ‘Money’, “as long as you don’t force your will or your way on anybody else, live your life, because there ain’t nobody sanctified and holy…”. 

With those words Jackie was urging us to climb out of the coffins that are there to compartmentalise personal issues like gender, or how we express ourselves creatively, and once we get clear of them to look at ourselves and society with clearer vision. David Bowie and Will Munro also offered us the same advice, and in doing so they all helped to create fertile ground for increased personal contentment and harmony, as well as societal change.

I understand that I’m being very basic in my introduction but one of the points of these learning/relearning runs is to face up to how little I know, and to do so in plain language. To admit ignorance, to own it and talk of it, and then to attempt to change the situation for the better. We also, I think, need to relearn trust for the media, and that starts with people like me not hiding behind words or using them for some other purpose than honest communication. Keep it simple, keep it honest, don’t try to convince anybody I’m smart, just talk straight from the heart. Write like I’m offering a Swahili handshake. That’s where I’m coming from.

I discover a little more – where Jackie used to play in Toronto, the location of her mural downtown – and am eager to construct a run to see it all but decide to learn more about the history of the gay scene in Toronto first. Intending to spend a few post-breakfast hours researching I find so much material that it seems wise to settle in for the day and postpone the run.

A couple of links I would advise anybody interested in recent gay history in Toronto to check out are;

1/ The 1981 Toronto bathhouse riots

2/ This 90 minute film (which is also embedded in the article above), is an introduction to the recent history of the Toronto gay scene focusing on the 1981 Bathhouse police raids/abuse and subsequent protests. It’s an excellent film that really added to my understanding

3/ This wiki link is also very good for LGBTQ info in general –

The next morning I’ve a long list of places to visit and an easy run to start with along College St through Little Italy, heading for the newly renovated ‘El Mocambo’ club on Spadina Ave.

Just after I’ve passed Sneaky Dee’s I’m stopped sharply by this sculpture outside St Stephen in the Fields Church. It reminds me of the ‘Anonymous’ statue in Budapest and it’s positioning – low on the ground, devoid of pedestal, and not drawing any attention to itself in any way – makes it all the more powerful. The statue, created by sculptor Timothy Schmalz (who also has his work installed in churches in Rome and at the Vatican), is titled ‘Jesus the Panhandler’. It offers a visual representation of charity, and is a reference to Jesus’s statement, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do it for me.”

There is no explanation board or title displayed so passers by are asked to consider, who could this beggar be? Somebody we know? Us? So many of us are just a few paychecks away from this reality. Covid has put many out of work and the governmental handouts aren’t available for everybody. According to a recent city survey, more than 5,000 people are homeless in Toronto, including an increasing number of seniors. Some spend the night in shelters, others in parks and ravines, or on street corners. Some, especially those who sleep outdoors, rely on panhandling for their basic needs.

The panhandler depicted by this bronze cast is a silent, huddled figure, a person whom crowds walk by and ignore. But if you look carefully at his hands you will see the stigmata, the wounds of Christ.

This sculpture asks us to look again, and to look carefully, and to see that the person before us is, indeed, the presence of Christ for us in this moment. Christ comes to us in the hungry, the needy, the marginalized and lonely, and demands our response.

“Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (from the First Letter of John).

Seeing this message is, I believe, a perfect way to start today’s run. Whatever our gender, our colour, our faith, or our species, we are each the incarnation of that which we worship. We would do well to bear this in mind as we make our way through this short life that we’ve been gifted.

Just around the corner is El Mocambo.

Will Munro – a gay artist, club promoter, activist, and fellow vegan – will be the first influential gay figure I meet on my running tour today (he’ll also be the final; I’ll finish at the cafe he co-founded on Queen West, ‘The Beaver’). He hosted the hybrid music and art parties ‘Vazaleen’ at El Mocambo in the early-2000’s as a way of creating an inclusive venue outside of the city’s Church Street scene. He said at the time of starting the club, “I’d like to do something that’ll encompass all the freaks out there, myself included…”

“When I started doing Vazaleen I was like, finally there is a space where you can do fucking anything and no one is going to turn their nose up at you.” Will Munro.

Toronto has seemed a beige, cold, frightened, bloodless sort of city at times since I arrived in 2015 but learning about Will, his work and his friends has helped me see it as far more human, and admirable. In the online interviews and statements I’ve found he comes across as sweet, humorous and inclusive when discussing and planning his work, and rarely with a bad word to say about anybody. Other artists may ‘wow’ you with their work – prolific, inventive, and fascinating Picasso is a fine example. But when you read about how he lived, his tantrums, his poor treatment of people around him, the self aggrandisement, he comes across as the sort of guy you wouldn’t want to spend much time around. Will is different. His work is good and occasionally great yet where he consistently shines is in his daily life, how he treated others and offered hope and inspiration, and also stayed alive as an artist whilst fight a continual battle against a conservative, claustrophobic, homophobic and frightened society. Hence I believe that to get the most from Will you need to spend some time around the work and interviews he left behind, as well as commentaries that others have made.

Here’s a short intro to his work. The first video features footage of his club nights at El Mocambo.

And Will talking about being an artist.

I really enjoyed this next short film by Will. The music, footage and feel has clear lineage from Warhol’s ‘Factory’ and The Velvet Underground but it’s also very much its own thing.

‘Now’ magazine wrote of Will’s club night, “These days it’s normal in Toronto for hip gay scenes to flourish outside of the queer centre and to attract a wide spectrum of genders and orientations, but that didn’t really happen until Vazaleen took off and became a veritable community for everyone who didn’t fit into the mainstream homo world. For too long, it was too rare to see dykes, fags, trans people, and breeders hanging out together, and Munro changed that.”

First new word of the day for me (and there will be many) is ‘breeders’. In short, Breeder is a slang term (either joking or derogatory) used to describe straight people, primarily by gays. But like much terminology it’s not as simple as that and since it’s easy to trip yourself up or offend by getting things mixed up, it’s not a bad idea to check the urban dictionary –

Finally, you can find out more about Will Munro here –

And his parties at El Mocambo here –

Whilst researching the El Mocambo venue I also discovered that the Rolling Stones recorded a live album there in 1977. You can hear the Stones ‘Route 66’ live at El Mocambo here.

Other acts to have played El Mocambo include Blondie, U2, Duran Duran, Jimi Hendrix and The Cars. I’d have liked to have worked as a sound man from, say, ‘67 to ‘83, what a life that would’ve been! A general history of the El Mocambo venue is here –

I jog down Spadina with the Stones’ Route 66 playing on the headphones, it’s a solid running soundtrack as I veer right into Kensington Market, a favourite part of Toronto for me. It’s where I stayed when I first visited the city in 2012. There’s more than a hint of the optimism, equality and energy of the 60’s here, every second person seems like an individual (which is a pretty good average in a modern city) and they know it. I love the place.

Heading through central Toronto I pass ‘The Corners’, the area around the intersection of Bay St and Queen St which in the 1940’s and 50’s was a mingling point for closeted Bay Street business, rent boys, and straight trade. Along Richmond now, not so much traffic makes for easy running, and the sky is dramatic.

Before long I’m at 20 Richmond Street East, home to Confederation Life Insurance and formerly a live music venue called the Saphire Tavern.

It was here at The Saphire that Jackie Shane had a residency in the 60’s, recorded her live album in 1967, and made a name for herself as an astonishing talent. She had chances to make a bigger name for herself outside of Toronto but she wasn’t willing to be anything other than herself and at the time, being herself wasn’t acceptable most places. When a scout from the Ed Sullivan show asked her to appear Jackie turned them down flat. “His scout came and said: ‘You’re going to have to do this without makeup,’” she explained in an interview with The Guardian. “I said: ‘Please stuff it.’ Ed Sullivan looks like something Dr Frankenstein had a hand in. He’s going to tell me what to do?” There was also interest from large record labels such as Atlantic, but still the answer was no. “I’ve never really wanted to record,” she said. “I get my charge from performing in front of people. That’s my energy.” Here’s a paragraph about Jackie from a CBC article.

“Jackie Shane is a soul singer born in Nashville who, after moving to Canada, built a loyal audience on Toronto’s Yonge Street strip in the ’60s. Shane, a black transgender artist with a riveting, distinct voice and look, drew large crowds and even had a top 10 hit in Toronto with her song ‘Any Other Way’, which helped to shape the Toronto Sound. Today, she identifies as a transgender woman, but long before there was a vocabulary to describe who she was, she was just Jackie – one-of-a-kind, proud and powerful.”

You can hear the full CBC interview with Jackie here –

And here’s another good article –

I have great respect for Jackie. She was black, gender queer and brilliant at a time when Toronto – and the music business in general – didn’t particularly respect any of those things. If like me you don’t quite understand what ‘gender queer’ or non-binary’ mean, it’s worth checking this wiki page out for an introduction –

You may also enjoy learning about Fa-afafine. Many say the future isn’t binary. A brief study of the spaces between the lines of history tells us that the past certainly wasn’t, either. 

Jackie had a strong musical pedigree, was by all accounts a fantastic drummer, and played alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Etta James. I put on her version of ‘Shotgun’ and head up Yonge St, once home to numerous bars where Jackie would have also played along with some of the great names in music at the time.

At 333 Yonge used to be Le Coq d-Or Tavern, then comes 351 Yonge which was the location of A&A Records where interest in Jackie’s career was rekindled thanks to members of the public asking for copies of her single ‘Any Other Way’. Staff had to go to Buffalo in the States to order copies and it was shortly after this increase in sales that arrangements were made to record a live album of Jackie at the Saphire Tavern. ‘Shotgun’ has finished on my headphones and now comes her version of ‘Money’, complete with her rap about walking up Yonge St…

I pass the still functioning Zanzibar and come to 372 Yonge, the site of The Blue Note. It’s now a falafel and kebab joint, with shisha lounge upstairs.

The club was popular with well-known international artists such as Stevie Wonder, the Righteous Brothers, and the Supremes, who performed impromptu late-night sets there after giving concerts at major venues elsewhere in the city. Jackie also performed here at times. Along with El Mocambo, The Blue Note is another venue where I’d have loved to have been a sound engineer!

At 423 Yonge there’s a couple of huge musical murals on the building’s ends. Jackie Shane is pictured halfway up one side.

I think she would’ve been thrilled to be featured here. She loved Toronto, as is clear from this quote from her last interview before she passed away in February, 2019.

“One cannot choose where one is born, but you can choose your home. I chose Toronto. I love Toronto. I love Canadian people. I consider myself a part of them. The Canadian people have been so good to me. At first, there were people who are ignorant and talk and talk and don’t know what they’re talking about. They were curious, but when they got to know me and we grew to love one another – I loved them first. I had to. I could not allow myself to be angry. We became real lovers. I love Toronto.”

These 2 walls of street art really are impressive. I make a note to learn more about the figures portrayed in them – they’ll likely be a window into the history of the local music scene – and Adrian Hayles, the artist who painted them. Fantastic work. 

These links tell about the artist, and more about the murals.

Carrying on I pass the corner where straight people would stand to throw eggs at drag queens on Halloween in the 70’s and 80’s, and 2 of the most important gay venues of the 1980’s; at 488 is the site of The St Charles Hotel, and at 530 is The Parkside Tavern. I learnt about them from the film I told you of earlier. There’s a good article about ‘Stages’, a club above the Parkside, here –

Here’s an excerpt from the article.

“The Parkside’s owners allowed police to regularly spy on patrons in the washrooms, waiting to nab men engaged in any sort of sexual acts. Arrests were made, and the practice continued throughout the 1970s, even as gay activists organized leafleting campaigns and called for boycotts of the bar.

These conflicts were characteristic of the time. During the mid-to-late-1970s, Yonge Street was the main artery of Toronto gay social life (it would shift to Church in the mid-1980s)….

“Those were the days when, on Halloween, people would throw eggs and ink at drag queens,” says Arnie Kliger, the man who would open ‘Stages’. “It also wasn’t particularly safe for gays to walk around the side streets.”

Kliger had both safety and glamour in mind when he worked with partner Stephen Cohen to open after-hours gay disco ‘Stages’. Its location, above The Parkside, had housed numerous clubs since the late-’60s, among them The August Club, Mama Cooper’s, The Milkbar, Quasimodo, and Bimbo’s.”

The site of the Parkside Tavern and ‘Stages’ nightclub.

I turn into Wellesley and reach Church, a centrepoint for today’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer communities in Toronto.

Like Kensington it’s a homely place for those who enjoy an honest vibe. For me it’s also an easier place to be; there’s more space in the streets to move, and the artwork is heavy on loving acceptance and less so on revolutionary edge. Life also feels softer here, more gentle, although that’s likely just because of my pre-conceptions of the LGBTQ communities and the fact that I only come here in the middle of the day. A person well embedded on the local scene may see it through a very different lens. This short video tells of one of the art installations –

I run back to Yonge St via Isabella, which in the 70’s and 80’s was a street that Toronto police identified as a focal point for prostitution. There’s a large congregation of people living in tents along a strip of greenery there today. I’ve read that it’s safer to live in tents at the moment as the likelihood of getting Covid, or your stuff stolen, at homeless shelters is high. Shelters also have curfews which makes finding work (much of which is shift based) more difficult. The atmosphere among the people congregating around the tents is akin to a cultural festival, I can see why folks opt for this way of living in the summer if they’re having problems finding or affording an apartment.

I cross Yonge (just north of here is the Bloor/Yonge subway where police officers used to crawl into air vents above the public toilets and try to catch gays ‘in the act’) and head down tranquil backstreets towards sites associated with the 1981 bathhouse raids and subsequent protests. For those unaware of the raids, here’s a paragraph from the Daily Xtra that gives a brief intro.

“On Feb 5, 1981, more than 150 Toronto police descended on that city’s gay bathhouses, arresting more than 300 innocent men. It was part of a deliberate and organized campaign by government and police to push gay baths and bars out of business, to silence the gay press and to remove gay voices from public discourse.”

You can read much more about the bathhouse raids here –

The first site I pass is of one of the bath houses, the ‘Romans II Health and Recreation Spa’ at 742 Bay St. There’s no sign of the spa now. Next up is the Precinct 52 police station. The officers from this station were well known for their antisocial behaviour in the 70’s and 80’s and it was here that the protests after the bathhouse raids first centred. 

Here’s a short video about the protests. The crowds were demanding police accountability to gay and other minority communities facing police harassment. Sadly, there were several members of the Toronto Secret Police identified within the parade, amping up the volume and anger in order to give the parade a bad public image –

Later I’ll pass the site of ‘The Barracks’ bathhouse at 56 Widmer St. where one of the most shocking incidents of the raids occured. While detaining some naked men inside a shower room there, a police officer pointed to the shower pipes and said “gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to the gas”.

Later, one Jewish man present whose parents had survived the Nazi holocaust said the whole police operation had helped him understand his parents’ experiences back in a concentration camp on an emotional level, whereas before he’d understood it only intellectually. The Blitzkrieg style of police operation – swift, noisy, violent, malicious – the gratuitous violence he saw as police officers smashed up the spa buildings for no reason, the way the police made men strip naked and stand in the showers, it was clear that some cops were very mentally troubled at the time. “I’m just doing my job,” said one cop to the Jewish man in question. How many times did the Jews in Europe hear Nazi’s saying that, I wonder?

No wonder the gay community protested after these raids. 

Leaving Precinct 52 I run to Grange Park, where the first Pride Parade began on 28th June 1981, the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Protests in New York. There’d been months of protests associated with the Bathhouse Raids and some members of the gay community began to think that they wanted to celebrate and be proud of their community rather than just protest injustices perpetrated against it. That’s how the Toronto Pride parade came into being. The crowds congregated in the park then marched up Yonge St, you can see a nice video of this parade here

Next I pass 24 Duncan St, once home of the influential newspaper ‘The Body Politic’. This was a monthly magazine published from 1971 to 1987 that was one of Canada’s first significant gay publications, playing a prominent role in the development of the LGBTQ community in Canada.

See a short video of the Body Politic and its role in the protests here –

Nearby is Widmer St; the site of ‘The Barracks’ bathhouse is now given over to construction.

I read a few paragraphs about the raids from the Canadian Encyclopedia. “Bathhouse patrons were subjected to excessive behaviour by police, including verbal taunts about their sexuality. When the night was over, 286 men were charged for being found in a common bawdy house (a brothel), while 20 were charged for operating a bawdy house. It was, up to that time, the largest single arrest in Toronto’s history. Most of those arrested were found innocent of the charges. The raids marked a turning point for Toronto’s gay community, as the protests that followed indicated they would no longer endure derogatory treatment from the police, media and the public.”

Read the full encyclopedia entry here –

To get an idea of the atmosphere within which the police acted on the night of the raid here’s an editorial from the March 1979 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association (MTPA) newsletter ‘News & Views’, written by Staff Sergeant Tom Moclair, a 22-year veteran of 14 Division.

“I was saddened and desolated that the Mayor of Toronto recently sanctioned acts of perversion which symptomize the decadence of our society in his liberal and flippant show of appreciation to a few hundred homosexuals who helped him get elected. These “weirdos” may need our tolerance and acceptance, but certainly not our approval to continue their psychological sickness in foisting their acts of depravity on the long-suffering public.

Segments of our society suffering from homosexuality which calls itself “homophile,” “gays,” “fags,” and “fruits,” etc., provide us with a vivid example of how far we in Canada have gone down the “road to debauchery.” Just look at them; victims of emotional sickness, misfits of their environments, attempting to turn their aberration into a right, as well as a virtue.

Just listen to them talk (if you can stomach them); and they sure like to talk, because talk is a penchant of homosexuality especially in the physically deprived and cowardly male. If you were ignorant of what they are and what they represent, you would think that their type of deviance was a valuable asset. But let us remember that homosexuality is nothing new. Many cultures throughout history have dealt with them almost universally with disdain, disgust, abhorrence, and even death.”

It was probably considered normal to hold these views in straight white society back then – I certainly remember similar views being expressed by adults around me when I was a kid in the 70’s – so I’m not singling the guy out but still, it’s quite unbelievable that a Staff Sergeant in the Toronto Police Force would think it was ok to write this. He must have been so sure of his immunity, that as a police officer he could do as he wished. Much the same as the 4 police officers who murdered George Floyd on camera must have felt. More on this story here –

I’m on my way home now along Graffiti Alley, where I see there’s been a large amount of powerful new work done. We absolutely need more than street art and a few changes of places and products named after slavers or racist concepts but it’s good to see the creatives doing what they can here…

…and then past The Beaver Cafe, which is closed at the moment. I’m unsure if this is just because of Covid or not. A paragraph from the cafe website – 

“The Beaver Café is a queer and alt-culture oasis located in the heart of Queen West. Established in 2006 by Lynn McNeill and his then business partner Will Munro, The Beaver was ahead of the wave that has transformed the neighbourhood into a hub of dining and nightlife.” There’s a nice article written from a personal perspective about Will Munro and The Beaver here –

If the cafe opens again after the pandemic I’m going to visit. I like the history, it’s statement of tolerance and encouagement of creativity, and the prices on the menu look fair, too. 

Half an hour later I’m home, decompressing. It’s been a hot half marathon run, certainly, but there’s also been a lot of thoughts that need to be filtered and acted upon, as well as songs and artwork to be enjoyed and appreciated. 

My 13.1 mile route.

I started out with Jackie Shane as my guide and I’m still eager to explore all her music but learning about Will Munro has been an act of unearthing unexpected treasure. My own five years in Toronto have seemed largely devoid of depth when it comes to art. The art openings and galleries I’ve visited, and the modern work I’ve seen, have mostly been corporate, bloodless affairs created, it appeared, by those who wished to have dialogue with the bank manager rather than the subject of art itself. But Will, and his legacy of living bravely, actually being interested in art more than money, and clearly referencing idols that gel with me (such as Klaus Nomi, an artist I’ve been introduced to via Will – see his collaboration with David Bowie here), have stirred strong feelings of creating in a free, accepting, honest and inclusive way; something I haven’t done 100% for many years.

Perhaps a key to finding your own voice is taking a step to the side and looking at the landscape from a different perspective. It’s a tricky business but we can be thankful that there is help on hand, from the examples that Jackie Shane, Will Munro and so many others from the LGBTQ community have set for us all. 

I found this collection of letters to Will inspiring.

And, by way of goodbye for now, here’s one more from Jackie.

Active Learning/ReLearning – Tom Longboat

Interviews, Runs Posted on Mon, June 22, 2020 04:47PM

The colour photos in this article are by the author. All other photos have been gleaned from the internet. No infringement of copyright is meant. If they belong to you and you wish us to remove them please get in touch and it’ll be done.

The Black Lives Matter movement has shown me that I’ve much work to do. 

I’m a white man, born into working class England. Like many raised in an atmosphere of poor schooling, little money, and few prospects for ourselves other than dead end manual work, I’d raised an eyebrow when I’d first been referred to as privileged. Me? Privileged? Are you kidding?!

But then came along the Me Too movement, and the Covid 19 crisis, and finally Black Lives Matter, all of them demanding I look at myself.

It became clear that although I’d never physically hurt anybody I had been raised within a racist, sexist society, and had based a large part of my personality on the lessons I’d learnt as a child. I’d called Indian and black kids names behind their backs, avoided their friendships, and thought of them as ‘other’ and, perhaps, inferior.

It wasn’t easy to accept my failings – I’d thought of myself as a decent guy, turns out that wasn’t quite the case – but once I had I knew that although I couldn’t alter the past it made sense to try to understand the deeper reasons for my thoughts so that changes might be made, and the future would have a chance to be better.

Late last year I tried to drop my defensive attitude, to stop making the conversation all about me, and when people have said ‘Black Lives Matter’ since then my reaction has been to nod and to listen, rather than answer ‘But all lives matter,’ as I used to.

When thinking of my own past, I tried to understand that although we were poor my parents were solid. The society I was raised in was also safe, at least for me. We walked to school or work without fear of the police, or of being beaten or lynched for our colour or race, and if we were poor it was only in relation to the middle classes. We were never on food stamps or unable to get fresh food, we had opportunities for travel, and although our politicians regularly lied to us they never tried that hard to stack the deck against us to prevent us from voting, as they do to black people in the States. Just listening to a few of the reports coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement helped to make it clear that no matter my perception of the challenges I faced they couldn’t be seriously compared to those of most non-whites living in a white dominated society, and that I should start listening intently to the experiences and evidence being put forward by black and indigenous activists. Not just for their sake but also for mine. I believe we get one shot at this life and I didn’t want to waste mine reinforcing divisions and falsehoods, or the status quo that benefits from them.

I’m probably not talking about this right, and to those with an education in racial matters I might seem like a right jackass. To others with a right wing agenda I may also seem riddled with a white guilt infused attention seeking disorder. Deciding to face up to all the inevitable critisicm that comes with outspoken self reflection is part of the choice; to move forward it’s inevitable that I’m going to appear like a fool and say the wrong thing at times. I can keep the walls up and stay where I am, or I can accept that becoming part of an equitable future might initially feel like dropping back a few grades at school.

With my background I’m also justifiably concerned that I’m not up to the job of working this out. Do I have the education, the empathy, the emotional intelligence, the focus, and the bravery to deal with this? 

Supposing I do, where do I start? So much of the history we were taught in school and which underpins my thoughts has been shown to be propaganda designed to keep a few rich people on top and their viewpoint at the forefront. What of it can I trust? Can I even use it now? If so, how? Where are the pitfalls among the narratives? Wherever I look there’s a daunting rabbit hole. At times it seems easier just to cower on the porch, reassume my role as a decent enough guy, and pretend it all didn’t happen.

But maybe I don’t have to start so big. Maybe I can just focus on a person in the city that I live, learn about them, and start there. As Charlie Chaplin said in 1947, a million deaths is a statistic, a single death a tragedy (the saying is commonly attributed to Stalin in the same year, or to Porteus in 1759, or to Tucholsky in 1925…facts, eh…) . My point is, by focusing on the individual, I may be able to avoid being overwhelmed and begin to build an elevated view that will offer a wider picture as a result. It’s also possible that like all my previous travel journeys this one will show me things that I can’t imagine just yet, and that these will add to my understanding.

I start, tentatively, with the premise that if I want to make learning an ongoing process I have to make it fun and rewarding. Like you do with exercise. If you hate going to the gym you won’t go to the gym, it doesn’t matter how beneficial it is for you. So my first task is to make the act of learning something that I want to do on a regular basis. 

I love running, I love being outdoors. So I look for a way forward using this. I google ‘Canadian Runners’. Many roads of inquiry lead to Tom Longboat.

Tom Longboat Learning/ReLearning Run – 15 miles around Toronto

First, here’s a brief biography of the great runner Tom Longboat, together with a couple of short videos that’ll give you more information. Then I’ll move onto the account of the 15 mile run in Tom’s footsteps that I undertook. 

My main sources for this article have been the work of Bruce Kidd, and the following websites and articles;,-inuit-metis/who-do-you-think-i-am-a-story-of-tom-longboat

Tom was born in 1887 on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, to parents of the Onondaga tribe. He started running races aged 18 and over the next 19 years broke several Canadian and world records, represented Canada at the Olympics, was crowned the Professional Running Champion of the World in New York City and became, according to his closet rival, possibly the greatest marathon runner of all time.

His indigenous name was ‘Cogwagee’, which means ‘Everything.’ The names the press gave him when he achieved fame as a runner are an indicator of the world he grew up in and conflicting, racist attitudes he had to contend with. For as well as Cogwagee he was also called the ‘Bulldog of Britannia’, the ‘Bronze Cyclone’, the ‘Bronze Wonder’, the ‘Racing Redskin’, the ‘Wonderful Redskin’, ‘Tireless Tom’, ‘Big Chief’, ‘Heap Big Chief’, the ‘Great Indian’, the ‘Irish Indian’ and, later – when he was still in his thirties – ‘Old Tom’. He was also described by journalists as ‘the original dummy…a lazy…stall fed…Injun,’ and a ‘stubborn, once-talented Redskin’ who ended his days penniless and probably alcoholic‘ (this wasn’t true, Tom drove a car through the height of the Depression when many Canadians couldn’t even afford bus fare). Many journalists just didn’t know how to behave correctly then it seems, as so often is still the case now. 

Tom came to prominence as a runner when he took part in the 1906 Hamilton ‘Around the Bay’ race which, despite taking a wrong turn and adding 140 metres to the course, he won by nearly 4 minutes. Marathon racing was big news in those days so by the time he entered the Boston Marathon in 1907 the media had already proclaimed him a legend, calling him ‘the greatest distance runner the world has ever seen.’ 

The media was later to portray Tom as a lazy, stubborn ‘Injun’ who needed the help of an honest (white) trainer to reign him in but before the 1907 Boston race they went easy on the racism, although when he shunned pre-race interviews and photo calls they did use a photo of an indigenous football player to illustrate their made-up stories instead. Perhaps they decided that since they personally thought all Indians looked alike it really didn’t matter what photo they used. Or maybe that was the public attitude that they were trying to foster.

Tom won the race easily, running the final mile – uphill into a snowy headwind – in an astonishing 4 minutes and 46 seconds, and broke the previous Boston marathon record by 5 minutes. 

A comment that reveals much about how the dominant whites of Canadian society thought (and by dominant I mean the journalists and their masters – the businessmen and politicians) came from a Toronto Star writer who, after Longboat’s triumph at Boston, wrote ‘His trainers are to be congratulated…for having such a docile pupil.’ The media view was clearly that there was no way an indigenous man could be up to the task of becoming outstanding in his field and developing his full potential. For that to happen, he needed the help of the white man.

In 1908 Tom joined the Canadian team at the London Olympics. He was odds on favourite to win the marathon so when he dropped out of the race at the 20 mile mark whilst in 2nd place it was a huge shock. The Canadian papers said the heat had got to him although according to Canadian team manager J. Howard Crocker, ‘Longboat should have won the race. His sudden collapse and the symptoms shown to me indicate that some form of stimulant was used contrary to the rules of the game. Any medical man knowing the facts of the case will assure you that the presence of a drug in an overdose was the cause of the runner’s failure.’

Tom is shown here in 3rd place at the start of the Olympic Marathon in 1908.

It’s been said that the drugs were put into Tom’s race nutrition by sports writer Lou Marsh, the Canadian journalist who was one of his most outspoken, racist critics. Lou had followed Tom on his bicycle to report on the race. Perhaps he was in league with Tom’s manager, Tom Flanagan, who allegedly bet heavily against Tom and collected $100,000 in wagers as a result of Tom’s loss.

Tom parted ways with his trainer Mike Flanagan (Tom Flanagan’s brother) soon after the Olympics. Flanagan, complaining of the runner’s physical condition and supposed refusal to train, told The Globe, ‘I wouldn’t take $200 a day to handle that fellow. He is the most contrary piece of furniture I have ever had anything to do with.’ Although he was close enough friends to have been the best man at Longboat’s wedding only two weeks earlier, Tom Flanagan sold the runner’s contract to another promoter for a quick $2,000 a couple of weeks later.

‘He sold me like a racehorse,’ Tom Longboat told the press, who in turn relied on the easy stereotypes of the day to turn the blame on Tom Longboat himself, with The Globe claiming that it was Longboat’s fault for not training. ‘He has all the waywardness and lack of responsibility of his race,’ their editorial read.

In 1909 Tom Longboat took on the Englishman Alfred Shrubb, who lived at the Grand Central Hotel in Toronto at the same time as Tom, for the title of ‘Professional Running Champion of the World’ in New York City. Shrubb took an early lead but Tom came back at him after 20 miles and was looking every inch the champion elect when his ex-manager Flanagan suddenly appeared, stripped of his suit jacket, shirt and tie, running up and down one side of the track, jeering Shrubb and leading the cheers for his former client. Tom Longboat won the title yet days later, when his ex manager Flanagan returned to Toronto alone, he was lifted onto the shoulders of a large crowd as if he were the returning hero.

I had no intention of stepping into the arena,’ Flanagan was quoted in one newspaper, ‘but when I saw how things were shaping I just had to strip off my coat and go at it…and we won.’ He was widely credited with the victory.

‘To Flanagan belongs the real credit of winning the race,’ Lou Marsh wrote in The Star. ‘He worked like a hero and pulled a man through to victory who had but little real licence to win.’

When Tom Longboat, the new Professional Running Champion of the World, arrived in Toronto a few days later he was not greeted by a parade but just a handful of reporters. To those of them who would give Flanagan credit for the win, Tom said, ‘I do not like the idea of doing all the work and somebody else getting all the credit for winning my victories. Do you think that Flanagan could make me run if I do not want to? I can get along without assistance and if any of these other runners want to race me they will have to make arrangements with me, and no one else.’

Knee and back issues began to plague Longboat post-1909. Although this was public knowledge reporters often blamed ‘Indian laziness’ for his occasional poor showing. Tom was also criticized for his training style. Every day he took two long-distance walks, lifted weights, and played handball or other vigorous sports. Running was part of his fitness routine but was limited to twice per week. The (white) Englishman Alfred Shrubb said to The Star; ‘I never run unless I feel like it. I know there are many athletes that go out to train when they are not feeling quite well, but they are doing themselves more harm than good.’ He faced no controversy or public complaint for his statement or methods whilst Tom Longboat was viewed as a lazy, stubborn, foolish, troublemaker for speaking his truth in the same way.

Over the next few years Tom went on racing, and mostly winning. The Canadian History Journal ( has this to say on how the media helped enforce racist views about Tom, and other non-white people, and how they followed the predictable media strategy of setting people up on a pedestal in order to pull them down (a bit like how politicians inflate incidences of black crime partly in order to promise that if you vote for them they’ll get tough on that crime. They invent something in order to make themselves relevant).

‘Journalists fostered his celebrity by adding racialized commentary to their reports and frequently drawing on stereotypes to describe his character, knowing that such commentary would make their stories more compelling for readers. On any given day, they would frame Longboat as a hero who had conquered the world; as a lazy Indian who would not train; as a gifted athlete admired by all; as a drunken Indian who squandered his prize money; as a cultured man with expensive tastes; as an uncivilized Indian who needed white men to help him find his place in mainstream society; as a role model to admire and emulate; or as a wayward Indian who needed to be steered away from his ‘natural’ inclinations and vices. Longboat’s status as a tragic hero thus hinged to a large degree on the desires and prejudices of writers who fused together ideas about nation, race, masculinity, and class to create a composite picture that barely resembled the man.’

One sportswriter in The Star actually wrote that Longboat ‘must be taken in hand by a trainer who will handle him like a race horse – made to live and work absolutely under his trainer’s orders – or he will be into the discard before the year is out. Longboat cannot be left to his own devices a moment when preparing for a race.’

Even though Tom wasn’t seen as a full member of society by white Canada (Indigenous people weren’t allowed to vote in Canada until 1960) he gave up his athletic career in 1916 to join the Canadian forces serving in World War One. He was one of 292 members of the Six Nations Reserve who served in the war. Facing the horrors of trench warfare and poison gas, Tom was assigned to be a dispatch carrier along with fellow indigenous runners Arthur Jamieson (Tuscarora), who had finished eighth in the 1916 Boston Marathon and who was killed in action on June 2, 1917, and Joe Benjamin Keeper (Norway House Cree First Nation) who had placed fourth in the 10,000-meter race in the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, and who joined with Tom to win an inter-Allied cross country championship near Vimy Ridge in 1917. 

Tom was wounded twice and mistakenly declared dead during the war years. Discharged in 1919, he returned to Caledonia and then Toronto, where each day he rode the Queen Street streetcar to south Riverdale to work at the Dunlop Rubber Company. In 1924 Tom asked the Amateur Athletic Union to reinstate him as an amateur so he could resume running but nothing came of his request. Later he found another job, working for the city as a street cleaner, which he did for the next 19 years. The media enjoyed themselves royally at this time, gloating, ‘A rubbish man!…a particularly nice rubbish man…an Indian rubbish man.’

Tom died in 1949, aged 61. 

6 years after his death he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which today recognizes him as ‘Canada’s greatest long-distance runner.’ 

The sports community should be complimented on doing the right thing. The same could not be said of the business community. For a year after his induction in the Hall of Fame, in a 6 page article titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Tom Longboat’ that appeared in Maclean’s – Canada’s leading business and political journal at the time – the journalist Fergus Cronin worked hard to enforce the racist perspective of the whites who dominated Canadian society.

‘He worked his way to the bottom…he hated to train, and he was a fool with his money. But for half a dozen dazzling years this Canadian Indian could run farther, faster than any man alive. His downfall was just as swift… He started very near the top in 1906 and was not long in reaching it. Then, over the years, he worked his way to the bottom. Literally, his was a story of Public Hero to Garbage Collector. ’ 

If you’d like to read this sad episode in Canadian journalism you can do so here –

And to learn more about Tom Longboat, here are a couple of short videos.

The Run

As I prepare to head out on a run that would take in several Toronto sights associated with Tom the image of the media crowing over him as a garbage man is foremost in my mind. I can empathise somewhat. I think back to the day after I’d won the 2016 Canadian 24hr men’s running Championship. I hadn’t been allowed to claim the title because I was only a Permanent Resident of Canada at the time, not a Citizen. They were saying I was Canadian enough to pay taxes but not Canadian enough to vote or take home a running trophy that I’d won, fair and square. And the day after I’d run those 195kms there I was, back at work, bent over picking up garbage all along the front of the factory on an industrial estate in Etobicoke.

The same happened the following year after I’d won the Canadian title outright. A Canadian ultra running association official had awarded me my medal, congratulated me on my winning run, looked sheepish as he handed the Championship trophy to the second placed runner, had kindly explained to me that he was sorry, but that there were rules…

I’d shrugged it off easier this second time, laughed that it was one less hunk of silver to clog up my sideboard. And so I should have done, after all, this was just a minor slight of no lasting consequence, and clearly nothing personal. Nothing like Tom and other non-whites had to face, then and now.   

I know I’m far from being able to understand what it is to be non-white, or a non-white runner like Tom Longboat. But all journeys start with a single step. I focus on what we have in common. I lace up my running shoes. We have this act in common. I take a deep drink from the cold tap in the bathroom to last me the next 2 hours of running and relish the refreshing taste. We probably have this in common. I walk out the door and feel the sun on my face, smile and relax. I’m sure Tom did this too. When you feel nature prominently on your skin, it’s hard not to feel happy and smile.

I head down through Roncy to Lakeshore. It’s one of those sunny 24C days that has you running lightly, gliding with joy. Lamp posts are covered with flyers listing the names and photos of black and indigenous people who have been murdered by the police, here and in the USA. Locals are making sure that we Canadians understand that there are racial problems on both sides of the border. ‘Say their Name’ proclaims one poster. I see value in that. It’s partly why I’m running today. Among many other things, I’m saying Tom’s name, to others but primarily myself. 

Lake Ontario sparkles, I think of Tom Longboat’s Onondaga heritage as I run along the boardwalk. Before Tom I knew of his tribe because of another prominent historical figure, Hiawatha, who I’d heard about as a very young boy. Hiawatha was also an Onondaga and was presented to us as a brave warrior. I read a book about him and learnt of his role as mouthpiece for a man known as the Great Peacemaker. The Great Peacemaker was a Huron prophet and spiritual leader who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, but he suffered from a severe speech impediment which hindered him from spreading his proposal. Hiawatha was a follower of his, and a skilled orator, so he took on the task of disseminating the message of peace. As a young boy with a severe stutter of my own I identified with the Great Peacemaker. Like many kids of my country and my race I thought I was special, with something unique to offer and say. But the fact that I literally couldn’t speak of my feelings or ideas set me apart, at least in my own mind. Yet here was a feted man of the forest and a holy prophet, joined in a tale of speech impediment and noble goals. Naturally I gravitated towards them, their story offered me comfort, and hope I suppose.

Lakeshore Boulevard is noisy with traffic. The clear, quiet skies of Covid 19 are fading. I cross the footbridge into the Exhibition grounds and stand in Tom’s shadow for the first time. It was here that he started, finished and won the 1907 and 1908 Ward’s Marathons. 

The Telegram reported on the 1907 race, saying that crowds gathered along both Queen and Dufferin streets in anticipation of the runners’ return. ‘Packed close and alert like the bristles on a shoe brush were the spectators, foresting deep the path of the Ward Marathon runners. The lead runner (Tom Longboat) loped by the cheering thousands and honking autos and was proclaimed the winner of the Ward Marathon.’

The Globe reported on the 1908 race saying there were 20,000 spectators packed into the Exhibition Grandstand to see him win, and that ‘at O’Brien’s Hotel, Longboat had gained such a lead that it was apparent he would win easily, barring accidents. The Indian chatted with his attendants and acknowledged the cheers of encouragement with which he was greeted all along the course.’ 

Tom finished eight minutes ahead of his nearest challenger and since this was the 3rd year running he’d won the race he was allowed to permanently keep the Ward Cup as a reward for his dominance.

I keep a note of a wish to retrace the steps of the Ward Marathon. It will become the route of a future run (it turns out to be shorter than a modern marathon, about 19 ¾ miles, or around 31 kms; this was normal for marathon races of the early 1900’s when distances could vary in length).

Also on the Exhibition Grounds is the Better Living Centre where a portrait of Tom was featured in the ‘Indian Hall of Fame’, a yearly display from 1967 onwards that was set up by a movement led by the Indian-Eskimo Association to honour individuals who’d had an impact on the past, present and future of indigenous people in Canada. 

Heading out of the monumental Princes Gate I stop to locate the logo of the MNCFN – the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. It’s easily missed as it’s quite small and can be found on the side of 1 of 10 granite benches that were created as part of a joint project between design firms in Toronto and Milan in 2005. The Milan Marathon flashes across my mind as I’d been invited to run as a journalist in early 2019. I’d shared my hotel there with the elite athletes – most of them black Africans – interviewed them, filmed them, ran alongside them. In light of recent information I reconsider my conduct there. I’d acted with equality verbally but how had my thoughts been? I think I was ok but there’s no harm reflecting. I make a note on my phone to explore this experience later, after the running is over for the day.

Having the MNCFN logo placed on the side of the bench was apparently not a simple achievement and First Nations people had to work hard to overcome official efforts to ignore Toronto as their territory. That such pushback was still present as recently as 2005 shows how far white dominated society has to go in matters of talking and thinking straight. The good news is that in this case right prevailed, albeit in a small way.

The eagle in the centre of the MNCFN logo is a representation of ‘the Messenger’. The Mississaugas were once said to be great messengers, covering up to 80 miles a day on foot. In early indigenous thought running was said to bring myths to life, to create a link between runners and the universe. I’m drawn to understanding more about this idea, to try to understand how indigenous runners all around the world could cover as much ground as they did. The Lung Gom Pa of Tibet would cover 200 miles a day because of their control of ‘internal air’ (according to one of their more famous runners, Milarepa). Tom Longboat himself was said to draw on some internal force that gave him a terrific finishing kick (his Boston marathon final mile time confirms this) and make him near unbeatable on any distance over 20 miles. I’m not suggesting this ‘internal air’ or force has to be mysterious, or anything other than a result of intelligent training, but I think that adopting other perspectives than I already have may prove to be vital in understanding more.

Before I leave I pause to give space to the blue writing that surrounds the eagle. It symbolizes our connection to water, and the circle teaches that every living thing is connected and related, that we are all part of the circle of life. This is wisdom.

I turn my face to the other side of the city centre; I’m heading for Tom Longboat Lane. To make the city running more pleasant I pass first through Garrison Common, a place known for being home to urban coyotes. I know I’m passing by much history that is of value to me but I can come back to that later; now I’ve got to focus on Tom Longboat. It’s like when people say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and others shout in response ‘All Lives Matter!’ It just shows they’re not focusing because when somebody says ‘Black Lives Matter’ then that’s the conversation, nothing else. If you want to talk about all lives mattering then fair enough but that’s not the same thing, it’s another conversation for another time. The concept of black lives mattering and equality is too important to relegate it to a bit part of a rolling discussion. And Tom Longboat is too important to just slot him in among all the many other characters and sights of Toronto past.  

But I am attracted to the idea of seeing coyotes if possible so I run down a shady, quiet path and keep my eyes peeled. Coyote is seen as a trickster figure by many indigenous people, and a shapeshifter. Tom had something to say about shapeshifting when he was interviewed by The Toronto Mail and Empire in 1930. 

‘The medicine men can do strange things. If a dog comes into their room they can make themselves into that dog. Or they can be in the bear and then be men again. You can see it on the reserve. They can do anything…People laugh about that wisdom and learning, but they do not realize that they do not know everything.’

This is an important quote, worth dwelling on.

My path, which isn’t marked on my Google map, ends beneath Bathurst Bridge. There’s a blue canoe full of soil and greenery laid across the remnants of a train line, marked with a sign saying ‘North American Native Plant Society’. Sumac bushes shade wooden sleepers.

I backtrack and head on down to the lake. On past the CN Tower and Sugar Beach…

…and then a left turn up Sherbourne before looping round to the lane named after Tom. 

‘Longboat Avenue’ is residential and looks like a nice place but ‘Tom Longboat Lane’ is around the back.

It’s all garages and dry heat, the only sign of athleticism are 2 basketball hoops. I don’t want to read too much into this naming but I can’t help but think of a poem by Langston Hughes as I stand there in the lane. 

‘I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me

‘Eat in the kitchen,’



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed –

I, too, am America.’

Maybe one day Tom, and so many others alive and dead, will be given an equal seat at the table, somehow. For now I continue on, running up Jarvis St. It’s a wide road named after William Jarvis, a man who owned 6 slaves in what is now Toronto. Jarvis was a champion for slavery during his time as Provincial Secretary of Upper Canada, watering down legislation to allow for the practice to continue. I’m surprised we still honour him in any way but maybe it’s good that roads are named after such characters so we’re encouraged to learn more about what they did instead of forgetting and pretending such practices ‘could never happen here’.

I arrive at Massey Hall, where Tom Longboat celebrated his marriage to Lauretta Maracle, a school teacher on the Tyendinaga Reserve, on December 28th, 1908.

They’d actually got married earlier in the day elsewhere but such was Tom’s fame that there was a presentation on stage at the hall and thousands turned up to wish the couple well. Maybe the everyday Torontonians were star struck, or maybe they’re weren’t as racist as those in charge of society would’ve liked them to be. Tom had just won a big race in New York and The Toronto Star had commented that ‘It is hoped that Longboat’s success will not develop obstinacy on his part, and that he will continue to be manageable.’ I’m suprised they didn’t use the word ‘uppity’ here; perhaps that was yet to enter their vocabulary. Other papers at the time described him as a ‘lanky, raw-boned, headstrong Redskin’ who did not run, but ‘galloped’, as an animal might, and in response to complements ‘would smile as wide as a hippo and gurgle his thanks’, whilst Lou Marsh, the guy who was said to have doped Tom at the London Marathon, wrote that after a victory Tom was ‘smiling like a coon in a watermelon patch.’

In the eyes of the white press, Tom was an animal in need of containing. When he got married The Globe wrote, with the usual casual racism, that the new bride ‘does not like to talk of feathers, war paint or other Indian paraphernalia…If anyone can make a reliable man…of that elusive human being, it will be his wife.’

Later Tom was to marry again (Lauretta had remarried after Tom had been reported dead in France) and had four children. In the words of the Maclean’s article written after his death, ‘he took another squaw.’

I run on through the city centre, past 57 Simcoe Street where Tom had lived at the Grand Central Hotel during his early years in Toronto. The hotel is long gone now, replaced by a shield of shiny glass.

Then I have a straight haul along Wellington and up onto Dovercourt, where I pause to view the YMCA, which still looks the same on the outside as when Tom had trained on the wooden indoor track before the Boston Marathon. 

It was here, in March 1907, that a thousand spectators lined Dovercourt Rd to watch as Tom set a new record on the YMCA’s 2.5 mile course, which served as a warm-up for his triumph in the Boston Marathon one month later. I can’t find any record of the exact course but the distance from Queen St straight up Dovercourt to Bloor and back is 2.5 miles, so I’m guessing that could be it. 

I’m tired – I’ve just done 14 miles in midday heat – so I decide to run halfway up Dovercourt before turning on College and heading home. I’ll return in a day or 2 to run the full 2.5 mile course when I’ve more energy to do the occasion justice. I raise my game and increase pace, moving easily as you do when you know it’s the final push. I imagine the crowds that lined this street in 1907, cheering Tom on. I think I can understand a little more about the man now. Running can give us an avenue when all others are closed, of course, but this is just my (white, working class, western) perspective. As I increase my pace I dig further, is there anything more I can discern here? 

I am energy. Everybody and everything is. This is an incomplete, basic and vague thought yet it strikes me as an important one. There’s more. This movement feels right. Many things in life feel necessary but running free like this feels right. I imagine Tom running here, feeling right, and then as a young man on the dirt roads of the Six Nations Reserve, and then I think of me in my early teens running over the hills after school every day because running was one of the only things that felt right to me then. 

I veer left onto College and pick up the pace more, boy it’s hot now, 30C or more. A mile later I’m home, hands cupped under the cold tap again, with much to think of courtesy of a couple of hours spent in the company of Tom Longboat. 

Later I’m cruising the internet and I see an article in which the white boxer Tyson Fury is talking about something the black boxer Anthony Joshua said at a Black Lives Matter protest a couple of days ago in England. Joshua had urged peaceful protest, and that if people wanted to help they should buy from black owned businesses. Fury had much to say in response to the speech including this;

‘The thing is with Joshua, he’s always got Eddie (Eddie Hearn, his white promoter) to talk for him and Eddie does all the media stuff and all that and he (Joshua) sort of just reads off a piece of paper. Even that speech he was reading, he read it off a piece of paper. Nothing is freestyle, everything is wrote out or planned. So during the lockdown obviously Eddie wasn’t with him when he did this, or else he’d have given him a right kick up the rear end.’

And it hits me that this is exactly the sort of talk that Tom Longboat was subject to, over 100 years ago. People saying that as a non-white man he was too stupid to handle his own affairs, that he needed a white man to think and speak for him. And perhaps this is one of the most important thing to come out of today for me. Because it’s often not easy to recognise when we’re being racist these days. I don’t think Tyson Fury is knowingly racist but like many of us he acts as a mouthpiece for the racists in charge of society because he doesn’t learn about the language they use. So when you do find something that identifies clearly who the racists are, how they speak and who supports them it’s very useful. So you don’t get caught up by their rhetoric again, and so you can stop circulating their hate speech and ideology. I google all the news sources that reported this Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua story. I figured that a professional journalist would recognise Fury’s words as classic racism-speak and that if they chose to print it then it meant they were either unaware of the history of the style of slur – in which case we really have to question their knowledge of their own craft – or that they are aware of the style of talk and want to perpetuate its use. In which case, we definitely shouldn’t be reading them. The list of media outlets that printed the story, all outlets that I shan’t be taking any notice of again, is:

DAZN – Canada (you can read the story here –

The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Metro, The Mirror, The Independent – UK

After Tom’s death the great English distance runner Alfred Shrubb (who’d set 28 world records, won over 1,000 events, and had raced against Tom 10 times) stated in an interview that Tom was ‘one of the greatest, if not the greatest marathoner of all time.’ 

18th January 1912: A race official prepares to fire the starter’s gun for a long distance race, with competitors Alfred Shrubb of Great Britain (left) and Tom Longboat of Canada at the ready. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 2000, Tom was represented on a Canadian stamp.

In 2008, June 4 was officially declared ‘Tom Longboat Day’ in Ontario.

There is a running group in Toronto called the Longboat Roadrunners. You can check out their events here

I’ll leave you with the following article that was published in the Boston Globe on the day after Tom had won the marathon there in 1907.

‘The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdy.’

The 2020 Chilly Half Marathon, Burlington, Canada

Runs Posted on Sun, April 26, 2020 08:24PM

The Chilly Half Marathon event took place in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, in early March. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the 10km and the half marathon events; this is their joint report.

You can find the event website at

1. Pre-Event Info

There were no shortage of emails advising us of race details. They arrived most weeks, updating us on route, parking, sponsors, pace bunnies, race swag, post race meals, bib pickup, and more. The organizers were also very active on Facebook and Instagram. We went into this race with no questions at all, we were pretty certain where we’d park, where our bib pick up was and – thanks to the detailed route map – what our race tactics would be, depending on the wind. Bib pickup was available locally the week before or runners could pay a little extra and pick up on the day. 

2. Event Location

Getting to the location was extremely easy; participants could take the Lakeshore West GO service to the Burlington station where shuttle buses were running frequently to whisk you off to the start area. If you preferred to drive, the downtown Burlington area offers ample free parking and multiple pay lots are relatively close to the start/finish, or parking was available at the GO station where one could take the afore mentioned shuttle bus. Part of the pre-race information included a handy parking map, with notes on where not to park as well (tip: avoid the private lots). For participants staying at a partner hotel in the area, there was also shuttle service available from the hotels, or at another hotel nearby. We drove to the event and it was a short 45 minutes from Toronto.

3. General Atmosphere of the Event

The event was off an ideal size, there were about 4,000 people taking part. It was small enough to still have that local feel to it, large enough to have a real excited buzz, but not so large that you lose a sense of place. Maybe that was helped by the Canadian national anthem being sung just before the start. This doesn’t happen at many events, some places are very wary of nationalism, and whilst at times this is understandable it’s also a shame. I do like it when people are proud of where they are and celebrate what makes them unique, and since the singing of the anthem lets you know without a doubt that this is a very Canadian race, I’d recommend it for international runners who want an authentic travel/race experience. 

There were a couple of Canadian Olympians taking part as well as a host of other elites so that created some excitement. It’s always a pleasure to line up behind some of the best runners around. It gives the day a special edge.  

The event had a slightly later start time than many races, of 10:05am, which in my opinion is a very nice option for the winter season races. It’s nice to give the weather a chance to warm up before heading out along the race course. But with the cooler temps in mind, the event offers three indoor locations close to each start area for participants to wait in and stay warm. We were lucky enough to be part of the VIP group that had a comfortable pre-race area complete with snacks and coffee.

However before we checked into that area we stopped by city hall where the crowds were full of good spirit and people visiting prior to the start. Volunteers were readily available to assist with getting participants their bibs and swag, and handing out directions as needed.

As for the course, it’s mostly made up of out and back so there are many spots available for spectators to cheer on their friends and family. The longest out and back portion of the course is on the lakeshore, which offers lots of intersecting side streets for people wanting to offer support or good cheer to participants that are midway through the race.

4. Course 

There were 5 and 10km distances, and the half marathon. They started in slightly different locations but converged on the long, straight-ish road that dissects a quiet residential area. Occasionally we saw Lake Ontario, the day was clear blue, and the low winter sun sparkled on the water. There were plenty of pockets of support, motivation never became an issue for me.   

There were a few gentle corners but in all of the half marathon distance only 2 bollard turnarounds. At these points anybody running at world class pace would no doubt lose a second or so but for most of us they provided a welcome little breather as we slowed to turn and then gained speed again. The roads were wide enough so that even at the start of the race when all the runners were bunched up, I never felt too hemmed in, and was never blocked from running at the pace I wanted.

I ran with the 1:30 pacer and they were spot on. I kept with them and broke free just before the finish, and finished in just under 1:30. There are a few gentle up and downs on the route as it makes its way out and then back along the same road, but I’d say it was quite a fast course and if you’re after a PR, you might try for it here. 

This short video will give you an idea of the race, and the course.

5. On course aid stations 

It was a cold day, ideal for running really, about -8C feels, so I didn’t need to stop to use any of the aid stations. I saw they had water and some isotonic drinks, and there were 4 of them I believe. They were on both sides of the road so it was easy for runners to grab a cup without too much crossing in front of others. There were plenty of volunteers and marshals to ensure there was no hold up in the racing anywhere.

6. Race kit, medals and awards 

Each runner got a decent running fleece, a medal, and a range of post race food. There was also free chili and beer for every runner at participating restaurants. I was really happy to see that there was vegan pasta in the VIP area, and that it was marked up as such. So many races I attend don’t do this; they may have vegan food, but they don’t announce it, probably for fear of annoying some runners. The fact that the Chilly Half did have this shows that the race organisers have a progressive mindset.  

7. Post-Event Info 

There were several things to do after the races. The Awards Ceremony for Frosty 5K and Frigid 10K was held at 11:30 a.m. at Burlington Performing Arts Centre and the Awards Ceremony for the Chilly Half Marathon started at 12:45 p.m. The ceremony also offered lots of draws courtesy of event sponsors.

Chili and Steam Whistle Beer were available post-race at several Burlington locations. Participants just had to bring their race bib to any of the participating restaurants after the race for a free chili and Steam Whistle Beer! We went back to the VIP area where we heartily enjoyed the post race food and Dave enjoyed a beverage (I was driving).

The event offers your standard photo packages too, which were made available for purchase within a few days of the event.

To learn more about this highly enjoyable and well organised event, check out their website –

The Boxing Day Run 10 and 4 Miler

Runs Posted on Sat, January 11, 2020 09:02PM

The Boxing Day Run had it’s 99th race this past December. The event takes place in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn from our team took on the 4 miler. There was also a 10 mile option available. 2020 will bring their 100th event!

1. Pre-event info

In addition to the detailed information available on the event registration page, participants received a pre-race email with all of the pertinent race day details, including extra notes on getting thereby transit, car, carpooling and available parking.

2. Event Location (parking, facilities/washrooms)

This event partners with the Hamilton YMCA. $5,000 is donated annually from the run to the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. This campaign helps local children participate in YMCA programs such as fitness, day care and camping.

Getting to the location was extremely easy; the GO station was right next to the YMCA, and if you drove, the area offers ample free parking nearby and a pay lot across the street from the event. The race event info also offered information for those who wanted to arrange carpooling.

The event location also offers a gymnasium for waiting around pre-race, and indoor washrooms with lockers and showers, which is a lovely perk for a December run. This year the weather was very mild, but that’s certainly not always the case for the time of year.

Bib or soup?

3. Aid Stations (snacks and water/fuel)

GU gels were available in the bib pickup area, and water was readily available throughout the YMCA.

Hanging out at the 10 am opening time before the crowds arrived

4. General Atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)

This event had a leisurely start time of noon, with the bib pick up and pre-race area opening at 10am. The pre-race area was full of good spirit and people visiting while we waited. Volunteers were readily available to assist with getting participants their bibs and swag, and the YMCA staff were very helpful in pointing participants to the change rooms.

5. Course (length, technicality, scenery)

The race course was very well marked. It was made up of mostly city streets around downtown Hamilton and park pathways in and around Bayfront and Harvey Parks. Both distances offered nice views along the waterfront area and of course the holiday decorations made for a little extra scenic fun.

Shoe choice: I wore my road Hokas and found them perfect for this course.

Start area
Seasonal decor at the park near the finish area

6. Race Kit, Medals and Awards

Participants in Boxing Day Run received a ball cap, and finishers earned a race medal with the event logo, the seasonally appropriate and fun Running Snowman. Category winners won cash awards (the race information noted $3,000 in awards for overall winners) and age group winners were awarded snowman belt buckles.

Our bibs and caps

7. Post Race

The post race area was lively. Participants were enjoying being back inside in the gym, for some warmth after the cool weather during the race. The awards were being presented and there was the standard race fare; assorted fruit, water and buns plus the added bonus of hot soup. Additionally participants could present their race bib at one of two local pubs for a post race pint.

The 100th running of this historic event takes place in 2020.

If you’d like to discover more about the Boxing Day Run, or enter for 2020, check out their website –

The English Lake District – Great Dodds to Helvelyn (18km Walk and Swim)

Hiking, Runs Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:59PM

This is a full day walk or run up to the summit ridge that links the Dodds peaks and Helvelyn, and then down again to Thirlmere reservoir, offering excellent views and the chance to swim in several places. It would be a great walk for those with dogs, they’ll be off the lead almost all the way. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L5 (The English Lakes, North Eastern Area), and its best to take that map; I think it might be frustrating to try to find your way without it.

First of all, here is a short film of the central part of this walk, shows you what to expect up there on the summit ridge.

You can see the summit of Clough Head and Great Dodds from the CCC campsite at Troutbeck. It dominates the horizon to the west. Below is the view from my tent. Clough Head is the peak on the right, you’ll be walking from that to the peak on the left, which is Great Dodds, and beyond. It’s possible to walk to the path that leads up to the summit ridge from the campsite, but it’s a very long slog, and I was told the ground is often very boggy, so I did it another way.

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I drove along the A66 for 5 minutes until I got to the B5322 road on my left, turned down that and drove on for 10 more minutes until I reached the small hamlet of Legburthwaite, marked on the map. It’s on your left, and just before you join the main A591 road. There’s a church hall here, and free parking for about 5 cars. The path up to the ridge leaves from here, so if you can get a space, perfect. After you park, walk up the small road which peters out when you see this stile. Go over the stile and head upwards.

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The views as you head ever upwards will look like this. On the map, you are heading for Sticks Pass Cairn.

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The photo above shows the scene about 10 minutes before you reach Sticks Pass. As you can see, the path is well trodden and easy to follow. When you reach the pass, look left, the broad red earth path you see will take you all the way to Clough Head, and then you’ll retrace your steps and pass Sticks Pass on the way to Helvelyn. The paths are very easy to follow, as long as you have the map for reference, the gradients are mostly slight now you are up high, the views are supurb on both sides and there’s no steep edges to fear. Here are some views.

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The view from Clough Head, looking down onto the plain that the Troutbeck Campsite is located on, is above. From here, you’re just going to retrace your steps along to Sticks Pass. When you get back to the pass, the view looks like this.

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As you can see, the ridge is wide, and the path easy to see. You’ll have no issues following it. And the views just keep on appearing…

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The view above is from the peak known as Lower Man, looking at the route on to Helvelyn. To get here from Clough Head took me about 2 hours. You’ll have to descend from this point as well, so head up to Helvelyn peak if you wish, enjoy the great views, its an easy wide path, as you can see, no chance of getting lost, and then come back down to this Lower Man peak from where, if you look down, the view will be like this.

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The path here is well trodden, you’ll have no problem following it, and it leads straight down to the A591 road in about half an hour. It’s not that steep, just a long plod, and when you near the bottom you’ll have Helvelyn Gill on your right, a small stream which forms into a waterfall just above the wooden footbridge that your path will take you across. You can bathe here. It’s a small pool, only room for 2 or 3 at most, and not deep, but not too cold either, and very refreshing after that very long hike.

The path ends at a public carpark next to Highpark Wood. Cross the main road, then turn right, walk along the grassy verge to the layby on the opposite side of the road and find a noticeboard, which tells of a path from here leading down to Thirlmere Reservoir. Now, you’re not meant to swim in reservoirs, there may be underwater obstructions, but faced with a scene like the one below, I must say, it was so enticing that I did indeed go for a dip. It was extremely cold so I kept near the shore for safety, in case I cramped up. The water is very clear. I kept an eye out for any outflow pipes, which I never saw, which might have caused me trouble. I saw a few other people taking a dip too.

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The path onwards, along the shoreline, is marked on the ordnance survey map in red. You go as far as the hill of Great How, then skirt it on its right hand side, and eventually, after about 20 minutes, you reach the main road again, from where you can cross and double back about 500 metres along the verge to where you parked your car. The views as you go will be like this.

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A Tale of Tallinn – Part Three

Runs Posted on Sat, November 23, 2019 12:11PM

Sunday, 08th of September. It’s Marathon Day!!!!! ??

As usual, I did not have a quiet night of sleep, I felt a bit nervous and not enough motivated to get up and run. Luckily, the Sokos Hotel Viru is located just 100 m away from the start line, so I had more time than usual to clear my mind and focus on the next goal. Ok it’s 8am already, time to get up and get equipped!

On the way to the start line there is still time for some pictures to take.. what’s the hurry anyway? ?

The atmosphere at the start line was energetic, people were warming up or chatting with each other. 

3..2..1.. goooo!!! Let’s conquer the streets of Tallinn!! ?

The first kilometers went by quickly, since we were all fresh, energetic and cheered up by thousands of supporters along the streets. Running with the selfie-stick and actioncam in one hand did not make it a ‘walk in the park’, but taking pictures and filming was worth all the effort! 

After 4 km, we had the first encounter with the sea and greeted the ships of the Seaplane Harbour Maritime museum.

The route took us through the city streets and parks, on long roads with happy running people. At the 16th kilometer mark we reached the highlight of the whole marathon: the Zoo!!! I was really looking forward to this moment, as it never happened to me in my running career to visit a Zoo during a race!

I was greeted at the entrance of the Zoo by some cheerful volunteers. One of them even looked at the Romanian flag on my BIB and cheered for me: “Go Belgium!!” – No Belgium! Romania! I had to reply to him ?

The Zoo was awesome!! I took the chance to stop, make pictures and film the animals + some runners dressed like them!

More footage from the Zoo crossing is waiting for you in the video at the end of this story ?

Afterwards, we went through a forest, where the air was fresh and welcoming and I could take the time to reflect about our journey in life and how running a marathon compares to it.

My philosophical thread of thoughts stopped when reaching a city park at km 28 surrounded by music and happy supporters. Not to mention the batteries of my actioncam were going empty. The device had to be reconfigured and so now I was that tech-addicted guy running in the park ‘playing’ on his device instead of enjoying the atmosphere. ??

…’cause there is no hurry ?
Once again.. the sea!

Small cramps on my thighs were starting to appear but luckily, at the 32nd km there was a kid with Icepower spray. He saved my muscles! My feet cooled down and I did not feel any cramps for the rest of the marathon! I was overall slow but without hitting any ‘Wall’, the last kilometers were a delight! There is no enjoyment for me without dancing, cheering with the supporters or encouraging other runners!! 

Experiencing the marathon like this is more meaningful than shaving off a few seconds or minutes from some targeted time after suffering for 42km and then not being able to walk normally over the next days. The Marathon has to become a race to bring joy and happiness. Being competitive is nice but at my current level I don’t feel that it will bring me a better experience. 

Having that in mind, there was time to exchange a few words with the 4h30min pace-makers at the 40th kilometer. One of them was pleasantly surprised when he say my BIB: “Oh Belgium, very well!” No, it’s Romania!! ?

I understand their confusion because the flags of Romania and Belgium are similar in colors and seeing a Romanian flag on a BIB was a very very rare opportunity during the whole weekend. As a matter of fact, there was only one runner representing Romania at all events:

The last 2 kilometers took us back to the city centre with the finish at the Viru Gates, where we started. The whole area was a big party with dancers dressed in traditional costumes, people walking around with medals around their neck and many supporters waiting for their favorites to cross the finish line.???

It cannot end without a traditional non-alcoholic beer ?

Running a marathon should not be about pain and suffering. I did all my best to prove that and it worked out very well 🙂

Thank you, Tallinn! ?

Watch the whole marathon experience from a video reporter’s perspective ?

A Big Thank You to the organizers of Tallinn Marathon for inviting me to take part in this whole experience and for showing me their beautiful city!

Congratulations for receiving the World Athletics Bronze Label, you deserved it!! ?

More info on

The Milan Marathon

Runs Posted on Fri, November 15, 2019 10:20PM

To check out our full account of the Milan Marathon complete with restaurant review and a great many photos, see our ‘Issue 7, Summer 2019’ edition of our magazine which you can download for free from here –

Below is a short film that will give you a brief idea of the race day experience.

For further info about the race check their website here –

The Happy Trails Racing ‘The Beav’ 25k and 50k

Runs Posted on Tue, November 12, 2019 10:20AM

(All photos featuring the race logo are by Sue Sitki –

The Happy Trails ‘The Beav’ event took place at Hilton Falls Conservation Area, near to Milton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the 25km and the 50km events; there were also a 10k event going on.

Before we go into our usual 7 point review, here’s a short film showing the course. If you’re viewing on a mobile and can’t play flash, you might try going straight to Youtube to view it here

1 – Pre-event info

Jenn – In addition to the detailed information available on the event registration page, participants received two pre-race emails; the first one encouraged participants to carpool to make sure parking was available for everyone, and the second email included race details and a very thorough participant guide that was like a mini magazine, complete with some great info for those new to trail running, such as trail running terms that you might not understand unless you’d been on the scene for a while. On race morning, the race director Jeff gathered us all for the standard (Happy Trails Racing standard, which is very high!) pre-race meetings before each of the different start times to go over course details and reiterate how the trails are marked and possible issues the runners should watch out for.

2 – Event location

Jenn – This is my second time participating in this race and I find the Hilton Falls area very scenic laced with extremely fun and challenging trails. It’s a little less than one hour from Toronto city centre, is easy to locate and has a good amount of parking. Additionally Happy Trails Racing encouraged participants to carpool to ensure parking for all, and even offered a prize draw as an extra incentive for all of us that did carpool. Porta-potties were available as well as one conservation area washroom. There was a constant line for the bathrooms, as is often the case, but nothing unusually long and frankly the bathroom line at trail races offers up a nice opportunity to chat with fellow participants.

Not a photo of the bathrooms because we thought you’d rather see a nice shot of a view you get from about the 18km point of the course!
And here’s a shot of the waterfall that you see when you do the 10km event.

3 – Aid Stations

Jenn – There were three aid stations to help participants fuel their way through the event. ‘Tanker’s Canteen’ was at the start/finish (and mid-point for the 50k), the ‘S’more’s Station’ was at the 5k/20k mark and then ‘Russell’s Roost’ was at the 8k/17k mark. The S’more’s Station offered water and electrolytes, the delicious vegan energy balls from ‘Mes Amis Catering’, and of course, S’mores. This aid station was located at a large fire pit too! The other two aid stations were fully stocked with lots of goodies; water, electrolyte drink, sodas, fruit, chips, pickles, boiled potatoes, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, quesadilla, and even apple and pecan pie was available!

The ‘S’mores’ Aid Station.

It’s hard to leave any of these stations hungry or thirsty. As always at Happy trails event the volunteers were nothing short of amazing. They always make sure their visitors are taken care of, even when they themselves have been standing there in minus temperatures for hours on end. We salute them!!!

4 General atmosphere of the Event HQ 

Dave – I always see many familiar faces at Happy Trails events, which makes for a nice day out even without the running. The race series is known for it’s unique events, well thought out swag and genuine feeling of community. I’m certain this draws people back time and time again, and also attracts new faces who are looking for an authentic trail running community and have heard that they’ll find it here. There are a few people who are fast so if you’re looking for a race and to test yourself you won’t be disappointed. There are also a great many people dipping their toes into trail or ultra territory for the first time because the cut off times are generous, the course well marked out and the aid stations really well stocked. There is also always a fun atmosphere at the event HQ start/finish line, so friends and family who want to come along to support runners have a place where they can hang out. Admittedly, on colder days like we had (expected for November), they might retreat to their cars whilst they’re waiting for much of the time, but at least there are bathrooms, hot drinks and good company available if needed. The race directors Jeff and Heather are very visible around event HQ and are happy to talk, and the volunteers I met there and at the other aid stations all seem to be bottomless sources of encouragement.

Obviously each race is different but on this course, if spectators want to cheer runners on from an aid station, it was possible to walk about 5km along the track to get to the ‘S’mores’ aid station where there was a bonfire and a washroom. It was also in a beautiful location, by a stream (it’s the last inhabited place you see in my race video before I hit the finish line). A lovely place to hang out I’d say!

Beautiful section of rolling trail at the 15km point.

5 – Course

Dave – If you are racing this then you’ve got sections of technical trail joined by very runnable track. If you’re out to enjoy the scenery and vibe, though, and are going slower, as I did, then the trail doesn’t seem so technical because you’ve much more time to find stable footing among the rocks and roots. The near constant up and down nature of the technical parts of the course makes sure it’s a good quad and glute workout though, however you take it on. Mostly the trail led through forest, with occasional openings onto marsh and river. Here are a few snaps I took as I ran.

The first couple of kms is mainly single track; if you’re racing make sure you start off quick so you have a clear run ahead of you.
If you’re not racing then no problem, chill out and enjoy the scenery! It’s especially nice when you pass a waterfall and look out onto the reservoir. See my video for a better look at both waterfall and view, I stopped here for quite a while!

Jenn – The race course was marked with a combination of orange ground flags, orange ties, and the occasional sign warning to slow down where the course turns into rocky outcroppings with a few gaps and even a crevasse to jump over, or where an arrow was needed to ensure we made the correct turn. The hand-drawn directional sign pictured below was definitely a fun highlight for me!

With the exception of the extremely technical (and fun) sections of the trail, the remainder of the course is made up of groomed double track trails weaving through the Halton Region Tract System of forest. As the race registration page notes “This course is primarily made up of fast, groomed trails with some short but tougher and more technical sections thrown into the mix.” Here are some photos I took on the way round.

A rocky climb.
Groomed trail.
A tricky route forward!
Crevasse Crossing!

Shoe choice: I wore my Hoke One One Speedgoat trail shoes and I’m glad I did; the technical bits on this trail were very rocky and the extra cushion this shoe offers was greatly appreciated by the 20km mark.

6 – Race kit, medals and awards

Dave – I love that there are Wolf and Bear Patches awarded to runners at all Happy Trails events. These are public shout outs that allow runners to recognize the kindness shown by other runners by nominating them for an award, like this;

As a 50k runner I got a brilliant hoodie – which I’m still wearing a few days later to prolong the vibe of the race and because it’s really very cold now and the hoodie is snug – and a wooden medal. Winners in various categories also got wooden plaques.

7 Post-event info (photography, films)

The photographer was once again the brilliant Sue Sitki ( and she was as good as ever. Sue is always very encouraging and fun, a perfect race photographer doubling as an enthusiastic supporter. The photos were online within a day and they were all free to download and of great quality. 

Jenn captured by Sue during the 25km event.
Dave captured by Sue during the 50km event.

To discover more about Happy Trails and their events see their website

The Rügenbrücken Marathon

Runs Posted on Sun, November 10, 2019 06:33AM

A city race with a trail perfume

Saturday 19th October 2019 – 6:30 am

“Why do you run another marathon, if you finished one already?”
The day is young and the sun is barely showing up over the horizon, filling up the sky with a gradient of dark blue layers. We left Berlin a half hour ago. The car is doing 150 km/h on the highway and I’m sipping on my coffee thermos, waiting for it to kick in and dissipates the clouds in my head. Why do I always feel exhausted on every race day? Well, this time at least I have a good reason: I just got a second star on my daddy’s Jersey and the last month has been pretty full, with busy days and short nights!

“I mean, didn’t you run like 3 or 4 already?”

Sitting next to me, my mom is insisting. I can’t see her in the dark but I feel some apprehension and mostly bewilderment in her voice.

“5, mom. This will be my 6th one!”

Coffee is doing its job and her initial question finally reaches me… Why am I running another marathon? I don’t know what to say. I guess a lot of runners pushed themselves painfully through these 42 km, to cross it once and for all from their bucket list or simply because “everyone does it today”. Then they move on to something else. For a non-runner (you know, that annoying colleague who asks you every Monday how many marathons you ran this weekend!), there is no reason why someone would do that again!

I’m lost in my thoughts and I just mumble:
“Why do you go skying every winter, since you’ve been once already?”
I don’t think she got it, but it’s fine. You have to cross that finish line at least once to understand.

8:30 – Stralsund

We enter the narrow streets of Stralsund, after a quiet 2.5 hour drive. We leave the car in a parking lot close to the start and get out in the cold morning. I changed in the car and a penetrating wind bites my bare legs. I put on my running jacket. I kind of expected this. After all, we drove North of Berlin until we hit the shores of the Baltic Sea, which is finally here, in front of our eyes. On the other side, a strip of land stretches on both sides of the horizon: Rügen Island (sometimes called Rugia), our final destination.

My mom is smiling next to me, so happy to see something else than Berlin, despite the early wake up at 5 am this morning. It’s the first time she comes to cheer me up on race day and it’s nice to have a friendly face around. We head to the Ozeaneum (Aquarium) to get my bib and finisher shirt. I couldn’t eat anything this morning and I force myself to chew on a sandwich, while runners are gathering at the starting line, in front of the Ozeaneum. Quiet ships are gauging us, amused. I can see the bridge on the horizon, our first stage.

The clock is ticking… Finally, the countdown echoes on the red brick buildings and the 200 runners move ahead, in a burst of flames topping the staying line. A quick wave to my mom and I’m on my way to my 6th marathon.

9:30 – Ozeaneum, 0 km

We circle around the block and head towards the bridge. I’m doing my usual pre-race check up, now that it’s too late to quit! In all fairness, I feel okay, better than I expected. Two things bother me though: I had two rough last days at work moving around a lot and my legs are aching. But most concerning, I haven’t trained or slept properly for a month, after my baby champ decided to do an early show up! Therefore, no expectations, let’s see how my body puts up with the distance. Still, for once I would like to run a marathon not worrying if I’ll be able to finish it!

9:45 – Rügenbrücken, 2.5 km

We  cover the first kilometers when the Rügenbrücken (the Rügen bridge) appears on our left and stretches over our head like a Chinese dragon. I’m impressed, it looks way bigger than on the photos. We follow the road to catch it where it’s reaching the land. Finally, after taking an access road, we find ourselves on the monster’s back, snailing towards the horizon.

I’m speechless. The bridge is blocked to the cars for a few hours and we are all alone, no more than ten runners on the three lanes around me. With a length approaching 3 km, the Rügenbrücken is one of the longest bridge in Europe.

I feel lost in the vastness of the asphalt, crushed under the two columns raising towards the sky, 125 m above my head, in a spider web of cables, like two wings of a sleeping dragon. I know it’s not the Golden Gate, but the experience is like nothing I ever experienced before: a strange sensation that I don’t belong here, running a path made for vehicles far bigger and faster than me. It’s like climbing Mount Olympus to meet the Goods…

Okay, I’m losing myself here, let’s just say it was a pretty cool segment and definitely one of the  marathon highlights! The bridge raises up quickly and after crossing the pillars, the road smoothly goes down towards the Rügen island, over the little Dänholm strip of land. Stralsund disappear behind us, as we slowly approach the island, each step counting twice on this never-ending road.

10:10 – Rügen Island, 6 km

I reach the island about 40 min after the start. I’m sorry I forget to do the presentations: Rügen is Germany’s largest island, located North in the Baltic Sea, at equal distance from Danemark, Sweden and Poland. With 900 km² and 42 km from East to West, this “Jewel of the Baltic Coast” was definitely made to host marathons! With 60 km of unspoiled sandy beaches, crystal-blue seas bordered by lush greenery, up to the Jasmund National Park with its heritage forests and sheer white cliffs, the island is a Paradise for swimmers, hikers, bikers and… Runners! The vast choice of luxury hotels, beach-side villas and relaxing spas makes Rügen one of German’s most praised vacation destination.

Unfortunately, we’re not here for the sauna and I still got 36 km to cover! First aid station: no coffee, croissant and fresh juice but sweat tea, bananas and ISO drink. That’ll do. I do a quick break to put on my ankle pads as a prevention, still hoping that my legs will hold on all the way. After a sharp turn left, we follow an alley of brown and yellow-leaves trees. Autumn is finally here, although we can’t complain as it’s not raining today. I even spot a shy sun fighting its way through the thick clouds.

10:25 – Altefähr, 8 km

The narrow path leads us to what I consider the second highlight of the race: the small village of Altefähr. I do a quick break, taken by surprise. The houses alongside the main street are beautiful. White walls, exposed beans, little balconies and English gardens thoroughly looked after, they offer a perfect mix of tradition and modernity. Their dark roof remind me of Romanian countryside houses.

We cross the small village in a few strides. People are out in their garden, cheering us up. “First one?” yell an old lady to me. I smile and show her six of my fingers. We pass the St. Nikolai church on our left, which looks magnificent, and reach the Bergener street, bordered by trees and exiting the village. No sidewalks, but cars are passing us slowly with friendly encouraging signs.

10:45 –  Poppelvitz, 11 km

We enter now a 6 km loop North, before heading to the coastline, and I’m really disappointed. When I saw it on the marathon map, I thought it was intended to bring us to interesting highlights inside the island. But like that little loop at the end of the bridge, its purpose is simply to add kilometers, and quite boring ones I must say. After leaving the road, we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, empty fields up to the horizon with just a few windmills here and there, like sleeping giants. A strong wind makes me shiver, while a group a runners in shorts and singlets overtakes me. Damn vikings…

I stick with two nice ladies, munching on salty crackers (for carbs) and Toblerone (for motivation). A quick check up at my legs, tired but functional, everything’s fine.

11:15 – East coast, 16 km

We finally close the loop and after an aid station offering Coke and energy bars (best breakfast ever!) we take the direction of the coast. After the boring loop, a good surprise is waiting for me: a long sandy trail following the coastline. I was afraid this marathon would be only roads and bicycle lanes, but this is turning into a nice morning trail run. The sun is joining the party, through the disappearing clouds, and I joyfully remove my jacket. This is for sure, like the bridge segment, a highlight of the race.

We follow the little trail weaving inside a canyon of thick bushes. The Baltic Sea appears here and there through the vegetation, half concealed to our eyes, like a treasure you have to discover. I can’t resist to stop a few times to little alcoves of green, offering a bench to sit and rest in front of the sparkling water. Stralsund is still visible on the horizon, its church tower emerging from the clouds. I take a deep breath, full of wild aromas. The show must go on!

11:50 – Rambin, 21 km

The pleasant beach side slowly disappear, as the track bring us back inside the island changing into a bicycle lane. I pass the 21st kilometers after 2:20 h on the way, not so bad for a first half with tired legs, let’s see if I can score my usual negative split.

I cross the first participants, running in the other direction. A quick look behind me and I notice the 31st km mark on their side. Boy, are they fast! The best of them will finish the race in barely more than 3h! But I’m in the 4-5h train, so let’s focus and be happy if we finish ?

After a few boring kilometers in the middle of nowhere, we run along houses again, visit one or two aid stations held by friendly volunteers and firemen, to finally reach the village of Rambin, our going-back point. 26 km done and another 16 km to cover to make mommy proud (I wrote her, she found a nice little coffee place to chill out). A cup of Coke (which is starting to give me some belly aches, but the caffeine kick is really nice) and it’s time to head back ‘home’.

12:50 – Way back, 30 km

This will be my only disappointment about the Rügen Marathon. Not only do we have to cover a useless loop in the middle of nowhere, but now after 26 km, we have to go back following the exact same path as on our way in. Therefore, from the 42 km, you can only count on 21 km of really enjoyable trail.

On the plus side, my legs are tired but still working fine and painless. I take out my earbuds, start my motivating playlist and switch to autopilot mode. Kilometers are flashing up on my watch.  I pass a few tired runners on the way, everyone is slowly hitting the wall and entering survival mode. I still feel fairly okay. My crackers/Toblerone diet helps a heap! Fortunately, we don’t have to run the extra loop and I’m back in Altefähr in no time. I leave the village towards the bridge, on the silent horizon.

13:45 – Rügendamm, 38 km

As I finally reach the bridge, two new surprises are waiting for me. First of all, we are redirected to the left lane and I realize that we won’t be running on the Rügenbrücken this time but rather on the original road through the Rügendamm, a first bridge built in the 30’s for cars and trains. Why not, I’m just happy to take a different path. Second surprise: a hoard of hysterical runners suddenly bursts on the parallel road and head towards the Rügenbrücken. The start for the 6 km run was just given!

I cross the bridge slowly, each step more painful than the last. But the view of the Rügenbrücken from below is impressive and I even find the strength to take a few selfies. High above my head, the flow of runners is flooding the bridge in a rainbow of colorful outfits.

14:10 – Stralsund Finish, 42.2 km

Finally, we are back on the side street leading to the Ozeaneum. I have imagined a solitary finish, supported by a cheering crowd. But instead I find myself drown in the flock of 6k runners, all raising their head and smiling, full of energy. I hate it! ? But to be fair I’m smiling to, as the finish line is 1 km ahead and my legs held tight all the way back.

I cross the finish line at 14:12, after a nice morning stroll of 4:42 min. Yep, that’s 5 min less than the Vienna marathon this April! My mom is here, getting wild on the camera button of her phone. A medal is thrown around my neck. I yelled “marathon!” to the volunteer, showing him my bib, but he answers that all medals are the same. I’m a bit disappointed that all 6k runners around me harbor the same trophy that mine. Oh well, we are all winners after all. A 6k is for some harder than a marathon for others!

After refueling at the aid stations, it’s time for a well deserved warm shower and a proper meal. Mom’s treat, we end up enjoying Italian pasta and fresh fish on the old market place, facing the beautiful Nicolaikirche, with the sun playing hide and seek behind its arcades.


This was a very fun marathon overall. The trail along the coastline came out as a nice surprise and crossing the huge bridge almost alone is an amazing experience I would recommend anyone to add to their bucket list.

To finish on a personal note, this was my 6th marathon and surely the one I prepared the least for: lack of training, sleep deprivation, tired legs before even starting. But my body surprised me again and I’m blown away by its obvious capacity to get stronger and ensure the distance better over time. My muscles seem to have developed some kind of memory and in spite of poor training, they still conserve a good level of fitness. “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, used to say Friedrich Nietzsche, who for sure was a kick-ass marathon runner! ?

Mom keeps looking at exhausted me, proudly wearing my medal and glowing, a little smile on my face. I think she won’t ask me again why I run next time…

Things to improve

I see only one: Rügen is a very large island, longer than a marathon in both directions. Why adding boring loops in the middle of nowhere and why having us run back 16 km on the same route? The island is big enough! Create a nice loop leaving the bridge and getting back to it through a different path. Show us more from this beautiful island! And if it’s a budget issue, increase the entry fee. I’m sure participants would gladly pay a bit more money to run through another village or a nice area.


I would like to thank with all my heart the organizer of the Rügenbrücken Marathon for inviting me to the event and offering me to discover this beautiful island. Thank you to all volunteers too, who have been delightful all along the way.

General Travel Information


We took the car from Berlin, which is a 2.5 hour drive. Alternatively, if you don’t have a car, you can take the train from a large city like Berlin or Hamburg. Maybe even from Copenhagen.


We ate at Göldener Löwe restaurant, on the beautiful Alter Markt place. The restaurant offers a wide choice of meats, fresh fish from the day and for course vegetarian and vegan alternatives. The place is quite touristic and therefore the prices are a bit higher than usual, but you can’t beat the view on the old market place and the Nikolai church.

Tip top:

Before leaving and if you are not too tired, loose yourself among the city medieval streets. Wonders await you at every corner. Don’t forget to visit the Nicolaikirche!

Sources and additional links

Rügenbrücken Marathon event page
Rügen Island tourism information
Wiki page about the bridge
Altefähr tourism information

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Zero to 50km – Running blog of the Cheeseman

A Tale of Tallinn – Part Two

Runs, Tours & Experiences Posted on Mon, November 04, 2019 12:33PM

Saturday, 7th of September. It’s the second day in Tallinn and the best way to start it is with a biiiig breakfast at the Sokos Hotel Viru! It includes food and drinks for all possible preferences and tastes so one could not really get out of there and still be hungry ?

The day before the marathon is usually one where I have to think carefully about what to eat and do. The meals have to be rich in carbs and veggies and a higher amount of liquids (to be understood as water, tea or similar) is required. All the ‘extra weight’ in my body has to be eliminated before the race, so that I will be able to finish it without stomach problems and not encounter moments where my energy goes down to 0. Activities that cause tiredness should also be reduced to the minimum.

With that in mind, the big healthy breakfast was the best choice to give me energy for the first half of the day and then to let me make better nutrition choices for the other half of it. As for the activities to undertake, well this part is also tricky. On one hand, being the first time ever in Tallinn and having most of the day free is an excellent opportunity to explore the city as much as I can. But Tallinn has many beatiful areas outside the historical city centre and walking around the city to cover them would leave me super tired at the end of the day! ?

The Solution: the Hop On Hop Off Bus! One 24h ticket was valid for 3 different sightseeing lines through the cities, each line having the color red, blue or green. The buses were equipped with audio guides in 9 languages, where each point of interest was narrated as the bus drove close to it on its route. The visitors could “hop on” and “hop off” as many times as they wanted, during the validity of their ticket. ([1])

Well, that turned out to be really helpful: I could see all the important parts of the city without spending a physical effort to get there!

A self-driving car

The Green Line

Strike a pose!

Chill before the marathon ?

After so much sightseeing on different lines, it was time to watch the next event of the Tallinn Marathon weekend: the 10K race! With more than 7000 participants, it was actually the most attended event of all. ([2])

Waiting for the runners at the Drama Theatre

After the race, the time came to find a good restaurant with vegan menu, in order to provide my body with a healthy carbo-loading before the big race. The Basiilik restaurant was close to the hotel and offered a menu with many options, so why not giving it a try? ? ([3])

Carrot-pumpkin purree soup

Spinach ravioli with vegan cheese  and Marathon map

I also had a pizza among these meals, because something told me that for a proper carbo-loading I should not stop after the super yummy carrot-pumpkin soup and the spinach ravioli… yeah, just looking at the marathon map was enough ??

The day ended with my usual pre-race routine, before going to sleep: 

  • T-shirt, shorts, shoes, cap, rain jacket, running watch, race bib etc. ✅
  • action-cam, selfie-stick and accessories ✅
  • check the course map and profile one more time ✅
  • arrange the logistics ✅
  • set the alarm to not oversleep ⏰ – it happens rarely, because usually I do not sleep a lot before the big race, but anyway ✅

Everything seems to be prepared for the marathon. 

However, am I really prepared for this?? ?

External references:




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