Have you ever run around your city? No your whole city, like the whole fucking thing? Like every metre of its border?… As a runner I have. It was a lot bigger (63kms round and round) and not as easy to do as I thought. Challenges with reroutes and lack of accessibility to parts of the city as well as some fairly sketchy roads with no more than pylons to save me from semi trucks promising to pancake my existence. I live in Richmond BC. It got me thinking. Do people even do this? Or is it just me?
I googled “City Ultra Marathons” and got crickets. Nothing. Apparently people don’t just get up, map the entirety of their city and run around it. Hmm. Why? Was I missing something? I thought I would give it a try. And before you start, don’t worry, I wasn’t alone. I’m not a psycho.
I talked with my cousin Ryan. We were training up for a longer mountain run this summer down in Oregon and convinced ourselves that this could be helpful for “training”. After all, it was the same distance as the run we were gearing up for, but with zero elevation gain. By all standards the best entry level ultra you could run.
So how did this all go down? Well we picked the day before the Easter weekend. Booked the day off work. Made childcare arrangements for pick up in the afternoon (as we would still be busy “working”). We met up in historic Steveston BC and used the Steveston Cannery as our start and end point. A well known Canadian landmark and one known to me from previous running events I have done in Richmond.
We got started and off we went. The weather was shit, but in all fairness so was the prospect of our plans. We made our way along the familiar West Dyke Trail. (Richmond is a dyked city. Surrounded by the Fraser River and sits below sea level) and before long we were at our first stop. The Casino. 15km in and a chance for coffee and a banana bread. We made quick work of getting the calories in and continued on. About 1km down the road we were making our way off the roadway back on to the dyke trail when I received a call on the phone from my son’s school. That’s never a good call. It’s never just to let you know how awesome your kid is doing at school. No this was to inform me of some acrobatics in the class he was doing that would likely require an emergency room visit.
Ryan and I pulled off to the side of the road. Blah blah blah. Long story short, we pulled the plug on the run.
Fast forward. Me, and kiddo enjoy an afternoon at Richmond Emergency, 3 stitches above the eye, see you later. Easter weekend happens. Yay. Eggs, Chocolate, Bunnies. All good. This is life as parents. I’m good. I don’t care. Then I get a message from Ryan. “What are you doing Easter Monday?” “Not working” I reply. “Well. Let’s do it!” And instantly I’m fucking back in it! Redemption. We will complete this run.
We meet Monday morning, much earlier than the previous start due to the availability of our lovely wives being off work, supporting us to literally spend the day running. We begin at the same starting point, make the same first 15km to the casino, same coffee, same banana bread. All good. This time, no kid, no stitches. Just run this bitch! We continue along the northern side of Richmond, past warehouses, and warehouses, and warehouses. Jeez, is there anything else here. We get rerouted at a mill that used to have a pedestrian underpass, but has been shut down for a (less favorable) complete reroute so that folks could contend with sharing the road with semi’s, dump trucks, and large automobiles we all like being inches from. Yay!
These sorts of challenges I put myself through often tie a common theme to it. Self propelled adventure. I have cycled across the province by myself 1100km, travelled down the coast of Washington, and parts of Oregon. I am always interested in challenging what I can do as a person and how simplistically I can do it.
We arrive in Queensbourogh, the far eastern end of Richmond. We were 30km in and in need for some refueling. Popped in to the local pub, shoveled down a beef dip sandwich and we kept on. (Fyi Beef dip, though delicious, is not an ideal ultra meal.) We had wrapped the furthest point and were now making our way back to Steveston, and the end of our Odyssey. There was a small discussion we were having about an incoming section of “trail” that was somewhat a gray area as far as trespassing goes. The challenge of crossing public land with fencing and vague signs about one’s allowance to be there was something we were seeing a lot of and is something that I imagine is happening across most major cities, which is kind of bullshit, but this is not a story about that so, on we will go. We arrived at a junction that we had previously done a trial run through, which at the time had us thigh high in the Fraser River. But today, we hit it at the peak of low tide which meant we had the opportunity to run about 2km Baywatch style across the beach. This was cool.
We arrived at the movie theater. About 50km or so into our run. Ryan was already using poles and I was ready to get mine out. We were pretty beat at this point. We made our way into a Subway in search of some electrolytes. Ryan grabbed a few bottles of Gatorade, I sat down at a table. That was a mistake. My legs took this as a sign to stop working. We filled our bottles and made our way to the door. Which at this point was challenging. I used hiking poles for the next 5 or so kilometers. We were on a section of the route which was now predominantly blacktop. Not ideal for sore legs that have been running on pack gravel for the majority of the day.
We began the game of counting down the kms. Running short 300-400m and then walking again, and again, and again. But the end was near. As we ran past much of the familiar parts of the dyke trail I so often ran I thought “holy crap, we did it!”. And before long the Steveston Cannery was in our sights.
Finally. 445pm. We did it. The Richmond 60. Maybe an FKT? I don’t actually know as I haven’t come across anyone that has actually run it. We promptly made our way to the local beer store and grab a single each, found a plot of grass and enjoyed our finale. If only for a few minutes. We high fived and made our way to our cars and went out separate ways.
So my take away would be. City Ultras can be a thing. They definitely are not as pretty as well plotted out trail routes or city marathons, but cities aren’t all sunshine. They have working class sections, industry and farming. It all makes up where I live, and it was worth checking out. So…What’s next? Well I recently mapped out The Delta 80. We’ll see.