By: Dylan Wykes
Vancouver, a city of 600,000 people, is where I really found my stride as a runner! I credit the great running environment in and around Vancouver for my successes over the past few years.
The city first captured my heart in 2006 when I went there from Ontario to do a series of track races. The weather, the mountains, the many great places to run, it all stuck with me despite not racing great on the initial trip. I returned several times in the following years for the Vancouver Sun Run. I was lucky to have good performances and catch a few of those beautiful 18°C and sunshine mid-April days. Nothing too extraordinary, but having spent the winter in Ontario grinding out training in all sorts of elements, with the last of the snow still hanging on there, Vancouver seemed like a true paradise. The city is abuzz with runners of all ages and abilities that creates such positive energy and makes it a great place to live and train.
I’ve trained and raced in many exciting and exotic places around the world, but some of my favourite training grounds are still in the greater Vancouver area. Growing up in eastern Ontario with no mountains in sight, for me there is still something magical and mysterious about a white capped mountain range. The North Shore mountains make for a great backdrop for many of my training runs. The surroundings just make you want to get outside and the city makes that pretty easy to do. From the fantastic network of trails in the endowment lands/Pacific Spirit Park for an easy run, to the rolling wood chip trails of Mundy Park for a progression run, or the long quiet stretches of road in Langley for hammering a marathon simulation run—the options for training here are endless. Probably the most well known training grounds in Vancouver, and still one of my favourites, is Stanley Park.
Show up at Brockton Oval on a Saturday morning and there are swarms of people getting ready to work out; UBC, VFAC, Hershey Harriers, etc. There is a great energy in the air—something I haven’t experienced anywhere else that makes you want to get everything out of yourself on that day. I could spend all day listing the places I love to train in.
Not only are there amazing places to run in Vancouver, they are accessible all year long. Sure, it rains (a lot), but it doesn’t shut down the trail network for months at a time and it doesn’t stop us from getting on the outdoor track and hammering out a set of mile repeats on a Tuesday evening! As an elite runner, I want to be training at an optimal level all year round, and Vancouver truly allows for that in my opinion.
Historically, Vancouver was a powerhouse of distance running in Canada, particularly in the 1980’s. The depth and top end talent back then was truly fantastic. When I’m out doing repeats around Beaver Lake or tempo runs around the Palmer loop, I’m inspired knowing Paul Williams or Tom Howard crushed a similar workout here 20-30 years ago. Many of our top distance runners from the 80’s still reside in the city and remain involved in the sport in a variety of ways. These people understand the hard work and dedication it takes and don’t look at you strange when you tell them you’re putting a “real” job on hold while you pursue the running dream for a few more years. My coach, Richard Lee and his wife Sue (nee French) are two of the many great people from that era that have had a huge impact on my running. Hearing about the work and sacrifices they made for Sue to set the Canadian record and finish 8th place in the 1988 Olympic 10,000m is amazing and truly motivating! Knowing that my training is shaped by these lived experiences gives me great confidence.
The wealth of knowledge and support that former elites like the Lee’s,provide is a unique benefit of living here that is often overlooked. Step foot into Forerunners West 4th Street and you can’t help but be inspired and want to run fast. Racing singlets from decades past and present hang on the wall. Ask owner Peter Butler to tell you the stories behind the singlets of greats like Rob DeCastella of Australia, John Treacy of Ireland, and on and on. If you’re lucky you might be able to coax a story out of Art Boileau about his 2nd place finish at the Boston Marathon. Having access to these individuals provides a network and community that inspires you and makes you believe you can be successful, that is hard to find elsewhere.
Vancouver is also great because when you want to step away from it all, not think about running for a few hours or a few days, you can. You’re in a major city with tons of amazing stuff going on constantly. I don’t get too adventurous when I’m in the depths of hard training, but two of my favourite things outside of running are music and coffee, and Vancouver has no shortage of great coffee shops and music venues.
There is currently a great crop of distance runners calling Vancouver home, and it’s exciting for me to think that I might be a part of a resurgence in the elite side of the sport on the West coast of Canada. Maybe we won’t achieve the same feats or have the same depth that was here in the ’80s, but it is motivating to be part of a bigger running movement. Maybe relocating to Vancouver and consequently having a string of successful years of training and racing was just a perfect storm of events. However, I believe there’s something special about the place and the people here that make it a great environment to pursue my dreams.