Ray Leonard helped start the Rupert Runners club when he moved to Prince Rupert. He coordinated the Skeena River Relay to be the success it is today and he was on Canada’s national ultramarathon team for years.

Ray Leonard helped start the Rupert Runners club when he moved to Prince Rupert. He coordinated the Skeena River Relay to be the success it is today and he was on Canada’s national ultramarathon team for years.

VIDEO and story: From one mile to ultramarathons

One of the men who started the competition admits he wasn’t a fan of running when he was younger.

With less than a month until the Skeena River Relay, where 30 teams with five to 10 members lace up and run the 142 km stretch from Prince Rupert to Terrace, one of the men who started the competition admits he wasn’t a fan of running when he was younger.

“Running any kind of distance was uncomfortable and I never saw any reason to do it,” said Ray Leonard in his heavy northern English accent and with a smile at the memory.

The retired teacher, skiffle musician and ultramarathoner moved to Prince Rupert in 1987 and over the years he’s been spotted running long-distances along Highway 16. Leonard, with his passion and competitive soul, has inspired generations of runners in the city after he took over Rupert Runners.

His own introduction to the endurance sport was at 33-years-old when he was living in England. He had just moved to the countryside when he met some new friends who convinced him to run the Great North Run, a half marathon in the northeast of England.

“We started from scratch. I’d never run anything before. I remember starting with one mile and seeing if I could do that,” Leonard said. He was pumped the first time he ran 10 kilometres and he enjoyed chatting about training over a beer with his running buddies.

In his first race he placed in the 8,000s out of 30,000 runners and didn’t enjoy the experience at all. It was wall to wall people and he couldn’t find his rhythm. He put the shoes away and said he was done. But he was talked into continuing when his friends decided they would do the Newcastle City Marathon a mere 10 weeks later.

Leonard took that first marathon slow, steady and ran both halves (21km) faster than he ran the Great North Run. That was it, he was hooked. He joined a running club in northeast England and continued running marathons with the goal of breaking the three hour time. Just before he immigrated to Canada with his wife, he ran the Woodhall Spa marathon in Lincolnshire in 2:44:00.

When Leonard arrived in B.C. he got a job tree planting in the Kootenays. A few months later he found a teaching gig at the Prince Rupert Secondary School. That was where he met Chuck McTaverish, a colleague — and a runner. The two teamed up with another man and they formed Rupert Runners. They organized the Glory Days race, the half marathon and the Skeena River Relay and gave runners a reason to train.

The challenge with the North Coast was the lack of races. Leonard travelled to do marathons in Vancouver, Calgary and Seattle, where he nailed a personal best of 2:42:00.

“After Seattle in ‘91, I knew I would never run any faster. Everything had just come together perfectly,” he said and he laid his competitive edge in marathons to rest.

As one goal was achieved, another was born. One of Leonard’s friends who used to join him for Sunday morning runs, talked him into trying an ultra. An ultramarathon is a race longer than the traditional 42km distance. The races are usually anywhere between 50km and 160km.

In 1995, Leonard ran the 50km in the Elk/Beaver race in Victoria. The race course is a 10km loop around Elk Beaver Lake on a trail. He finished third and then watched the people in the 100km finish their race.

“The 50km was pretty hard, the thought of doing it twice just didn’t compute,” he said. He heard that the winner of the 100km was named to the Canadian national team for the ultramarathon world championships. “I wondered if I could do that. I didn’t really think that I could.”

He began training to accomplish the loosely fathomable feat. His Sunday morning runs extended out to the North Pacific Cannery and back. The next year, he won an 80km race in Burnaby. Another six weeks later he ran the 100km in Victoria and placed second.

Leonard was named one of six on the Canadian national team and he travelled to Holland for his first world championship. The race was a 10km loop around a flat town called Winschoten with uneven cobblestone streets. The residents broke out their barbeques and cheered on the runners with a special cheer for the Canadians, who they have a fondness for after Canadian troops liberated their nation in World War Two.

“That really helped get you through,” he said.

He came second in the Canadian team with a time of 8:10.56 and he qualified for the next world championship in Japan. He went on to  compete in France and Belgium over the next few years.

Leonard’s passion for running carried over into his job. At the Prince Rupert Middle School he used to coach the cross-country team. Their practices involved runs up Mount Hays.

For beginning runners, his advice is to find a running partner. “It can get you out of the house even if it’s pouring with rain you have much more chance of doing it if you’ve arranged to meet somebody to go running with,” he said.

At 67-years-old Leonard still runs. He has passed the Rupert Runners off to a young energetic executive and feels that it’s in “good hands.” He won’t be running this year in the relay, he’s spending his summer with his family in the Kootenays. But, his new goal is to run the half marathon in Suderland, North England, on his 70th Birthday.

“You have to have a goal,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hays Creek in Prince Rupert requires more than $1.5 million to repair the creek and walls built in the 1950s and 1960s, Prince Rupert City Council heard on Jan. 25. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert City Council briefs:

More than $1.5 million needed to restore Hays Creek in Prince Rupert

Staff at Acropolis Manor, a Prince Rupert long-term health care facility in April 2020 where no cases of COVID-19 were reported until an outbreak on Jan. 19, 2021. As of Jan. 25th, 32 people associated with the residence have tested positive for the virus. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Staff at Acropolis Manor a Prince Rupert long term health care facility, take pride in their work place that no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the facility during the pandemic.This photo taken, April 20, from outside, looking through a window shows staff adhering to strict protocols and best practices to keep residents happy and healthy. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
COVID-19 numbers increase at Acropolis Manor – 32 infected

Prince Rupert man concerned about temp. staff from out of region working at long-term care facility

Ken Veldman vice president, public affairs and sustainability, at Prince Port Port Authority on Jan. 21 addressed local employers in an online presentation about a new community recruitment program to attract employees to Prince Rupert. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
New recruitment campaign to be launched in Prince Rupert

Web platform will use community collaboration to attract new employees to Prince Rupert

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms 1st death amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

B.C. teacher gets 1 day suspension after ‘aggressively’ throwing dumbbell at student

Documents show the weight would have hit the student if they didn’t catch it

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
B.C. ramping up screening for faster-spreading COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’

B.C. has sequenced about 11,000 COVID-positive samples since last February

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Keygan Power with brother Quintin and mom Allison while camping the weekend before Keygan’s brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2, 2020. (Photo Allison Power)
B.C. teen ‘locked inside,’ battling to regain speech after severe brain bleed

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Most Read