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.

Just Posted

Seafest is underway with a sunfest theme from June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert. Alex Hoogendorn vice president of Prince Rupert Special Events is creating sunny times making feature for the decorating contest with his son Caleb Hoogendorn on June 4. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Seafest 44 plans a sunfest June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert

All events in festival are COVID-19 safe, social distancing and health protocols approved by N.H.A.

Relay for Life will be held virtually on June 12. Donations and registered teams are decreased in numbers this year, but there is still time to register. Cancer survivors, Isaac Mastroianni and his dad Mark Mastroianni, wear their Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life survivors shirts. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
A lifeline for many, Relay for Life now needs community support

Prince Rupert is one of just four cities in B.C. with teams registered the June 12 event

Coho is one of many fish species that will benefit from a project to assess fish passage in the Falls River Watershed and offer options for improved connectivity and habitat restoration. The project will be delivered with funding from the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program announced on June 8. (Photo: supplied by FWCP, istock, M.Haring)
More than $2.1 million for Northcoast fish and wildlife projects

Falls River Watershed SE of Prince Rupert to have fish passage and habitat study

Taylor Bachrach, NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley addresses Parliament on June 7, in call for the federal government to stop fighting Indigenous children in court and to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action. (Image: supplied from Facebook)
NDP motion calling for immediate reconciliation action passes

Skeena-Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach addresses federal Parliament

Salmon Arm ICBC Service centre. Lachlan Labere/ Salmon Arm Observer
Backlog: New drivers travel from as far as Prince Rupert for road test in Salmon Arm

Salmon Arm man unable to get his road test until late November in Kelowna

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Most Read