Running the Penney Mazda Cape to Cabot 20-kilometre road race is a lot like giving birth. The first time you do it, you have no idea what you’re in for, and had you known what it entailed, you may have reconsidered getting involved in the first place.
Susan and Chris Flanagan before the seventh annual Penney Mazda Cape to Cabot 20-km road race. It’s the only race the author knows of where you can see the finish from the start and it’s not a loop.
— Photo by Paul Lahey
The C2C is billed as the toughest road race in Eastern Canada. That’s a race description that might discourage many recreational runners. But here in St. John’s, it’s the biggest reason so many people rush to sign up for one of the 400 coveted spaces which sell out within hours.
“This year we sold out all 400 spots in less than six hours,” says Steve Delaney, race director and member of host running club Athletics NorthEAST. “Then the waiting list of 50 sold out in another 12 hours, so we decided to let them all in and created a new waiting list of 60 spots which sold out, too,” says Delaney.
This year I was one of the 396 runners who completed the seventh annual race, which features 550 metres of elevation gain. When my husband and I jumped off one of the comfy Metrobuses that transported runners to the start line at Cape Spear, we were instantly surrounded by that pre-race energy. Forget that we were the most easterly humans in North America. Forget we were closer to Ireland than we were to Winnipeg. Like horses champing at the bit, we were more than ready to run west.
As soon as John Curran sang the “Ode to Newfoundland” and the gun sounded, we took one last look at the finish line at Cabot Tower, which is only 4 km across the North Atlantic, and beat the feet towards the first of four major hills along the route.
To me, those first five kilometres were the hardest part of the race. My body didn’t quite know what my mind had decided it should do when we started the first ascent. Believe me, though, by the time I had passed the entrance to Black Head, my legs and heart sure as heck knew what was going on.
After grabbing Gatorade from one of the 200 volunteers on the course, I felt energized and the turnoff to Maddox Cove-Petty Harbour came quickly.
Then, at about the 7-km mark, we began the looooong, slow ascent into Shea Heights. From my training, I knew what rock outcrop to look for to signal the end of the climb. I was most happy to see it right around the 10-km aid station.
After a few rolling hills in Shea Heights, we began the long, exhilarating descent to Southside Road where the crowd was there to meet us. I had my name written on the back of my shirt, so I got lots of encouragement. Thank you very much.
The next part of the race — an out and back dogleg on Southside Road — can be mentally taxing for some runners. First of all, it feels weird to run on flat ground after going up and down for 15 km. It’s akin to the running section of a triathlon after you get off the bike. Your legs don’t feel quite right for 100 metres or so.
Second, you can see the faster runners making their way to Water Street and the home stretch while you are on your way toward the coast guard building. I made sure to run the dogleg and on up to Cabot Tower at least four times in training, so it felt natural to run down Southside Road and back before starting the flat section through the downtown.
After crossing the Waterford River, my mind went into automatic mode ticking off the landmarks. Campbell’s Ship Supplies. Check. Train station. Check. Oceanex. The Waterfront. Harvey’s. Check. Check. Check.
Surprisingly, this section of Water Street east ended up being my favourite part of the race. There, right before the timing clock which indicates the beginning of the Munn Mile, the final mile of the race which is separately timed with prizes for the fastest male and female runners, I saw Dr. David Alison, of the City of
St. John’s Pipe Band. What a surprise to see a bagpiper and how uplifting to hear the sound of his pipes drifting up to the mountain of sand.
I smiled at the piper and then paused for a split second to say hello to my friend, Terry Fox, before tippy-toeing up Temperance Street where a second group of well-wishers were gathered at the top. Thank you to you, too. It meant a lot.
Then, as I crossed over to Signal Hill Road, I was surprised at how much effort it took to keep my legs moving swiftly. Processing this fact didn’t make me sad or mad. I was purely amazed. Thank goodness a band, the 905 Viking RCACS brass band from Paradise, was there to propel me forward.
It’s funny, but one of the most disconcerting things about going up Signal Hill was the fact that I was running on the right side of the road. On my many training runs, I had always faced the traffic and run on the left. It’s almost silly how much this threw me off.
The same guy who was there with his hose two weeks ago was there again washing his vehicle, oblivious to the hundreds of runners passing him by, except this time I was running on his side of the street. I almost asked him if he could hose off my hands that were sticky from Gatorade, but decided that talking wasn’t worth the effort.
Then I noticed that the men ahead of me were walking and that I, although running, wasn’t passing them, so I started power walking too. Just over the steep bit to the Battery, until the hill settled and I ran again till the next nasty bit before the visitors’ centre.
Then, with less than five minutes left, I tried to boot it to the finish. Booting it up Signal Hill in a training run is not quite the same as trying to boot it up Signal Hill after already running 19 hilly kilometres. I wasn’t quite as swift as David Freake, who completed his last mile in a mere seven minutes and was the overall winner for the third year running in a time of 1:14:28.
When I turned the corner into the parking lot, Jonathan Crowe, who ran his first C2C last year, announced my finish. Next thing, Art Meaney was hanging a medal around my neck and Colin Fewer was shaking my hand.
And the best part was still to come as I found six family members there cheering, including my husband, who is a member of a select group of 13 athletes known as the streakers who have run every C2C race since its inception in 2007.
The streakers include three females and 11 males: Donna Burt, Regina Coady, Bernadette Jerrett, Jeff Barnes, Anthony Broders, Paul Dillon, Chris Flanagan, Dan Owens, Alfred Power, Ken Scott, Matt Piercey and brothers Joe and Kevin Ryan. And the oldest streaker, Walter Smith, 65, has not only run all seven years, but he also ran the initial trial run in 2006.
“Running C2C is a goal I set every year,” says Smith, who ran this year’s race in under
2 1/2 hours. “I got hooked when we ran the trial. I joined up just to see if I could do it, and surprised myself that I could. Every time I run it, it’s a new achievement. The hills are tough, and the running conditions vary, but it is all part of the challenge.”
So, you see, like women in childbirth, once it’s all over and the pain dulls, most runners, like Smith, forget about the hard parts and sign up to do it all over again.
Hockey Players feedback
I received a flood of emails and phone calls following last Tuesday’s Kids are Alright column. Hockey players Erik and Leif Seaward were identified by Tom Clift, Keith Soper, Brian McNamara, Ken Marshall, Wayne Pardy, Kevin Lambe, Kathy Wadden, Glenn Halloway, Dave Hennessey, Brian Gibbons, Jackie White, Marvin Barnes, Heather Hickman, Max Beckett, Pat Cochrane, Roger Hollahan, Lynn Wade and Harry Hickman.
Janet Miller Pitt writes: “Your gifted hockey player on the left (PWC jersey) is without doubt the assistant captain of the provincial Hockey Championship Team for 1972, Erik Seaward, of Prince of Wales Collegiate. He was indeed an immensely talented, hard-working and incredibly modest player who was the backbone of this award-winning team. I believe that the other player may be his equally talented younger brother, Leif.”
Check out page 101 of the yearbook at https://www.facebook.com/PwcClassOf1972.
Here’s their story:
Erik and Leif’s father Errol Seaward was stationed at Narsarssuak Air Base in Greenland from 1954 to 1957 and Erik was born there. Errol later worked in Goose Bay, where Leif was born.
“(These pictures) of Leif and Erik were taken circa 1972 at (our house) in St. John’s… At the time I was manager of the Pepsi Caps, and met Myrna (Kielley) at the rink… I’m so proud of the pictures and members of the minor hockey community at Goose Air Base and in St. John’s as well as cities across Canada.”
Leif, the younger player in the photos, still works for the provincial Department of Natural Resources.
John Collins wrote to say, “(W)hat I remember from my PWC days back in the ’70s was Leif’s blond hair sticking out from under his helmet.” After high school, Leif went on to work as assistant coach in Howie Meeker’s hockey school here in St. John’s.
Erik Seaward, the elder hockey player, retired from the Department of Municipal Affairs on March 31 after 35 years. Since his retirement, Erik has been working as a seasonal groundskeeper at Admiral’s Green Golf Course in Pippy Park, a job he loves as it allows him to work outside and interact with lots of people, many of whom recognize him from his hockey days. Erik has two sons and one granddaughter, who he has had on skates since before her second birthday.
Erik credits his good hockey skills to his father who took him to Ontario where he got to participate in hockey camps at Fenelon Falls.
“I had good coaching,” says Erik, who went on to play for the St. John’s Caps (later Blue Caps) and Memorial Beothuks after high school. “I played a physical, rough game (even though) my stature is small. I used to love speed.… I go full board out on the ice.… My father taught me a lot. We used to go to the RCAF rink in Goose Bay.… He taught me to stop by digging in with two feet and … to start again in one motion.”
“I miss the good workouts and the good friendships (hockey brought).… They’re some of the best days of my life,” Erik says, referring to the days when he wore the PWC hockey jersey. “I had a teacher (at PWC) who’d tear a $10 bill in half in front of the whole class. He’d come down and give me half and say, you win your game tonight and I’ll give you the other half.… PWC won the championship in my final year.”
Stay tuned next week for more feedback on John Kielley, EPA pilot turned photographer.
Susan Flanagan is a recreational runner who would like to thank the 200 plus volunteers who make the C2C the well-organized race it is. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org