The PEI Roadrunners Club - The Formative Years

Before the Club

In 1972, American Frank Shorter won the marathon at the Olympic Games in Munich, and the attention of the American media helped generate a new level of interest in an old sport. In Canada, this was also the period when ParticipACTION hit the airwaves with its unflattering comparison of the fitness level of an average 30-year-old Canadian to that of a 60-year-old Swede.

Road running had never really died from its “golden age” of the early 20th century but by the 1960s it was viewed as a bit of an odd passion. Boxers and endurance athletes trained this way but the few others who ran the roads were viewed as perhaps a touch eccentric.

The emerging fitness boom of the early 70’s got people of all ages and abilities interested in running. There was a growing demand for events and races that would appeal not to just the competitive but to recreational participants.

In PEI, several individuals, organizations and festivals began to take an interest in staging races, events or fundraisers. There were few PEI runners and no organized community, but that was about to change with a chain of events beginning at a Charlottetown high school...

  • Fall of 1973

    3M Series

    Parker Lund, a teacher at Col. Gray High School, was looking for an activity that would be popular and help improve the fitness levels of the students. He saw the potential of running to appeal to both the competitive nature of some students and the participation spirit of others.

    In the fall of 1973 he, along with some other staff, organized a series of three runs; a “micro marathon” of one mile, a “mini marathon” of three miles and a “midi marathon” of five miles – he called this the 3M series.

    These were road races near Colonel Gray open to students, staff and the public such as other local area students. As he would later observe, he had no idea that the word marathon applied to a race of a specific distance. To him, the completion of any exerting run was a marathon of sorts – the idea took hold: the series was repeated in spring 1974.

  • August 1974

    Kensington Harvest Festival 25km

    The festival introduced an annual 25 kilometer run from Stanchel to Kensington.

  • Fall of 1974

    3M+1 Series

    A 10-mile relay was added to the 3M Series.

  • Fall of 1975

    3M+2 Series

    A 10-mile road race, sponsored by McDonald’s Restaurants, was added to the 3M Series. This made it the 3M+2 series.

    The first ever Col. Gray 10-mile run was held June 14, 1975 and attracted 56 runners. This event would go on to become a cornerstone of the PEI road running calendar.

  • Fall of 1976

    St. Jean Elementary School Fundraiser

    Parker Lund left Col. Gray in 1975 to do a Masters of Education program at Acadia. He returned to teaching in the fall of 1976 as the principal of St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown. One of the challenges faced by that school was the inadequacy of the small, paved and poorly equipped playground.

    To raise funds to acquire playground equipment, Lund organized a fund raiser with runners circling the Confederation Centre block.

    The event not only raised about $1,300 it also introduced Lund to runners, in particular Ewen Stewart, who would later play a role in the creation of the PEI Roadrunners Club.

  • 1977

    Parker's Playground Pace

    More funds were needed beyond what Lund was able to raise for St. Jeans in the previous year's event, and after discussing it with some others, Lund hit upon a promotion that would become one of the most celebrated events in PEI running history.

    In the spring of 1977, Lund began to promote what he called the “Parker’s Playground Pace”. Participants would run the 100 miles from Moncton, New Brunswick to Charlottetown in three days. This was not a relay – each runner would have to tackle all 100 miles.

    As the organizers would admit later, they had no idea of the toll a run of that distance would take on the body. Most recruits were neither experienced runners nor trained for such an undertaking but enthusiasm would trump reason.

    In June 1977, accompanied by the CFCY van for live reports, eight runners set off on the journey:

    • Ken Campbell
    • Ewen Stewart
    • Joyce Burnett
    • Margaret MacDonald
    • Frank Johnston
    • Dave Beaton
    • Don Harley
    • Parker Lund

    One way or another they all made it to Charlottetown to be greeted by a large crowd in front of the cenotaph – the event raised about $7,000.

  • Fall of 1977

    Formation of the PEI Roadrunners Club

    As Lund recalls, it was during "Parker's Playground Pace" that Ken Campbell suggested that now was the time to build on the running movement and form a club. Lund would schedule a meeting at St. Jean’s in September and this well-attended meeting would lead to the creation of the PEI Roadrunners Club.

    The club was interested in running at all levels – from beginners to elite – from social to recreational to competitive – from under a mile to a marathon – throughout PEI.

    It played an important role in the growth and development of jogging and distance running in PEI.

The Founding of the Club

One of the first club activities was to set up weekly “social runs” – informal gatherings of runners at established times and places ran at a pace comfortable for all. A club membership was also established. Members received a bi-monthly newsletter providing training tips, a schedule of events, race results, short stories and information of interest. Several public meetings were also held, often hosting speakers with an expertise in various aspects of running.

Key club founders included:

Early activities of the club included:

Early races typically attracted fields of 30 to 70 runners – shorter distances and popular events, such as the Dairy Queen Bunny Hop, could attract up to 200. Club membership quickly surpassed 100.

  • December 31, 1977

    Dairy Queen Polar Run

    The first race organized by the club was the Dairy Queen Polar Run, a five-mile run in Charlottetown.

    31 runners completed the race.

  • 1978

    Johnny Miles Marathon

    Several club members expressed an interest in running a marathon. In the winter of 1978 these members met frequently, exchanged training programs, trained together and encouraged each other.

    In May 1978, eight first time Island marathoners completed the Johnny Miles Marathon in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

  • May 1978

    CFCY Spring Fever Pace

    The first CFCY Spring Fever Pace (two-miles) was held in May 1978.

    It attracted more than 200 runners.

  • May 1978

    Victoria Park "Fun Runs"

    Meant to appeal mainly to younger and novice runners, these bi-weekly "fun runs" were timed runs at a quarter mile, half mile and full mile.

    All runners received certificates based on age group standards.

  • 1979

    Travelling Members

    Starting in 1979 it became traditional for club members to travel together to the Boston Marathon.

    Regionally, Island runners formed sizable contingents at the Johnny Miles Marathon in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

  • 1980

    Grand Prix Series

    By 1980 the club had instituted its “Grand Prix” series of road races. The 1980 series was composed of 17 races, some of which were organized directly by club members while other were developed locally.

    The schedule included races in all three counties and at distances ranging from two-miles to the marathon.

    Runners earned points according to their place of finish in each race. a runner’s six best placings were added up, and awards were made at the end of the year according to age and gender divisions.

    All runners received certificates based on age group standards.

Development of the Race Schedule

This list for 1980 shows the variety of races spread through the year and across the Island:

Event Location Month Distance
Dairy Queen Bunny Hop Charlottetown April 10 km
Athena High School Run Summerside May 7 miles
CFCY Spring Fever Pace Charlottetown May 2 miles
Campers City Run Charlottetown May 5 miles
Col. Gray-McDonald’s Run Charlottetown June 10 miles
Seaman’s Beverages Run Charlottetown July 4 miles
Fulton Campbell Memorial Montague July 20 km
Belfast Lions Mid-Summer Jaunt Pinette July 8 miles
Tyne Valley Oyster Festival Tyne Valley August 20 miles
National Park Run Stanhope August 10 km
Kensington Harvest Festival Kensington August 25 km
Volume Rentals Half Marathon Charlottetown September 13.1 miles
PEI Roadrunners Marathon Charlottetown September 26.2 miles
Alice Faye’s Run for Women Charlottetown October 3 miles
CAPHER Run Stanhope October 10 km
Dunk River Run Bedeque November 7.5 miles
Dairy Queen Polar Run Charlottetown December 5 miles

1980 was typical of the Island race schedule during the club’s early years – some races would come and go but most remained in place throughout – some later additions included the Mardi Gras Run in Summerside, the Spring Tune-up in Bedeque, the Brothers Two Run in Summerside and the North Shore Coastal Run from French River to Malpeque.

PEI races were known for generous prizes – many trophies, medals, ribbons and participation certificates.

Races enjoyed the generous support of many local business and sponsors.

Spreading the Word

While the club was founded and centred in Charlottetown, it was important to involve runners and supporters from all corners of PEI.

Summerside had a particularly strong running community. A Prince County Roadrunners Club was established in 1980 as an affiliate of the provincial club, where supporters such as Alf and Don Groom were key to hosting events and attracting members. Don Reeves was another strong local organizer, and Monica LaPointe of St. Eleanors became the leading female road runner in the early years of the club.

Club members built a strong relationship with other regional clubs, particularly in southeast New Brunswick and Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Club members often travelled together to on and off-Island races. In return, Island races often hosted runners from away – PEI races had an excellent reputation.

A Collective Effort

The success of the PEI Roadrunners Club was not based on just a handful of people. While it took strong leadership to set the club in motion, it was really the collective contributions of a range of participants that made the club a dynamic organization. These are a few notes on some of the people who helped develop the club character in the very early years. The list is not exhaustive and does not spell out all that was contributed, but it is offered as an illustration of how the club benefitted from the contributions of many:

These are only some of the people who played central roles in the very early years in the development of the club – many others were also integral to that of the Roadrunners story in the founding years – such a list would not be complete without names such as Eric Manual, Ernie Maidment, Laurie Orr, Ken Ozmon, Kay Lund, Bob Simmons, Jake Baird, Don Reeves, Freeman Churchill, Lawrence McLagen, Mike Armitage, Lance Miron, Ninian Le Blanc, Bob Gray, Colin Peverly and Roy Mason.

About the Name

Yes, it is the PEI Roadrunners Club, not the Road Runners. When the club was first formed, Don Harley had to fit the club name onto printed materials. He was pressed for space and so he opted for the slightly shorter option.