The annual OrangeTheory Fitness Cape to Cabot 20 km running race in St. John’s is considered the most gruelling road race in eastern Canada with 550 metres of overall elevation gain. Imagine running to the top of Temperance Street at the end of an intense 18 km race, only to be then faced with Signal Hill before you can cross the finish line.
Since its inception in 2007, only ten runners have completed all C2C 20 km road races. It’s not an easy feat for the faint of heart, but for this group of ‘streakers,’ it’s a blast. Race organizers at Athletics NorthEAST call them streakers, though they do not run naked from Cape Spear to Cabot Tower. This October 14, the streakers – three women and seven men – will try to keep their streaks alive.
They all have their reasons, but bragging rights is a big one. Also, whenever it gets down to the final streaker, Signal Hill Spirits will have a bottle of Signal Hill Whisky waiting for him or her at the top. In 2016 for the 10th anniversary, Athletics NorthEAST race organizers assigned permanent bib numbers for the remaining then 12 streakers. Once a streak is broken, that streaker’s number is permanently retired from the C2C.
There are no spring chickens here –only two of the remaining 10 are in their 40s, five are in their 50s and three in their 60s. Who will hold the longest unbroken running streak in the C2C?
Meet the Streakers
At 45, Paul Dillon is the baby of the pack. Both competitive and stubborn, Dillon figures he has at least 25 Cape to Cabots in him. Although Dillon says the C2C is the toughest race he’s ever run, he says the secret to running a good race is ‘baby steps’. He breaks the race in smaller pieces, like one-km sections or even shorter sections on the hills, and focuses on his success in each section.
“I always hate the stretch along the waterfront, when you are tired and running towards Signal Hill. That’s when I question why I am doing this… (But I) have a bad memory, which helps me forget the pain of the previous year’s race.” As for who he thinks will be the last man/woman standing, Dillon thinks it might be running legend Joe Ryan, the grandfather of the group.
Joe Ryan, who at 69 is the oldest streaker, says the C2C can be an easy race or a difficult one – it depends on how you perceive it. “If you just want to run and have fun and watch the sights along the course and wave to the spectators, then it’s easy,” Ryan says. On the other hand, if you are competitive and want to go for a personal best (PB), then it could be somewhat difficult, he adds. “I take each year as it comes and I’m grateful that I can still run long distances,” says Ryan, who also has 42 consecutive Tely 10s and 16 consecutive NL Provincial Marathons (now Huffin Puffin) to his credit.
Ryan inspires others by hosting a training program for C2C runners. “I try to have my group members believe strongly in themselves… and eliminate the words ‘I can’t’ from their training,” Ryan says. “We have fun on our group runs, we laugh and chit-chat and tell awful jokes, but at the same time, we do train hard.”
Last One Standing
54-year-old streaker, Donna Burt, who trains with Ryan’s group, explains that there are sections of the race she loves to run, and others she definitely does not love. “You have to be both physically and mentally strong for this race,” she says. “Every year I pick a section of the race that I struggle with and try to make it a positive experience.”
To celebrate her achievement, after each C2C Burt hosts a potluck and hangs her C2C medals off the dining room chandelier. Two streakers who met Burt through Ryan’s running group are 57-year-old Alfred Power and his wife Regina Coady, 58, who he describes as his “inspiration, motivation, and training coach” and who he thinks will be the last woman standing.
Power says that after 11 years, the C2C is physically harder, but mentally easier. “Experience on the course counts for a lot,” he says, adding he expects to keep up the streak for 43 years, until he’s 100. Coady will be happy to make it to No. 20 but says if something prevented her from running the C2C, she would feel a big loss. Chris Flanagan, who will be 56 a couple of weeks after the race, feels the same way.
“It’s my most enjoyable running race, so I knew I’d keep the streak going if I could,” Flanagan, who finds the flat section downtown to be the most challenging, shares. He admits that he would like to be the last one standing but thinks the youngest runner, Paul Dillon, may be the final streaker. Streaker Ken Scott thinks it will be Joe Ryan. “You’d need a silver bullet to stop Joe,” Scott, who is 60, jokes.
Some may think Scott an unlikely streaker. He is what some people refer to as a Clydesdale runner. At six foot three and 260 pounds, Scott has trouble fitting into the largest C2C shirts on offer. He used to be heavier, however, before he decided to turn his life around and joined a gym in 2004. He smoked his last cigarette on April 1, 2005 and that July, he ran his first Tely 10. In 2007, he ran the inaugural C2C.
“Running turned out to be more addictive than smoking ever was,” says Scott, who for the 2012 C2C, removed a walking cast so he could hobble across the finish in two hours and 17 minutes. Dan Owens, 55, is a streaker who can empathise. “A few years ago I ran with a cast on my left hand. The following year… I broke a bone in my foot,” he says, adding he still managed to cross the finish line.
Streaker Jeff Barnes, 49, has also overcome many challenges to keep up his running streak.
In December 2012 he was struck by a car and spent seven days in intensive care with a broken skull among other injuries. “For a full month, I was a new walker,” he says. “My running is different since then… I mostly run for the psychological benefit.” Whatever their reasons, the ten remaining streakers will be sizing up how each other fares along the course.
62-year-old streaker Bernadette Jerrett thinks the last person standing should be entered in the Newfoundland Sports Hall of Fame. “Running in Hurricane Gonzalo was pretty interesting,” adds Jerrett, who recalls the C2C race in 2014 when blistering winds and rain that washed out sections of the course kept even the volunteers home.
Streakers never know what to expect. From moose in the middle of the road on Signal Hill, to mummers at water stations and rabbit hunters in the woods, one thing is certain – they’ll all be watching the results closely to see if their fellow streakers all made it across the finish line.
Susan Flanagan is a journalist and runner living in St. John’s.