A bearded, quick-footed runner spotted in Yellowknife in all types of weather has big athletic plans: the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10.

But all-season runner Doug Townson isn’t just joining the race in the windy city to walk the 42 km and then collect a medal. He’s aiming for a finishing time of 2 hours and 51 minutes, which roughly equates to running at a brisk pace of four minutes per kilometre.

Itchy running feet

“That time’s been a longstanding goal of mine,” he said. “I was supposed to do (the Chicago Marathon) last year. But it got cancelled. I deferred it to this year. Hopefully, as long as I can get across the border, I’ll head down and make it happen.”

Down Townson runs along Franklin Avenue in Old Town on April 20. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

As a dedicated runner, Townson, 44, is itching to try out his marathon racing legs again, after he ran his last full marathon in New York City in 2019 with a time of 2:53:08.

He would have done the Yellowknife marathon last summer, but organizer YK Multisport opted to forego the full distance and offered only half-marathon and 10 km races due to logistical issues during the pandemic. Still, he came in second overall with a finishing time of 1:19:45.

“(But) it hasn’t been ‘two years off’, I’ve still been training,” he said.

Intense training plan

And train he has. His current program focuses on the full marathon distance and combines short speed workouts, faster mid-distance runs and longer, slightly slower runs.

He starts off most days with an early morning run of about seven kilometres and then another run in the evening. At least once a week his evening run is either a workout session or a 15 to 20-km run around the city.

“Throughout the winter I did speed work at the track at the Fieldhouse for 45 minutes or an hour. That could be eight by 800 metres or progression runs. I think as the snow melts it’s so much nicer doing that outside. And then I run home, maybe take the scenic route to add some kilometres.

“I do the 15-20 km runs a little faster, more like a tempo run. Not full-on race pace. It works out really well in the summer. Getting used to turning the legs over faster. Sometimes I’ll do that with people or alone.”

A screengrab from the Garmin Connect running app shows Doug’s 22.44-km run on Feb. 7, when the mercury fell to -42 C. image courtesy of Doug Townson

Sundays are his long runs that consist of 25 to 35 km at a moderate pace, or the equivalent of two-and-a-half or three hours of running.

That all amounts to Townson putting in between 60 and 100 km of running per week.

His training program is designed to help him meet the physical challenges of his time goal.

“You want to make sure your body is used to going that long,” he said. “If you’re working on speed, you’re doing your body all kinds of good in terms of cardiovascular workout and driving your lactate threshold down. Eventually those two come together and you have your time on your feet and your speed and then in a race your body can really handle the faster pace for a long duration.”

Chill out and run

But why limit indoor training to just one speed workout per week at the Fieldhouse? Doesn’t Yellowknife get down to -44 C in the dead of winter?

Yes it does, and Townson runs in it without batting a frosted eyelash.

“In the winter you can run anywhere,” he said. “The ice road is super fun and running in the dark with a headlamp in the cold is nice. Seeing the ice crystals hanging in the air with your head lamp when you run through the trees – it’s quiet, it’s dark. Sometimes the northern lights or the stars are out. Running in the winter is beautiful. I would take running in the winter here to anywhere else because there’s no slush.”

Townson goes out running even when the mercury drops under -40 C. On Feb. 7, when it was -42 C before windchill, he put in 22.4 km.

“I tend to stick a little closer to civilization on days like that. I don’t want to go out on the Ingraham Trail or go too far. As long as there are cars around, or if there is somewhere you can duck into to warm up or call a friend for a ride. Invariably, you’ll get a little frostnip here or there on your face or the gap between your glove and your sleeve. But I don’t worry about it too much.”

Townson shrugs at the notion of his preferred season for running. The long days of the summer are nice too, when the warm sun hangs in the sky in the evening, making it easier to get out of the house and run, especially when the most he has to wear is a pair of shorts and a singlet.

Marathon on the ground or up in the air?

The Chicago Marathon is more than six months away and organizers say they’re working with health authorities to provide a safe event for all attendees.

Townson hopes the event will happen, and he knows that between now and Oct. 10, a lot could change. Or nothing could change.

“My selfish thought is that I really want to do it. But then I have my realistic thoughts, where if I have to wait another year there are bigger things going on in the world. Hopefully things pull together and the vaccines work out. It might not be that hard to get to Chicago and run the marathon. But when could I get back? All the things like needing a negative COVID-19 test before coming back to Canada and then self-isolating.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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