All my most vivid memories of running workouts are summer ones.
One workout our club did every summer Wednesday evening in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was our boardwalk 8-mile tempo run. Unlike our track workouts, which started at about 5 p.m., this was a later evening run, beginning at 8 p.m. when the often-scorching heat of the day was beginning to soften.
We had a keen and consistent group for this workout. It included Dave, me, and a bunch of the fastest high school guys from George S. Henry, my former high school. Usually there were a few less-speedy runners there, too. George ran an abbreviated route with them so he could watch and time us finishing the route.
We drove all the way south down Victoria Park Avenue, crossing Queen Street East, and taking the steep downhill towards Lake Ontario on Neville Park Boulevard. This was a bohemian and gentrifying neighbourhood, filled with huge Victorian mansions and their spectacular gardens. We parked just above a stairway that led down to the lake.
Our warmup consisted of jogging west over a couple of hundred metres of sandy beach until we came to the start of the boardwalk in front of the Balmy Beach Club. This wide boardwalk extended three kilometers along the shore of Lake Ontario, curving around in the last kilometer following Woodbine Beach beside Ashbridges Bay Park. Every 500m was clearly marked on the boards so we could time ourselves.
Our fast group generally kept together for most of the run, the speediest of us taking turns to push the pace. Once we reached the end of the boardwalk at 3K, we ran an additional few miles along the paths and paved sidewalk near the lakeshore before heading back to the boardwalk’s 3K mark.
On the way back was a significant landmark: the public swimming pool. It was exactly one mile from the end of the boardwalk. We were already running fast; but the swimming pool marked the end of the tempo run and the start of the race. Dave’s goal was always to break 5 minutes for this final mile. The rest of us stayed as close to him as we could. There may have been talented high school runners who sometimes beat Dave in this final stretch—I don’t remember.
What I remember is the collective pounding of our feet on the boards, the gasping as we struggled against each other. How we must have startled the walkers out for a relaxed stroll on a peaceful evening! There were other joggers on the boards, but we ate them up as though they were standing still.
Reaching the end of the boardwalk, I felt the relief of the finish line, the pain subsiding as I bent over to gasp for air.
Soon I could forget my exertion and feel the magic of The Beaches. It was such a beautiful place in the summer. Dusk was beginning to fall as we finished our workout. Guitar players sat on the benches lining the boardwalk and played their sweet chords and melodies. The waves of the great lake added their rhythmical sounds. Sometimes, if it was especially hot, we dunked ourselves in the frigid water, not caring about the cold or the pollution.
Dave loved talking about how the run had developed and how everyone’s time had measured up in the race to the finish. Often, we continued chatting as we drove to an ice cream store close by on Queen Street. Dave was ecstatic about a special kind of frozen yogourt available at this place. They would take a slab of plain frozen yogourt, and mix into it whatever fruit and “extra goodies” like Smarties, jellybeans, chocolate chips, nuts, etc. you chose. This was Dave’s favourite treat. Unless he had run a sub-5:00 in his last boardwalk mile, it was probably the highlight of his evening. George, with his typical generosity, often paid for treats for a whole carload of us.
1982 Training Log
When I searched my training logs for boardwalk workouts, I couldn’t find any examples of the workout I’ve described above. Probably this was because I hadn’t yet started keeping regular training logs when we were doing these 8-mile evening runs frequently.
However, I did find several mentions of similar boardwalk workouts in my 1982 Training Log. I’ve copied a couple of entries below:
June 3, 1982
PM: Ran at Boardwalk. Did about 7½ miles + warmdown = 8 miles total. Included 3 fast 10 min. intervals. Last one, we timed 3K on boards—about 10:25 for Steve [Pimentel] and I. Felt quite tired from yesterday. [Had done a bicycle workout and a track workout the day before.]
August 22, 1982
Rode bike to Boardwalk. Ran 5 miles continuous hard. Then did 6K more—1K fast, 1K slow etc. 9 miles. Rode bike home. Exhausting 2 hr workout.
Ever since I discovered the boardwalk with my running club, it’s been one of my favourite Toronto places. When I still lived at my parents’ house, in addition to running there on Wednesday evenings I often used to ride my bike down there very early on Sunday mornings, before the traffic got bad on Victoria Park Avenue. It was only a 10-kilometre ride down to the lake, but the key word here is down. I could zip to the boardwalk in about 20 minutes, but the ride home was a real workout, beginning with the steep ascent up Neville Park Boulevard and the southern end of Victoria Park.
I loved the boardwalk in all its summer moods. The peacefulness of early Sunday mornings contrasted sharply with the frenzied bustle that developed later in the day. People came out in droves to sunbathe, play beach volleyball, jog, ride their bikes, rollerblade, or just stroll at a leisurely pace along the boardwalk. It was a wonderful place to soak up the sun (if it wasn’t too hot) and people-watch the ever-moving throng.
Every time I’m visiting my parents in Toronto during the summer, I return to the boardwalk. Sadly, though, I don’t have any photos from long ago of us running on the boards or even of the boardwalk itself.
But I still take the same stairway down to the lake, where we started our sandy warmup towards the boards.
In August 2011, my son Abebe and his girlfriend Chihiro flew to Toronto from Japan (where Abebe is going to university). I insisted on giving Chihiro a tour of the boardwalk and surrounding Kew Park.
As you can see from the photos, there are several stations along the boardwalk where you can do upper-body strengthening exercises. Rollerbladers, cyclists, and runners can use the Martin Goodman paved bicycle trail that runs parallel to the boardwalk and continues westward along the lakeshore.
These photos show a lot of sunshine. But remember, to know the magical soul of the boardwalk, you have to go there at twilight, just after the sun has disappeared below the lake’s western rim. Feel the day’s heat turning gentle as the forms of couples strolling along the boardwalk become indistinct. Be soothed by the sounds of waves lapping on the beach and the fragments of guitar melodies emerging from the growing darkness.