Runner Stories

#WhyIRun: Allen Groome

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Written by Katie

Name: Allen Groome
Hometown: Stockport, England
Occupation: Retired
Where I call home now: Toronto (Mimico), Ontario
Running Crews: Longboat Roadrunners, Run TOBeer, Castle Runners, Still Waters Run Deep MCR

I took early retirement in 2013 so I could be a full-time caregiver to my partner Valerie. She had an inoperable brain tumour and in 2012 was given a year to live. She had the tumour for over 30 years without any symptoms, then in late 2007 there was some activity in the tumours showing on her MRI. In the following years Val went through all the treatments; radiation and chemo. We were hopeful that the treatments would work and we took our last real vacation in Tofino on Vancouver Island.

When we returned, Val had go through another series of chemo for six weeks. Val was small, but a very strong women. She was a runner, cyclist, triathlete, dragonboater etc. She qualified for Boston running her first marathon. She had a strong heart and will. Slowly I saw her diminish and it broke my heart every day. Finally she had to go into hospice and we waited for her to die. She got so weak she would not eat and they took her off her meds. The doctor said it would be soon, but Val had other ideas. She started to rally. To make a long story short, she was the first one to leave the hospice alive. She spent 3 months in the hospice and then 3 months in Toronto Rehab. Then she came home, she needed a wheelchair because of the tumour, she could not walk. We had our home renovated with ramps and a stair lift.

Val was determined to walk again and we practice each day. Val did strengthening exercises religiously. 2014 started with so much hope for us, but into the fall the MRI’s were not good. The tumour was active again. Then in June of 2015, Val started a 3 month round of chemo. She never got to her third round, she died on August 19, 2015.

During all these years running was my solace, until 2015, when all my care giving was taking a toll on my health. I was overweight and depressed. I had terrible hip pain in both legs, I had a disc bulge and rotor-cuff issues. This was from doing transfers with Val as she got weaker. I stopped running and tried sports medicine, chiropractic treatment and massage therapy to no avail. Then at the being of July I started walking.

My first walk was a mile and a half and my pace was over a 20 min/mile. I built up to an hour walk, then I started to add a run of one minute. Over the months I progressively decrease the time of walking one minute each week. Eg. Walk/30, run/1; walk/29, run/1; walk/28, run/1. I did this until I was walking one minute and running one minute, then I added one minute of running each week. Eg. Walk/1, run/2; walk/1, run/3; walk/1, run/4. I did this until I was running 60 minutes and walking one, then I just ran without walking. I lost 25 pounds doing this, as well as cutting back on calories. Yoga has helped me rebuild myself. I am still a work in progress.

Why and when did you start to run?

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I emigrated with my mother and brother from England in the winter of 1957, coming through Pier 21 in Halifax. Followed by a three day train trip to Toronto. I had never seen so much snow. I was seven years old.

We settled in a small house in Scarborough and I started school. I was the new kid, the one that talked funny, couldn’t skate, play baseball or football. I was clumsy when it came to sports. I was the first kid to be picked on and last one to be picked for a team. We call it bullying now. I hated recess because I was chased all over the playground. I don’t know if I was naturally fast or this primitive training made me faster. I became the second fastest kid in the school and I was always in demand for my speed when we played tag or chase.

During my last year there before high school, the sports day long race was twice around the two baseball fields. A distance unknown and no timing. The race was between the red haired kid and me and everybody knew it. Redhead had a fast start and the chase was on. He had a good lead on me on the first lap, but I was closing the gap. As we approached the line drawn in dirt I was on his heels and I kicked it up to pass him. He sensed this and he finished a stride ahead of me. We shook hands, we both knew that we had given it all we had.

In high school I ran a bit of track and cross-country. This was the end of the 1960’s and other things were on my mind. Girls, rock music and drugs. I wasn’t a jock or nerd so I drifted in with the ‘druggies”.

After high school I had many jobs and adventures. I did a lot of traveling through North American and Europe living the hippie life. I drove a VW van across Canada going to rock festivals along the way. I got robbed in Amsterdam and traveled a lot lighter through France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. I indulged in the drugs as it was part of the scene. I never did hard drugs. Marijuana was mainly what I used.

When I was in my late twenties the drug culture was getting meaner and uglier. My drug friends were getting tiresome and dangerous. I was looking for another way of life. The one healthy thing that I did during my twenties was cycling. I cycled everywhere. I didn’t have the spandex outfit, I rode in cut-off jeans, t-shirt and no helmet. I did have an expensive Italian racing bike and I loved racing the serious cyclists in all their gear. I usually beat them on the Toronto streets. I regretted I never tried being a bike courier, I think I would have been a good one.

Then, the running boom came and changed my life forever. In the spring of 1978 I started running again. I had no program, I just ran every day. I didn’t time or measure my runs. Then I came across Runner’s World and I got more serious, it was a gateway drug. I purchased dedicated running shoes, the Onitsuka Tiger California, a digital watch, and started to seriously train.

The only marathon in Toronto at the time was the Metro Toronto Police International Marathon held in the fall. You could sign up to run various distances. I signed up for 10 miles, the longest I had run previously was 8 miles. It was a warm and sunny day and I felt good. I got to 10 miles and I still felt good so I thought I would see how far I could go. Well, I ended up finishing the full marathon in 4:30. They had these big barrels filled with ice and cans of Coke at every mile, that’s how I finished the last 10 miles. Ten cans of coke. I was hooked for life. I was a runner.

Why do you continue to run?

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I have been running for over 35 years. It is like brushing my teeth, I do it almost every day. My whole life has been shaped by running. After Val’s death, it was harder to get out of the door, running was becoming a chore. All my running routes were ones that we ran together. The reason I kept on running was I think that is what Val would what. Gradually my runs got easier and I started to cherish the memories of Val as I ran our shared trails. Every run is now dedicated to her.

What crews do run with and why?

whyirun_allen_4 I joined Longboat Roadrunners in 1982. I could not get in the first year as they had already met their 200 membership limit. I reached my peak training with this club. Every PB and Boston qualifiers that I ran I can credit to the support I received from this club. Over the years Longboat has become the center of my social life. I have developed many friendships and a couple of relationships over the years. I can thank Longboat for my son Leif, his mother was once a member. It was through Longboat that I met Val.

I started with the Castle Runners in the fall of 2015. I had been following them on Facebook for a while. I use to run stair repeats there when Val was doing her mindfulness mediation at Princess Margaret Hospital. I was looking for a new routine after Val died. One of the attractions of a new group was that I was anonymous, I didn’t have to explain my situation. I really liked the concept of Castle Runners, they meet once a week, do a 30 minute body weight workout that combines endurance training with the stairs at Casa Loma, then they get on with their day. Although, getting up at the crack-of-stupid (the workout begins at 6:30am) is very hard sometimes. With that said, it is a great group of people with a lot of energy and very welcoming. It’s a blast.

I started running with Run TO Beer in the fall of 2015. Val and I loved craft beers since the 1990’s. Our vacations were usually road trips to races and the scouting out local craft breweries. When I turned 50, I had a pub run with 5 pubs on the route and you had to drink at pint at every pub. I did that for 5 years with up to 25 runners. So running with this crew is a no-brainer. Plus, running with this group, my son has just started to run and we have ended up doing a couple runs together with this crew.

Still Waters Run Deep MCR, is a run crew based in Manchester, England (my hometown) and I would love to run with this group in the future.

What are your biggest accomplishments in running?

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My biggest accomplishments with running was when I ran a BQ (Boston Qualifying) marathon and then actually running the Boston Marathon. It took me 10 years and I think 20 marathons to finally qualify for it. This was a combination of entering a new age-group (40-44) and being fast enough.

I qualified at the Ottawa marathon in 1989 and ran Boston in 1990. Boston was very hot that year and I ran a conservative race. Lots of people were walking or dropping out. I passed one of our club’s fastest runners in the last 6 miles. He was walking. I finished in 3:17 and that was enough to qualify me for next year’s Boston.

My biggest disappointment was that I never ran a sub 3:00 hour marathon. My best time was at the Ottawa marathon where I ran 2:59:41.

What has running taught you?

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This is a good question. I think throughout all my years, running has taught me a lot. Every run is a chance to learn something new about yourself. You learn your weaknesses, you learn your strengths. Every run is a chance to meditate on your life, relationships, jobs, goals, etc. Some of the things that you learn you will relearn later. We are constantly learning and running is part of my process.

As for something concrete that I have learned from running here are a few: We are stronger than we think. Nothing is constant. This might disappoint some people, but, just because you run a marathon, you still can’t do everything.

Who has inspired you?

In spite of my life-style in my 20’s, I always loved watching track and field on TV. I enjoyed watching the Olympics especially the marathon on the last day of the events. I don’t know when I saw a movie of the marathon of the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but it must have stuck in my mind. I remember it was in black and white and an African runner Abebe Bikila won the marathon running barefoot and became the first African from sub-Sahara to win an Olympic marathon. There’s been a lot of change since then. I have a vivid image of him running barefoot on the cobblestone roads of Rome. Little did I know then that I would complete marathon myself.

Of course, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit have been an inspiration, along with Jerome Drayton holding the Canadian marathon record for over forty years. Then there is Ed Whitlock setting world records in every distance at 85 years old.

I have known Diane Marrow for over 20 years. She is a good friend, Longboat member and we have run and raced together over all those years. We are very close in speed, but gradually she keeps on getting faster. She retired last year, and got a coach as well as a new program. This year she is having a great year, lots of PB’s and breaking club records. Recently she was on as a team that set a new Canadian W65 4×800 Outdoor Relay Record: 13:47.79. The last weekend she unofficially set another Canadian record, W65 Outdoor 3000 m in 13:31.8. Her WAVA score is an amazing 89.57%. She is such a down to earth person with a wicked sense of humour. She is a true inspiration.

What are some of your favourite quotes?

  • “Fall down seven. Stand up eight.”
  • “Life is movement, keep it flowing.”
  • “It takes a long time to become young.”
  • “Young horses run fast, but old horses know the way.”

What is your favourite inspirational video?

Cold Forged from Tracksmith on Vimeo.

Who do you look up to in the running community and why?

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Elaine McCrea. In 1997, she took ownership of Canada’s oldest specialty running store, The Runners Shop, established in 1975. In the years between high school and taking over The Runners Shop she was a competitive runner, studied Kinesiology and worked in specialty running retail for 10 years. She ran her first marathon in 1979 and now, over 30 years later, she’s still a passionate runner, competing in marathons like Boston and Berlin. She’s not only the owner of the store but also the coach for the popular Runners Shop running club. She has a long time relationship with the Longboat Roadrunners as the major sponsor and supporter of our September Toronto Island races.

Alan Brookes. In the 1980’s Alan owned a chain of running stores in South Ontario. He also held small, well organized local road races that were accurately measured. He got out of retail to put all his energy into road races. “When we started in 1986 we promised everybody a safe accurate course, an accurate finishing time and place. That has been at the core of every race,” says Alan. From a humble beginning he has created the Canadian Running Series with quality races across the country. Alan’s events have helped and develop Canadian Olympians Dylan Wykes, Reid Coolsaet, Lanni Marchant and Eric Gillis. His races are not just for the elite, they appeal to recreational runners as well. The races are real community events and help generate millions of dollars for local charities. Alan is working relentlessly to promote his races and Canadian talent internationally. I proud to say that I knew him as a friend all those years back when it all started in Guelph.

What is one of your proudest moments when running?

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Kevin Hayes was a club running mate of mine. Often we would run together on the Wednesday night 10 miler. Our marathon paces were close, but we never ran together during the race. We both like to race alone. Sometimes he finished before me, sometimes I finished first. He was a few years younger than me. He started to feel some numbness in his legs, but continued to run marathons. Sadly the numbness was a precursor to ALS and within 2 ½ years, he died. He died in 2006 at age 53 on the date of the Longboat Island race. In his life time, he had run 60 marathons, I had run 44. I made my goal to run 60 marathons in my 60th year as a tribute to Kevin. In 2006 I ran one marathon. In 2007 I ran four, including Boston. In 2008, I ran five marathons, in 2009 I ran another five. In Bermuda I ran my 60th marathon on January 17, 2010 one month before my 61st birthday. I had reached my goal. Each marathon was dedicated to Kevin.

A final thought on running

So why do I run? I run because it is in my DNA.

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#WhyIRun

About the author

Katie

Founder and Creator of Why I Run.

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