After entering his first distance race in the 1960s, Oak Bay’s Ken Bonner quickly caught the marathon bug.
Today, some 170 races later, scrapbooks are chock full of photos and memorabilia, while the towering stack of race t-shirts reflects the breadth of his passion.
Bonner started running the mile in high school and remembers taking inspiration from athletes competing in the British Empire Games, the predecessor of the Commonwealth Games. “I was just always intrigued by these things where you push yourself to the limit,” he says.
Then he came across a notice for the All Sooke Days Marathon and thought, why not?
He remembers joining seven others jogging down the centre of Douglas Street during rush hour on their way out of town toward the West Shore and Sooke. This was back in the mid-1960s, and traffic wasn’t what it is now, he laughs, remembering the only help or refreshment station was a card table set up on the West Shore with some cut oranges.
The Vancouver Marathon was Bonner’s first official 26-mile race and one he repeated many times over the years, in addition to Victoria – first as the Royal Victoria Marathon and more recently with title sponsors GoodLife Fitness. “You get to run along this wonderful route – it’s amazing and the whole city really gets behind it,” he says of the Victoria run.
Completing the renowned Boston Marathon twice is among his running highlights, after which Bonner discovered randonneur cycling: timed, long-distance rides in locations around the world.
Sometimes, unbelievably, he combined the two.
One time, Bonner discovered the Edge-to-Edge Marathon between Ucluelet and Tofino coincided with a 600-kilometre randonneur he was undertaking in the same region. Doing the math, he realized he could ride there, run the marathon and then ride back, all within the prescribed time for the ride. All was good until he starting cramping up during the run and had to finish at a shuffle.
After a 1,200-kilometre randonneur from Paris, he discovered the Switzerland Jungfrau Marathon, described as one of the world’s most beautiful races, but also one of its most challenging, finishing nearly two kilometres higher than its start.
“I like the people I meet at these events,” Bonner reflects. In Switzerland, “I was running with a woman and it turned out she lived on the Island for three years so we had a lot to talk about.”
Until arthritis sidelined him last year, the avid runner – and even keener distance cyclist – had run every single Victoria Marathon, in addition to 140 or so others. In recognition of his dedication to the race, organizers asked him to be last year’s honorary guide cyclist, pedaling ahead of the fastest runners.
“I had never been at the front and I was surprised at how fast (the lead runner) was running, especially going up hills,” Bonner says with a chuckle.
For more information about registering or volunteering for the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, half-marathon, relay, 8K and kids run, visit runvictoriamarathon.com.