'Walker Runner' Bob Hardy sets new course after Ottawa Race Weekend nixed by pandemic



'Walker Runner' Bob Hardy of Alexandria in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October 2019.

Bob Hardy didn’t want to miss out on race-walking nearly 60 kilometres on a weekend in May.

So, after COVID-19 led to the cancellation of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and its multi-event Lumberjack Challenge, the 69-year-old Alexandria resident has devised his own two-day challenge for May 23-24 as a fundraiser for the Little Angels Blood Cancer Fund, which provides financial support to cover expenses of people undergoing blood cancer treatments or stem cell transplants.

“I’m up to $555 that I have collected so far,” said Hardy, who last November covered 100 kilometres in loops inside a Cornwall arena in a Wobbly Walker Walk-A-Thon for the local Alzheimer’s society. “It’s difficult this year because people don’t want to donate much to charities. The world has stopped for the (novel coronavirus) as far as fundraising is concerned …

“There’s no good complaining. The virus is here and that’s it. You just have to deal with it.”

Hardy is familiar to many as the “Walker Runner” because he races with a modified walker to compensate for balance problems following his own medical issues, including leukemia and a bone-marrow transplant (1996-97), hip replacement (2009) and serious blood clots (2012-13). He completed his first half-marathon in Lachine, Que. in 2014, and the first of a half-dozen marathons in Ottawa in May 2016. Extreme heat then led Ottawa Race Weekend officials to truncate the customary 42.195-kilometre marathon distance by about eight kilometres for the slowest runners, but Hardy covered the full distance in six hours, 28 minutes and 36 seconds.

His best time was 5:23:09 for the 2018 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, although even that would be well shy of his bucket-list goal of qualifying for the famed Boston Marathon, which would require a clocking of about 4:20. He hasn’t given up on the idea, hoping for another opportunity to post an official time in Montreal’s Oasis Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Sept. 20 — he turns 70 that weekend — or in Toronto in October.

 ‘Walker Runner’ Bob Hardy trains on a wide-open road near the communities of Alexandria and Glen Robertson in eastern Ontario in 2020. (Photo from Bob Hardy courtesy of Jeff Poissant)

Before Ottawa Race Weekend was cancelled because of COVID-19, Hardy was one of 196 registrants for the Lumberjack Challenge comprising not only of the Sunday marathon, but also Saturday’s two-, five- and 10-kilometre races. Run Ottawa executive director Ian Fraser said another 12 had signed up to attempt the challenge in “virtual” competition between now and late summer.

“I wasn’t trying to break any records with the two, five and 10,” Hardy said, “but I was going to use that as a warmup for the following day. When I go to Toronto, they always have on the day before, on the Saturday, a 3K friendly run, and I find that great. If I do something of a run on the day before the real one, it would always help me improve my time.”

Instead of matching Race Weekend segments, Hardy promises he’ll cover 26 kilometres on May 23 down and back on what he describes as a safe roadway between his home and the community of Glen Robertson, followed on May 24 by 33.2 kilometres on back roads around Alexandria. He has been walking to Glen Robertson and back for outdoor training.

“I’m going to put a finish line (at my house) and make it real,” he said.

The balance problems that led Hardy to use a walker have recently intensified, so he’s planning for another medical assessment after the pandemic subsides, which is why contemplation of another 100-kilometre Wobbly Walker Walk-A-Thon for the Alzheimer’s society in August is on hold, although he maintains it’s really not an issue for training or races. His racing posture and the walker’s width keep him “nice and firm, safe,” and he learned after early attempts to combine running and walking that race-walking alone was a superior tactic.

“I keep saying that with my race-walking, I run by more runners than I have ever done before because I’m going faster, because I’m going more efficient with the walking than I am with the running.”

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