In its heyday during the 1980s, when jogging was still an emerging pasttime that enchanted millions, the Yukon Cross Country Championships filled the trails with as many as 75 runners.
Last weekend, only 15 runners came out to Mt. McIntyre to compete in the championships, leaving seven of 10 divisions occupied by single runners.
Why the drop?
“There’s a whole lot of things,” said race organizer Don White. “Mountain biking and road biking didn’t exist (here) until sometime around 2000. So there wasn’t a big cycling community.
“So a lot of people that cycle now used to run. Physically, it’s just easier on the body to sit on a bike saddle than it is to run.”
“I’ve got a lot of theories,” said Dave Brook, who ran in the Masters I division (40-49 years) and finished first with a time of 26 minutes and 43 seconds, of the small turnout.
“I really feel like I’ve watched the sport evolve from a boom in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where you come to an event like this and find a hundred runners. And maybe 20 would be, not national level, but really strong, five-minute-mile runners.
“It’s hard to imagine that movement again,” said Brooks. “With TV and video, it’s hard to imagine.”
Far from being defeatist about the drop in popularity — especially among the youth — organizers are hoping to increase numbers in the future by appealing to younger runners through summer camps.
“We’ve tried a number of different things,” said White. “We’ve done the Run, Jump and Throw Camp through the city three times now, but it’s geared to kids that are 14 and under at this point, and we’re not getting them to come out yet, right?
“The issue that we run into is competition with other sports,” added White. “I’ve taken basketball kids out, soccer kids out and done running programs with them to try and improve their aerobic fitness levels. And when you ask them, they all hate running. If they have the inclination that running isn’t fun, then trying to get them out running is going to be difficult. It’s just the way it is.”
Despite the lack of youth participation, White is still planning to bring at least 15 kids down to the Canada Summer Games next year to compete in track and field.
“We took 11 kids down to the Western (Canada Summer Games) in Saskatchewan last summer,” said White. “And we’re hoping to get a few more.”
When the race first began in the 1970s, the start and finish line was down near the curling club. Now it is positioned 200 metres up from the club in the woods.
“It’s a good course, it’s challenging,” said Sue Bogle, who won the women’s Masters I division (35-44), with a time of 24:59. “There’s lots of ups, and the ups are right at the beginning so you kind of get tired right away. Then there’s some downs to try and get your breath back.”
“It’s maybe a little different from a typical cross-country course,” said Brent Langbakk, the only runner to complete five laps in the Open division. “Usually they run through grass or through fields and stuff. So this is kind of nice on trails through the forest.
“The surface is quite hard, which makes it fairly fast,” added Langbakk. “But it’s got some really steep climbs and some sand at the bottom here, which is really tough.”
Langbakk, who competed in the World Orienteering Championships in July, is struggling with an Achilles tendon injury that has been troubling him since before the World’s.
“I’m just starting to get back now, so today was really tough,” said Langbakk. “It’s kind of one of those (injuries) that takes a long time.”
Spanning between one and five laps of the 1.78-kilometre course, the race was over in under 40 minutes before 1 p.m.
“You can just get on with your day, you’ve got your run behind you,” said Bogle.
“It doesn’t sound that long, but you’ve got to pace yourself, which I don’t think I did too well,” he added. “I went out a little fast and then I felt it after a little while.”
Next Sunday, local runners will be participating in the Last Gasp, the final organized run of the season.
“We’re reviving an old kind of tradition,” said Ginny Macdonald, who help co-ordinate the championships, speaking of the Last Gasp. “It’s just a fun thing — no gold medals or anything.”
Registration for the run is at the skating rink parking lot on Nisutlin Drive in Riverdale. The route will take runners in a loop around the Millennium Trail and will end with a barbecue. Registration will take place at 12:30 p.m. and the run will start at 1 p.m. For more information contact Ginny Macdonald at 667-7394.