Mark Sutcliffe: My Running Life Into the Wild: Mark Sutcliffe’s Prescription for a Hometown Adventure

Into the Wild: Mark Sutcliffe’s Prescription for a Hometown Adventure


In the prehistoric days before GPS devices, in the ancient time of phone books, Blockbuster stores and fax machines, we often didn’t know how fast we were running until we crossed the finish line. It was like taking a picture and not knowing how it turned out until two weeks later when the prints came back from the store.

But our new-fangled, science-fiction timing devices do more than just give us instant results. They also allow us to roam free, without planning our runs in advance. In the era of CDs and pay phones, if I had a training run of a prescribed distance, I would map it out beforehand. I’d zero the odometer and drive a route in my car, or use a piece of string to measure it on a map (they used to print them!).

Now, I have some regular routes that I follow, but I often leave the house and make it up as I go along. On Sunday, hoping to run 25k, I had no planned route. When I reached the end of my street, I turned toward downtown Ottawa, figuring I would do a loop of about 5k before turning back and doing one of my familiar routes in the other direction. But as I passed the Canadian War Museum, I thought, why not cross the bridge into Quebec and run there for a while?

Before too long, I was on a path I hadn’t traversed in a long time. I figured I’d turn around after about 8k and then tack on some additional mileage once I got closer to home. But the route was quiet and scenic and I just kept going. I passed the occasional runner or cyclist but otherwise it was very secluded. One of the great things about Ottawa is that you don’t have to go far to be surrounded by nature. I was still only a few kilometres from my house – and even closer to Parliament Hill – and I was almost alone on a remote recreational path.

In unfamiliar territory, especially one with many sights to see, time can pass more quickly than on well-known ground. I found myself relishing the opportunity to explore. I have a good sense of direction, but often I had only a rough idea of where I was. But I knew I could always turn around and find my way home. The farther I ran, the more excited I became about discovering new sights. Where would this path take me next?

I crossed a bridge over a small waterway, then found myself alongside the Gatineau River. Soon I was looping around Lac Leamy in a picturesque park. Then I was back in the woods.

Modern technology is often maligned for keeping us tethered, but in this case it had allowed me to go deep into nature, to wander and ramble spontaneously. At 12.5k, I reluctantly turned around. The only comfort was knowing that next week, with 30k on my schedule, I have a chance to go even farther.