Interview with Steve Boyd
by Kevin Dunbar
Steve Boyd sped from high school success and Queen’s intercollegiate athletics to the top of Canadian distance running and has stayed there for over 20 years. In a sport where much of the young talent packs it in shortly after graduation day, Steve is an incredible example of persistence and excellence. He has managed to combine family life and career as adjunct faculty at Queen’s with daily dedication to training and racing, and now coaching as well. Here he describes for KRRA readers the beginning of another comeback from injury and adversity.
While the odds seem stacked against him, as he acknowledges in this interview, anyone who follows his career or races against him might hope that his statement that he is “probably finished” as far elite master’s racing leaves open the door of possibility for another try.
Doing the improbable is what has made him famous as one of Running Times magazine’s Masters Runners of the Year for 2006 and a many time National Champion, member of Team Canada and Canadian Master’s record breaker who races with incredible consistency and commitment to excellence around the roads and trails of North America.
Steve was definitely on his game as recently as November 2006 in the Open Men’s Race at the Ontario Cross-Country Championships in Brockville. He executed the strategy he shared with Physi-Kult team-mates before the race; comfortably fast controlled tempo at the start combined with kicking into high gear a long way from home. He moved up through the field as the younger guys around him began to fade, as he had predicted many of them would. That racing formula allowed him to emerge from the middle of the pack in the late stages of the 10K race up into 5th by the finish.
Of the four who managed to stay out in front of him, three of them finished 4th, 10th and 11th at the Canadian Championships in Vancouver two weeks later, while Steve was busy winning the Canadian Master’s Championship on the same course. The fourth, Danny Kassap, who ran 2:14 in 2004, is one of the fastest marathoners in Canada.
A few years ago, Steve founded a club for local runners hoping to learn from and emulate his success in the sport. Named Physi-Kult, the team includes national team athletes Emily Tallen and Dylan Wykes among its members.
What did you do today (or yesterday) for training?
Sixty-two minutes of running at various paces on the Cataraqui Golf Club course. It was wet but reasonably warm and I was out there with my daughter Cleo and one of the athletes in my group (hence the variety of paces).
How did you get into the sport of running races?
On a whim, in the 6th grade, I went out for the track team at R.G. Sinclair P.S. (where, as fate would have it, I’m now coaching.) Being pretty small and skinny for my age, I only managed to make the team in the 800m, and only then because no one else wanted to run that far!
How did last year’s Limestone 5K (3rd in 15:09) go for you?
Considering that I’d been injured for 10 weeks that winter, and was just beginning to notice the thyroid condition that would soon put me out of commission, the Limestone race went very well for me. I struggled near the back of the lead pack for 3-4 kms before finding a little late race reserve and managing to make some of the younger guys pay for their impetuosity, which is the thing I enjoy most about racing as a master!
How did your last competitive season end up?
My season in 06 ended on a high note, as I finally got the thyroid condition under control. I won the masters division of the Niagara Half (finishing 7th overall, I think) and had a couple of good cross country races, including a master’s win at the Nationals in Vancouver. More than this, however, it just felt good to have my desire to run and race back after 4 or 5 months of really dismal slogging.
What are your plans and goals for the next one?
Up until badly injuring my left achilles in late February following a skating trip in Ottawa, I had plans to try to go after more national master’s road records, including the ones I hold. Now, however, I don’t think that will happen; which, at 43, means I’m probably finished as far as really elite level master road racing is concerned. I still plan to get back in shape and do my best in the races I do choose to run, but I don’t really have any serious time or competitive goals at this point.
What factors do you take into account when planning a race or series of races?
The time of year (I almost always have a bad allergy period from mid-May till mid-July, and sometimes longer, so I normally don’t plan anything serious for that period) and the quality of my training over the previous 6 months. It hasn’t happened much since I turned 40, but if I can get 6-8 months of solid training under my belt, and manage to time things so that I’m in close to my best shape in early spring or fall, I’m usually good for a spate of 8-10 decent races. But, like I said, this has eluded me in the past few years.
Why is running so important to you ? Or, how has being involved in the sport made a difference in your life?
After 27 years of running almost every day (I average only 1 day off in 40 for over 20 years between ages 18 and 38 while training and racing seriously) I can’t imagine a life without running. There’s really nothing else I’ve done so regularly, excluding basic bodily functions, as simply go out the door to run, and nothing from which I’ve derived more pleasure and abiding satisfaction. And coaching has really added another dimension to my love for the sport. Helping others develop their talents, and seeing them come to love this sport the way I do, heartbreaks and all, is what, I think, will sustain my involvement long after my racing thrills are over.
How did you get involved with Mizuno Canada’s elite athlete sponsorship program?
I recently ended my 23 year (!) association with Nike mainly as a result of problems with both the supply and suitability of the product available here in Canada. Late last year, I began trying other brands and asking my runners for feedback on what they'd been wearing. I eventually decided that Mizuno was making the best shoes for serious runners and decided to contact them about sponsorship. Things have worked out nicely and I'm looking forward to racing in Mizuno gear this season.
Who are some of the important supportive groups and people in your running life?
Having been self-coached since my early 20s, I’ve been pretty much a loner in this sport, although I’ve enjoyed the support and camaraderie of my friend and sometime workout partner (and now master’s athlete in my group) Pat McDermott. We ran a lot of miles together, had many laughs, and spent countless hours going over training theory during our salad days on the Toronto road racing scene in the 1980s and 90s. My first and only real coach, Brad Hill, was also an important figure. He taught me some of the lore of the sport, got me believing I could reach the highest levels in the sport if I was smart and determined enough, and, perhaps more than anything, help establish the work habits that would carry me through two and half more decades of serious racing and training. Then, of course, there’s my running group, Physi-Kult, whose members inspire and encourage me through their words and actions on a daily basis. They are more than half the reason I’m still as committed to the sport as I am.
A random thought while running today?
I remembered, as I often do, Woody Allen’s quip about how 90% of success in life if just showing up. So much of my, or anyone’s, success in this sport is simply a matter of getting out the door every day. This always comes home to me when I’m struggling back to form from injury; which, regrettably, I’m now doing yet again.
Watch for Steve around the road racing circuit as he continues to run and coach others in the Kingston running community. Here is a selection of some of his career highlights.
2007 Runner Bio– Steve Boyd
Age: 43 (DOB 17/09/63)
Occupation: Adjunct Faculty, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University
Sponsor : Mizuno