Ben Richards 4

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This story originally appeared in August 2016. 

Running by the lake when the sun comes up is one of those times it pays to be a runner. Down by the water on a trail that runs along the Scarborough Bluffs, it’s quiet and there’s plenty of time still before the work day starts. Ben Richard runs as he listens to Lake Ontario’s waves break against the rocks. He’s on a 22-kilometre run to work, and at this point he still can’t see much of his destination–downtown Toronto. “The sun sort of creeps up and you run in the orange,” he says, preferring to run close to the shore, reveling in the fact that his Pickering, Ont. neighbours will soon be getting in their cars to start their morning commute.

RELATED: Stories from the run commute: “I run to work to make me a better dad”

The perks of his run commute

“Mentally, I’m ready to go when I get to work.”

Once a week, Richard run-commutes the 22 kilometres (which also serves as his weekly long run) along the lake towards work and takes public transit home in the evening. To do that, he rises before dawn and is out the door at 6:00 a.m. He gets to downtown Toronto by 9:00 a.m. as others are making their way through the door, coffees in hand to bring them to a more alert state. He says he notices coworkers often needing the first half hour of the day to get organized. “Mentally, I’m ready to go when I get to work,” says Richard. “By the time I’m at the office, I bang out a bunch of work.”

Already a morning person, Richard doesn’t struggle with getting up before the sun does and having finished a run already, it means he’s perky for the early portion of the work day. “I get up early and I go to the gym anyways. That’s two hours where I’m doing what I’d be doing anyways,” he says. “I’m not losing that much time. It’s not like I have to get up at 4 a.m.” Richard says that sure, he saves money and time, but his main reason has to do with being a good dad.

Richard is divorced and he and his ex-wife have split custody over their daughter. On Sundays, his daughter comes over and they spend the day together. He drives her back to her mom’s house after dinner. Because of this arrangement, Sundays are special. But when Richard started running marathons, the long run training was cutting in on his time with her. Not wanting to give up either of these activities, he decided to go with a less traditional long-run day. Hence, the once weekly run to work.

Losing the weight

“I remember being overweight and being sore all the time.”

Ben Richards1Five years ago, Richard would never have thought that he’d run commute from Pickering to Toronto. He wouldn’t even have believed that he’d ever adopt the runner’s lifestyle. In 2011, he weighed 350 lb., was obese, inactive, and very much aware of the rut he was in. “I remember being overweight and being sore all the time,” he says when looking back at his days before becoming a runner. “I’m doing this because I don’t want to feel that way,'” he says.

He didn’t go straight into running as part of his plan to lose weight though. He knew he had to lose the weight and so kickboxing was going to be his method of exercise. He looked into a course. “Every course starts with a five- or ten-kilometre run. I thought ‘I can’t do that,'” explains Richard. So he started training using a couch-to-5K program.

In that sense, becoming a runner was kind of an accident because as he continued to train his body to be able to tolerate the warm-up run for kickboxing class, but he got to like it. Richard scrapped the kickboxing in favour of running. It has stayed that way.

“I see weight loss as a benefit of having a healthy lifestyle.”

The weight started to come off and in 2013, he was fit enough to run his first marathon. The following year, he ran the New York City Marathon.

Today, Richard has lost 135 lb., but he sees it as just one of the many rewards of running, though. While part of the initial goal was to shed pounds, he says he never had a specific target. “I think a lot of people are like ‘I need to lose this amount of weight,'” he says. “I find it easier for me to maintain my healthy lifestyle. I look at weight loss as a benefit of having a healthy lifestyle.”

For the next little while, Richard will keep up this run commuting routine. It’s how he gets to enjoy his newfound lifestyle without having to compromise the time he gets to spend with his daughter. And there’s nothing to complain about when choosing burnt orange skies, trails, beachfront views over a bottle-necked morning car ride on jammed roads into the city.

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